Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Inner strength

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Inner strength

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Okinawa

Sadness and grief are basic human emotions. Through the years  as a Trauma Specialist, I have witnessed many people grieving and experiencing deep sorrow after a traumatic loss of a loved one. Beneath the tears and sighs, a silent strength stirred within a ruptured soul. Strength, that was the life force that incited a troubled soul with the will to carry on. But where does this inner core of strength come from? During the past few years of COVID-19, I lost my sister, several cousins, and some close friends. I often retreated into myself and dwelled in the darkness of my sadness. Yet, in moments of despair, courage, authenticity, and strength leaks out of a person’s core character, like a psychological appendage.

Losing a loved one can crush a person’s heart and will to live. When trauma ambushes us, if  we can find a purpose, this cultivates our life force and helps strengthen and motivate us to manage difficult moments in life. All humans are tested in life, life challenges us. Bouncing back requires hope in that insight can replace grief, and meaning can replace sadness. Conducting group therapy sessions, I observed that people always ask, “Why?” or “Why did this happen?” But “Why?” is difficult to answer. There is no negotiating death. Our well-being is temporarily shattered, anger and grief has entered and taken over our comfort zone. Yet, a positive mindset is essential for re-centering ourselves. Like a gyroscope tilting back and forth until we find our psychological equilibrium or roadmap: this takes core strength and a firm belief in one’s ability to recover from a setback. Being decisive and making positive decisions helps in avoiding being stuck in a psychological ditch.

Strength comes from behaving in ways that you previously thought you couldn’t. I’ve tested myself in different ways to overcome my fears. And, after I did, I became more confident. But there are some things I won’t do. For example, parachuting out of a perfectly good airplane, or bungee-jumping. There’s a balance between fear and common sense. Yet fear keeps us stuck in a position of inaction. The first goal in becoming mentally stronger is to believe in yourself. Now, if you have low self-esteem or a poor self-concept, believing in yourself can be a problem. If that’s you, then stop saying negative things about yourself. Avoid negative people. Unclutter your life. Clean out the garage. Clean up the house. Get rid of junk. This is a natural way to get exercise and keep your body moving. When under stress, clean up the mess. You’ll think better.

What is going through your head all day? What are you thinking? You must fight back! Fight yourself and minimize mental obstacles that keep you from being in an emotional straight-jacket. Get rid of fear, doubt, and worry. The important critical point here is to conduct a fearless inventory of yourself. I love “What?” questions because they get to the point. Ask yourself: What are you willing to do? What don’t you want to do? What are you not doing? What do you want to see happen? What is your biggest fear? What are you telling yourself? What do you need most? What would make you happy? The list goes on. But, in reality we are all basically “C” students in the game of life. Every day we are learning and adjusting.

Growth requires action. Here are a few handy quotes:  “We need four hugs a day for survival. Eight hugs a day for maintenance. Twelve hugs a day for growth,” according to Virginia Satir an author and therapist known as “mother of family therapy.” It can be a smile, a hello, a good morning, not necessarily a physical hug, but an act of kindness or compassion. “Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength,” Sigmund Freud said. I like the next one, it’s so true. Just remember, grief occurs in stages. We heal in stages. I don’t think there is ever closure when we lose someone we love. But the actual sting of the loss starts to taper down after about a year. “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance” said psychology writer Andrew Solomon.

In the end, there is only one of you. Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Nourish yourself. Be patient with yourself. Love yourself.


Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at or at

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