As a mental health social worker the word ‘strengths’ is one that comes up a lot in my work. One of my main aims in working with my clients is to help them view whatever issues they have come to see me about through a different lens to the one that might be currently dominating their thoughts, feelings and actions. It’s not about dismissing the crappy stuff or minimising real issues – but it is about being able to step back, look inwards and see what traits, knowledge and skills have helped you through in the past and therefore might be able to support you again. It’s about seeing that there are strengths and positives in each of us – however small and diminished they may feel at times. It’s about knowing ourselves and who we really are – despite the internal and external messages that might be thrown at us from other sources. It’s not always an easy process, and for some it is definitely harder than others – but it lies at the core of my work and I think I do an ok job of translating it for my clients, most of the time.
So, it came as a bit of a shock to me a few weeks ago when, in an initial speech therapy appointment for my almost 5 year old, that I was initially thrown by the therapist asking me what my daughter’s strengths were. I’m ashamed to say my first thought was complete blankness! Me, the person always trying to highlight and expose other people’s positives, the counsellor aiming to facilitate hope and resilience in her clients was shamelessly empty when it came to the skills of her own child. Yep – one of those proud mummy moments – NOT!! You’ll be glad to hear that I did pull myself together and was able to mention and list the various and variable strengths my girl has in her possession (for she does indeed have many!). But I had to make a conscious effort to turn my mind to these positives, I was firmly in a deficit state of mind. My life had been so chaotic, muddled and overscheduled that I had taken on a “glass half empty” world view – all I could see were the things that weren’t working, the things that felt hard and painful. I couldn’t see the brightness in my girl and I definitely couldn’t see it in myself. I was talking the talk but I certainly wasn’t walking the walk.
Focussing on what we do well, what we excel at, what we enjoy is not always easy. It often feels like “tooting our own horn” or loving ourselves too much (what’s actually wrong with that I might ask??). It seems we are hell bent on looking at ourselves, our accomplishments and our wins as something less than, not good enough, nothing to write home about. I find women are especially guilty of this.
I am totally crap at a LOT of things (cooking meat, gardening, running, maths and being patient to name a few) but I also carry more than a few strengths around with me such as self-reflection, cooking cakes, organising myself and anyone else within a 50 km radius, remembering names and birthdays, listening to sad people, listening to happy people, perfectionism (it’s a strength – trust me!) making gin cocktails, reading stories to my daughter, making my daughter feel safe, wrapping presents and laughing.
I think I might have a look at this list more often – maybe I’ll even write it up in big, bold letters and put it somewhere where I can see it all the time. Maybe I’ll write one for my daughter too – and put it up for her to look at – and know that I see her and all her positives. And maybe I’ll try and focus on these a little more rather than the negative talk that drops by – it might even turn into a strength…