Personal strengths: what are they and how to empower them in therapy?
Each and every one of us knows that there are things that we are good at and that we are not good at. Likewise, we all have aspects of our way of being that are remarkable for both good and bad, and that are considered as positive as well as negative not only by us but also by our peers and even by our culture. In the first case we are talking about aspects that we consider or consider to be our personal strengths.
But What exactly is a personal strength? Is it possible to train it or improve it? In this article we are going to make a brief comment about it.
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Personal strength: definition and basic characteristics
Personal strengths are understood as that set of skills, characteristics or aspects of a psychological or attitudinal type in which we excel and that suppose some kind of virtue or adaptive advantage. It is about those abilities that represent positive and desirable elements in terms of personality.
For a characteristic to be considerable as a personal strength, it must be recognizable in a transcultural manner as something positive and desirable, valuable in itself and not only for its results and be able to generate satisfaction for the person who owns it. Likewise they must also be measurable and have an undesired opposite . Another necessary element is the fact that it is a stable characteristic, generalizable to the way of acting of the subject, and that is remarkable in some people and not so much (or even non-existent) in others. They must be something exemplifiable and visible and there must be people who express it in a precocious way.
Personal strengths have a strong cultural background, and are often linked to virtually universal values and can even be related to virtues. The study from the psychology of this type of elements from the psychological field is relatively recent, framed within positive psychology.
This is a current or movement within psychology that advocates the analysis and study of the factors that contribute to generate and maintain well-being , focusing on these elements, being different from the more traditional approach in which the studies focused on the presence of deficits and mental disorders.
Within the analysis of mental strengths, the figures of Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (two fundamental authors within this paradigm) stand out, which even generated the Values in Action Project and even a questionnaire of personal strengths based on these studies.
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Examples of personal strengths
There are a large number of aspects that meet the necessary conditions to be considered personal strengths. The aforementioned authors even drew up a list in this regard, although this can be perfectly expandable based on the values that are considered positive in a majority way. Then we will indicate eight examples of personal strength that can be very useful in our day to day.
1. Ability to work in a team
Probably one of the most demanded skills at work is also considered a powerful personal strength linked to interpersonal relationships and productivity. Being able to work in a team involves a lot of elements such as the ability to negotiate, but highlights the fact of being able to coordinate one's own effort with that of others to achieve a specific objective.
One of the personal strengths that most help us on a daily basis and when it comes to training and helping us meet goals is hope, more specifically the ability to have it. This strength implies being able to look to the future and establish positive predictions about it that will help us guide and motivation to fight . This aspect is important: it is not only to wait for good things to happen, but also to work for them.
3. Mental flexibility and openness to experience
The mental flexibility and openness to experience, although they are not exactly the same and can be considered separate strengths, have a common ground: in both cases it implies that the person is able to accept the existence of new possibilities alien to those previously held consider. In the case of openness to experience there is also a component of curiosity, this being another possible personal strength.
Linked as facts said to the previous ones, the curiosity is the force or impulse that allows us to approach learning, seeing or trying new possibilities . This interest in the new allows us to be more flexible, learn and live much more diverse experiences.
Linked to the concept of justice, impartiality is a strength that allows relatively objective judgments. It implies being able to put aside personal opinions and get our judgment of the situation do not take into account our own emotional involvement in the case .
Persistence or perseverance can be a personal strength of great interest. It implies the ability to initiate, continue and finish a determined course of action even though difficulties may arise. Remain even if it is hard and fight for the objectives set without losing heart.
A complex concept but without doubt one of the most recognized and difficult to maintain strengths. Goodness implies the ability to focus on helping the other, having a good disposition toward what surrounds us and pretending not to cause damages or harm to others. It implies a certain level of compassion and love . Sometimes also kindness, although many people have the strength of kindness without necessarily being cordial or friendly in their dealings.
One of the forces that moves the world. Mainly love as strength refers to the ability to give and receive esteem and positive emotionality in interactions with our loved ones and the environment. While strength is usually focused on the ability to give and receive others, it must also include being able to love oneself.
How to strengthen these personal qualities?
Each of us has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it may be more than advisable to decrease the second ones and strengthen the first ones. However, for many people it can be complicated strengthen and strengthen (worth the redundancy) our personal strengths . In order to achieve this, both personally and in the case that we are in therapy and we want our patient to train them, we must take into account the following issues.
1. Identify the strength
Understanding which aspects of us are a strength may seem intuitive and logical but the truth is that if we put ourselves to it, in many cases we will find certain difficulties to find them. And it is that thinking about what we are good at is not as habitual as it seems, not valuing us or recognizing us often some highly recognizable aspects of our way of being and doing.
Thus, the first step to strengthen our strengths is none other than that of make us aware of them . For this we can go to different sources of information, including our own perception of things we do and in which we consider that we highlight and contrast these beliefs with the opinions of others, or asking others and assessing whether their opinion is correct.
2. Analyze the different factors that are part of it
Besides being aware of what we are good at or what aspects of our being are more remarkable, It is advisable to try to fragment these capacities in such a way that we can see, already within said capacity, in which aspects we stand out more and in which it would be more advisable to work to further enhance them.
3. Work the specific aspects
It is not viable to indicate a unitary way of working all the strengths, being these different from each other and requiring specific ways and elements to work them. For example, in the case of love, kindness or even teamwork the relationship with others and emotional expression must be worked on , as well as some work in empathy.
In the same way, justice or impartiality may require practice based on exposure to situations that involve ethical dilemmas, observing the existence of different positions equally valid and taking into account the possibility of taking various courses of action.
Perseverance would require the setting of realistic goals and of the visualization, planning and preparation before possible difficulties, as well as ways of acting in this regard.
Creativity could be trained through the realization of exercises that stimulate lateral thinking or with expressive therapies or in which art is used. The ability to imagine, read and visualize are also trainable and facilitate both this and for example curiosity (which we can also strengthen through deepening the aspects that cause us interest).
4. Put your strengths to the test
To be able to empower ourselves we not only have to know our strengths but also the limits of these. This involves exposing oneself to the practice of activities and behavioral experiments in that we observe how far we can go and what it means, so that we can work to try to improve ourselves.
5. Train and practice
As with most things in life (such as the physical form or level of proficiency in a non-native language), what is not trained is often lost or lowered. That is why we should try put our strengths into practice with some frequency .
- Clariano, S.M. and de los Ríos, P. (2012), Health Psychology. CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 04. CEDE: Madrid.
- Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. OUP USA.
- Seligman, M.E.P.(2003). The authentic happiness. Barcelona: Bergara.