I am the type of person who regularly needs to be reminded of my strengths. I need nearly constant praise and I’m not ashamed to ask for it outright. One of the ways that my last therapist got to know me (and other patients) was by asking what my strengths were. I had to look at her list of words to find mine.
Recently, I’ve been filling out a lot of job applications and writing a lot of resumes. The part that I always struggle with is writing down what I’m good at. This feels strange for me, because I’m enthusiastic about finding other people’s strengths and telling them what they are. But for some reason, looking at my own strengths is harder.
Here’s my list from therapy:
That’s a pretty decent list, but it took a lot of prompting from her and a lot of hemming and hawing from me to come up with it. I’m really good at thinking of one instance where I wasn’t something and deciding that means I’m not ever that thing. Like, once I lied and told a guy that I didn’t have any more cigarettes so that I wouldn’t have to give him one, so obviously I’m not compassionate OR honest. But I’m also pretty good at looking at my negative thoughts about myself and pretending that one of my friends are saying them. I can look at that thought and say to myself, “If Tori Lynn said that about herself you’d slap her silly and tell her that that makes no sense and then you’d buy her coffee.” Whether that actually helps or not depends mostly on my mood.
The end-goal of this prompt for me was to look at the question “Why do so many people struggle to see their own strengths?” I’m not sure I can answer that, but I know I can talk about why I struggle with it.
When I look at myself, I can see the internal struggle happening every time I have the option to be one thing or another. When I see somebody having a hard time with their groceries, I have the option to help them and slightly inconvenience myself, or I can ignore them and go about my business. I have to think about it. I have to weight the pros and cons and make a decision. Most of the time, I decide to help them. Anybody on the outside would see that and say that “helpful” is one of my strengths. But if I’m looking at it, I know that I had to think about the situation before I made a choice. That doesn’t seem genuinely helpful to me, which, in my mind, translates into “not actually helpful.”
If my friend were to explain that to me, exactly the same way I just did, I’d nope at them. I’d say, “But you chose to be helpful. You made the conscious decision to be helpful. That’s probably a better definition of helpful than someone who does it out of instinct. Because you realized that you had the option of ignoring it and not making extra difficulty for yourself, but chose to do the kind thing instead.”
I can’t seem to make allowances like that for myself, unless I frame it as a hypothetical thing that someone else said. Which, while not ideal, seems to work pretty well as a self-care method.
Maybe that’s the secret to letting yourself off a little easier. Tell yourself that it’s okay, you love yourself anyway, then take yourself out for ice cream or coffee. Treat yourself like your best friend.