As a psychotherapist and as an author of books on mental strength, I encounter many misconceptions about what it means to be mentally strong.

Ironically, many of the behaviors often associated with weakness are actually a sign of strength. Our culture often values "toughness" over "true strength."

Acting tough is about external appearances. It involves creating a persona that convinces other people you're impervious to pain.

True mental strength involves working on your character. Mentally strong people are willing to be vulnerable and quite often, people confuse their openness and honesty with frailty.  

Here are 10 signs of mental strength that are often viewed as weaknesses: 

1. Being kind.

Many people seem to think being kind means you're a pushover or a people pleaser. But showing compassion for a neighbor, giving a colleague the benefit of the doubt, and spending your spare time helping someone with a project could be a sign of strength.

Showing kindness often takes courage and confidence. What if the recipient doesn't want your help? What if your act of friendship isn't reciprocated? Strong people are willing to take those social risks.

2. Changing your mind. 

Changing your mind doesn't necessarily mean you're wishy washy or easily influenced. Instead, it may indicate you're open to gathering more information and hearing other ideas.

Whether your ideas about politics have changed over time or your values have shifted as you've grown older, changing your mind might be proof you are growing and learning.

3. Acknowledging your weaknesses. 

There's a difference between speaking the truth and putting yourself down. Acknowledging you're bad at confronting people or that you struggle to be organized might show you're strong enough to admit your imperfections.

Acknowledging your weaknesses can also help you take positive action. You might delegate tasks that you struggle to do or you could develop a plan to help you succeed despite your shortcomings. 

4. Being patient. 

With so much emphasis on "hustle" these days, patience is often confused with inactivity or a lack of ambition.

But reaching big goals--like getting out of debt or getting in shape--takes patience. Real change doesn't happen overnight and exercising the patience needed to get there takes strength. 

5. Asking for help. 

Saying "I can't do this on my own" is a real act of courage. Whether you ask your boss for more assistance or you reach out to a mental health professional, asking for help requires humility and strength of character.

Mentally strong people don't go the journey alone. They surround themselves with people who can offer assistance along the way. 

6. Failing.  

If you succeed at everything you do, it means you're living far inside your comfort zone. Making mistakes and failing means you're challenging yourself--which is clearly a sign of strength.

Don't let anyone convince you that your failures are proof that you're not strong enough to succeed. Instead, view failure as evidence you're stretching yourself as far as you can.

 7. Expressing emotions.

Some people are quick to show anger but lurking just beneath those angry feelings are more uncomfortable emotions, like sadness, embarrassment, and disappointment. Yet it's often easier to say "You're an idiot" than to say "My feelings are hurt."

Labeling your feelings and finding ways to express those emotions in a healthy way takes strength. It's much easier to deny your pain or try to convince others that you're infallible.

8. Walking away.  

Whether you're walking away from a goal because the effort it takes to get there isn't a top priority, or you're walking away from a heated dispute because you know nothing productive is going to happen, walking away doesn't mean you're copping out.

In fact, it takes strength to step away from something that isn't working out--especially when you've devoted a lot of resources to a task (or a person). But walking away might show you're willing to act in accordance with your values--even though you might face some ridicule. 

9. Improving yourself.  

Some people roll their eyes at someone who is reading a self-improvement book (they're usually the same people who laugh at overweight people for hitting the gym). But bettering yourself--physically, spiritually, or emotionally--is tough to do.

Trying to become a better person shows you want to create positive change in your life. Whether you join a support group, attend therapy, listen to self-help podcasts, or attend spiritual retreats, a desire for self-growth is a sign of strength.

 10. Staying calm.

"Can you believe she just stood there? I would have given him a piece of my mind!" Comments like that imply people who remain calm lack the courage to stand up for themselves.

 Being able to regulate your emotions is a hallmark of mental strength. That's not to say you won't feel angry (anger can be a very healthy and helpful emotion) but it does mean you'll be able to behave in a productive manner even when you feel upset.

Build Your Mental Muscles

Everyone possesses mental strength to some degree and there's always room for improvement.

Choosing to build your mental muscles is admirable. But not everyone will appreciate your efforts. Your strength may remind them of their weaknesses--or they may fail to recognize the difference between being strong and acting tough.

But don't let those people stand in your way. Keep working on developing the mental strength you need to reach your greatest potential.