By: Nancy Greenlee, LPC, The Meadows Therapist
Once a month, the Workshop team is treated to a consultation from Pia Mellody, the creator of the Survivors workshop treatment model. She makes herself available, both to consult on clinical cases, answer and process questions and to inspire us with her wise adages for the spirituality of recovery. Often, I leave our gatherings with notes in hand to share with my workshop groups.
A recent example of one of these inspirational mini-lectures is the concept of using our character strengths to learn the lessons that our weaknesses present to us. Being human means we are inherently imperfect. Being human also means that we are given an opportunity to improve our quality of life. Pia frequently reminds us, “Our strengths don’t make us better-than and our weakness’ don’t make us less-than. We ought to be grateful for our strengths and learn from our weakness”.
We all have weaknesses: Weaknesses of character that show up to remind us of our humanity and imperfection. For most people, weaknesses are a source of personal lack or toxic shame. What we perceive as weaknesses may keep us in a one-down position, or keep us from trying new endeavors, or keep us stuck in seemingly endless despair.
What if we begin to think of our weaknesses as an opportunity to learn important life lessons? Life is about learning, which is an act of spiritual creation. Our short-comings are soul-lessons that encourage us to grow in emotional, mental, ethical and/or spiritual ways. As we strive to become more respectful, thoughtful, balanced and moderate, we enter into an arena of greater awareness about ourselves and the world we live in.
Thankfully, we all have strengths as well. Strengths are gifts. We are given those gifts to help us overcome our short-comings, to learn the lessons of life, and to help ourselves and others in this world. Sadly, some people plead that they haven’t any strengths to be noted. This is a cognitive distortion! EVERYONE is given strengths that encourage us and give us a sense of purpose. As a baby, you probably taught yourself to walk. That is called strength! You have perseverance.
Sometimes we think of our strengths in a much too limited fashion. For example, baking a perfect soufflé requires more abilities than just whipping some eggs. Baking a soufflé requires an amount of focus, a light touch, and diligence. Develop those skills into strengths that will assist you as you address the greater lessons in your life.
How do you discern what your strengths are? To start, make a list of your values. What ethics do you employ? List your interests, what are the best parts of those interests? What about your accomplishments in school, at work, with partnerships, with your family and friends, with hobbies or sports participation? What do those positive thoughts tell you about your strengths?
Next, write down the behaviors and beliefs about yourself that hold you back. What would you like to stop doing? What character strengths do you want to develop? Think of your weaknesses (your lessons) as an opportunity to succeed. Anytime we complete even the smallest task we feel a sense of accomplishment. Imagine the gratification of changing a negative pattern for good! You can do it.
After you have completed your list (by the way, the rule is that you must list the same number of, or preferably, more strengths than weaknesses), begin to pair the gifts with the lessons. Choose one or two items you want to address first and create a reasonable timeline to make those changes.
Here is an example:
|Strengths (Gifts)||Weaknesses (Lessons)|
I choose to work on my stubbornness. I will use my artistic gifts to make a collage of what stubborn feels like to myself. Perhaps I will make a chart analysis or write a journal about what being stubborn has cost me. Then I will read articles about what stubbornness is really about. Next, I call my recovery sponsor or other friends and ask for support when they notice I’m being stubborn or unreasonable. As I develop more awareness and substitute open-mindedness for my stubborn traits, I begin to feel empowered and happier.
As with all change, the challenge is to continue, to persevere until it is accomplished. Just keep reminding yourself that you learned to walk; therefore, you can learn life lessons by using your gifts to develop more strength. Now, go learn something!