6 Reasons It's Hard to See Your Own Strengths

If you're too hard on yourself, here's why.

Posted Sep 10, 2018

Petukhov Anton/Shutterstock
Source: Petukhov Anton/Shutterstock

We're often blind to our own strengths. Let me explain why this is the case, and what you can do about it.

1. We don't see ourselves the way other people see us.

Other people see your accomplishments, whereas you see the full behind-the-scenes view of your behavior and emotions. For example, you see the things you've started, but not finished, but the general public don't ever know about these. Therefore, other people might see you as a productivity machine, whereas you see yourself as lacking self-discipline and follow-through.

Tip: If there's something you see as a weakness when other people see it as one of your strengths, consider if the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

2. Our strengths are often things we find easy.

Here's another consequence of the fact that we tend to see situations from our own point of view: If something is easy for you, you're likely to assume it would be easy for everyone and therefore not a particularly important or unique strength. For example, a colleague recently commented on how brave it is that I use personal examples in my writing. I like to help people feel less alone in whatever they might be struggling with. However, if I'm completely honest, personal examples are usually the easiest for me to think of and help me write faster and have more flow when I'm writing. When there's something we naturally do, we might barely notice it's a strength until someone points it out. You simply might not be able to imagine being any other way. 

Tips:

  • When you see a strength in someone else, point it out to them. They might not be aware of it, and they might reciprocate by pointing out a strength of yours that you're blind to.
  • Ask yourself what you do that you consider "lazy." Fill in the blanks: "When I'm being lazy about X, I do Y." For instance, "When I need to get something done quickly and without much effort, I...." What we think of as lazy shortcuts are often indicative of what we find easy and an underlying strength.

3. Our strengths are often things we find hard.

Here's where psychology is full of paradoxes and apparent contradictions. On the surface, the point I'm making here is the opposite of the one I just made, but it's not really. If we find something very difficult, we also find it hard to credit ourselves with it as a strength. Our implicit internal process goes... "If something always feels like an uphill battle (chronically hard), then how could it be a personal strength?" We reason: "Surely people for whom this is really a strength find it easy?"

Tip: Ask yourself: "What do I do that contributes to my success, even though it's consistently difficult for me?" Consider if you could classify your behavior as a strength. Some categories to think about include: the ways you build social connections, overcome technology challenges, make major decisions, maintain balance in your life, or communicate about things you're unhappy about rather than staying silent.

4. We think too narrowly about what a strength is.

What types of things spring to mind when you think about the concept of strengths? For example, being brave, self-disciplined, bright, or charismatic. If you're frustrated that you don't have more of a particular quality, that will likely come easily to mind as a strength you lack.

Think of the concept of strengths much more broadly. For example, a very important strength is having strategies you use to overcome procrastination. How do you get yourself to do things you'd rather avoid or put off?

Another important category of strengths relates to thinking processes. If you find yourself ruminating or worrying, how do you cope with that, without letting it derail you?  

Tip: Consider behaviors and thinking approaches that work well for you and help you overcome stuck points. Could you consider these strengths?  Go beyond personality traits when you're contemplating your strengths.

5. Our most extreme traits are usually both strengths and weaknesses.

A point I mention in my book, The Healthy Mind Toolkit, is that our strengths and our weaknesses are often two sides of the same coin. For example, being very persistent can clearly be a strength. However, it can also be a weakness: for instance, if you're stubborn or get caught up in details rather than maintaining your focus on the big picture.  

Because our extreme traits tend to be both strengths and weaknesses, it can feel a bit inauthentic to claim them as strengths.  

Tip: Try acknowledging the full picture of how certain qualities both serve and thwart you. It's perfectly fine to claim something as a strength, provided you acknowledge the ways it also trips you up at times.

6. We often get caught up in social comparison.

One of the reasons it's difficult to accept having a strength is there are always many other people who are better than you are at that thing. For example, people might say to me, "You're great with technology," and while I can intellectually see this is true, when people say it, my mind immediately jumps to a list of all the people I know who are even more skilled than me in this area.

Tip: When you get a compliment, don't jump to thinking that it's only a valid strength if you're better than every single other person!

Wrapping Up

Hopefully this article has prompted you to have a broader view of your strengths, and be more accepting and open to what others see as your strengths.