The human ego is like a chained up dog. It is always hungry, and it depends on others to feed it. Go a day without social validation and you will feel deep pains of starvation in your soul. It’s as though the little man or woman inside encounters others with a silent plea, “Tell me I’m okay.” Not receiving the desired affirmation is painful enough. But what happens when we receive subtle or not-so-subtle indicators that someone thinks we are not okay—that we are not enough? The chained up dog will start to growl, bite, or hang its head in silent shame.

It is easy for our egos to become so embroiled in defending a little bit of honor that we forget those ordinary parts of ourselves that receive little public comment: Our inner strengths. Others are sometimes able to detach the chain from their own egos long enough to notice our strengths out loud. But to get adequate nourishment of the soul, we need to learn to go inside and notice those inner strengths ourselves. We need to be able to tell ourselves that we are okay. Katherine Dunham, a great American dancer and activist counseled, “Go inside everyday and find your inner strength, so that the world will not blow your candle out.”

What Can We Do With Knowing Our Strengths?

In the early 1990s, the President of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, observed that, as a profession, psychologists had become experts at identifying “what’s wrong” with people. The effort to identify and fix “what’s wrong” with people had resulted in a large volume book that mental health experts use to communicate to each other and the insurance companies how they are trying to help people. This book is known as The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM IV-TR (more commonly referred to as the “DSM IV”). The information in the DSM IV is arranged so that when people consult with a mental health professional, that professional is able to look at the person’s symptoms and match the symptoms with a “disorder”. For example, if you have been feeling worthless and have not been able to find much pleasure in your life and have difficulty sleeping, the mental health professional might tell you that you have the condition called “Major Depression”.

Dr. Seligman and his colleagues noticed that treating “what is wrong” with people, or making them “not anxious” or “not depressed” did not increase positive emotion. It only made them less miserable. He and his colleagues reasoned that psychology could do better than that. They began a process of researching what characteristics could make people happy, give their lives more meaningful, and improve their ability to impact the world in powerfully positive ways. A few years later, they published their results in the book, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (more commonly referred to as “The CSV”). A new field of psychology, called “Positive Psychology” emerged, spawning new interventions to teach people skills that would put the acquisition of happiness and finding meaning in life help with the realm of personal control. No longer would people have to go to bed at night, praying for a good day or hoping magic would bring a good day into their lives—they could make that good day happen with the tools of Positive Psychology.

What are My Strengths?

Would understanding more about your strengths give you a new direction? You could, like the field of psychology, allow this vision to expand your personal experience beyond just “not being miserable”. Would you like to teach your children the skills to be happy, find life meaningful; to savor their strengths and share them with others; to possess a powerful sense of the worth of self and other people? Why not start this minute, by considering which of these strengths are in your toolbox?

Wisdom and Knowledge (Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge)

* Creativity
* Curiosity
* Open-Mindedness
* Love of Learning
* Perspective

Courage (Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition)

* Bravery
* Perseverance
* Honesty
* Zest

Justice (Civic strengths underlying healthy community life)

* Teamwork
* Fairness
* Leadership

Humanity (Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others)

* The Capacity to Love and Be Loved
* Kindness
* Social Intelligence

Temperance (Strengths that protect against excess)

* Forgiveness and Mercy
* Modesty and Humility
* Prudence
* Self-Regulation

Transcendence (Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning)

* Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
* Gratitude
* Hope
* Humor
* Religiousness and Spirituality

Would you like to know more about your strengths and how to develop them? Stay tuned to Moxie Mental Health—we have a lot more to say!


Author's Bio: 

Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD, MFT is a freelance medical journalist specializing in mental health. Her writing tells the stories of the patients who used their moxie to overcome their distress.

Her professional experience has encompassed many facets of mental health care, including mental health assessment and treatment, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse (victims and perpetrators), couples counseling, and adolescent group counseling. For the past five years, Katrina has worked with patients across the country to help them resolve their barriers to adequate and effective mental healthcare and chemical dependency/addiction treatment.