What Does It Mean to Have a "Heart of Steel"?

Jim B.

If someone is described as having a "heart of steel," it means that he or she is not swayed by any emotion. This is an English idiom used to describe people who prefer to let their judgment be based on facts or other data rather than anything that might sway their hearts. The phrase also implies that the person who is described in this manner can be cold and tactless in his or her dealings with other people. "Heart of steel" is one of many idioms that use the heart's symbolic place as the location of all human feelings as the basis for its meaning.

The phrase "heart of steel" refers to the heart's traditional role as the seat of emotions.
The phrase "heart of steel" refers to the heart's traditional role as the seat of emotions.

There are times when a person may use a word or a short phrase with the understanding that what is said is meant to be taken symbolically, rather than literally. These words or phrases, also known as idioms, may actually have intended meanings that are far different from what their words might literally denote. After they are used in a certain culture for a period of time, their meaning evolves until it is understood by all within the culture. One of many idioms derived from the workings of the human heart is the phrase "heart of steel."

Individuals with a "heart of steel" are unlikely to ever get too emotional.
Individuals with a "heart of steel" are unlikely to ever get too emotional.

This particular idiomatic expression implies that the person in question is not about to be moved by any emotional pleas on a subject. By contrast, this person will instead disregard such pleas and instead use more objective means to make an important decision. As an example, someone might say, "Sometimes, when you're a boss, it's better to have a heart of steel and not get too wrapped up in how your employees feel."

Since it is likely that someone acting in this manner isn't likely to ever get too emotional, the phrase can often be used when someone is considered cold toward other people. When used in this manner, the phrase can even have a negative implication. It can be used in such a manner that the person in question might seem mean or nasty. For example, consider the sentence, "He must have a heart of steel if he wasn't moved at all by the plea of those poor people for leniency."

Many idioms are based on how the human heart is perceived as the figurative home of emotions and feelings. The material used to describe the heart is a good indicator of what each of those idioms means. In this case, steel is hard to dent or move. That immovability is transferred to anyone who has a "heart of steel."

A person who is swayed by the emotions of others will not have a 'heart of steel'.
A person who is swayed by the emotions of others will not have a 'heart of steel'.

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Discussion Comments


@shell4life – You are probably right. I would think that many people in a position of power would need hearts of steel just to do what they have to do on a daily basis.

My boss is friendly, but he has to have a heart of steel at times. Just two months ago, he had to fire two employees because they were not making as many sales as they should. Even though he knew the economy was largely to blame, corporate forced him to fire them.

I think that a heart of steel is something that you can bring out and use when necessary, but often, your true heart suffers from what you had to do. For days after the firing, I could tell that my boss was distracted and upset.


My brother is in the military, and he said that he had to develop a heart of steel in order to fight. He had to kill people, and he had to find a way of dealing with this.

Over time, his heart hardened in ways that he didn't intend. When he returned home to his wife and kids, he could not be as gentle and loving as he once could. This saddened his family, but he told them that with all he had been through, he could never be the same.

Though they were heartbroken over his new heart of steel, they understood. His wife said she felt like she had to get to know a whole new person, and she probably never would have married him if he had been this cold in the beginning.


I think that having a heart of steel should be a requirement for a judge. His decisions need to be based on facts rather than emotions, and he has to keep a clear head. The best way to do this is to keep his heart out of it.

If a judge already has a heart of steel, then this is convenient for him. He won't have to struggle with putting aside his feelings for the law. He can simply state his ruling and be largely unaffected by the uproar in the court.

I'm sure that some people would argue that judges need to listen more to their hearts than their heads, but keep in mind that there are those who would take advantage of this. Though some innocent people make pleas before a judge, others who are guilty try in hopes that the judge has a soft heart.


I suppose that having a heart of steel is the opposite of having a heart of glass. This idiom is used to describe people like my sister whose hearts are broken far too easily.

Her boyfriend just happened to have a heart of steel, so he was really bad for her. During their year-long relationship, he broke her heart of glass multiple times just by being cold and literal.

It finally became too much for her to bear, so she left him. She has since found someone who knows how to handle a fragile heart with care.

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