When it comes to our awareness of character strengths, we all have blind spots. Strengths-related blind spots can obscure your vision and prevent you from seeing positive facets of yourself and others.
In his book Mindfulness and Character Strengths, Ryan Niemiec talks about different kinds of blind spots. Three that seem to resonate most with my clients are highlighted below, plus ways to compensate and see beyond the blind spot. Which ones resonate with you?
Blindspot #1: Overuse of a strength
How to compensate: Elevate a more helpful strength
Each of the 24 character strengths can be overused, but you’re most likely to slip into overdrive with your signature strengths. These top strengths tend to be expressed easily and naturally in most settings.
Strengths overuse is a case where more is not always better. The overuse of curiosity can seem intrusive. The overuse of hope can lead to unrealistic expectations. This overuse leads us down a path of frustration and conflict in relationships. In fact, you might consider that an overused strength isn’t even a strength anymore, as it no longer provides benefit to oneself or others.
For instance, when reflecting about an overused strength, a colleague thought of hope, her #1 character strength. She recalled a past romantic relationship when her boyfriend’s actions didn’t align with her beliefs about commitment and marriage. Being naturally optimistic, she focused on how much she enjoyed their time together. As these differences magnified over time, she maintained hope that things would work out. They didn’t.
Overuse of hope is akin to seeing things through rose-colored glasses, and perhaps not being grounded in reality. My colleague realized this overuse kept her in an untenable relationship.
To compensate for an overused strength, you can think about and elevate other strengths that might be more helpful. In this example, honesty to acknowledge the relationship difficulty. Bravery to initiate an honest conversation with her boyfriend. Any of the 24 might have assisted my colleague in seeing beyond the blind spot and managing through the difficulty supported by her other strengths.
Blindspot #2 – Lack of character strengths awareness
How to compensate: Explore to widen your perspective
Neither you nor I have perfect awareness of our strengths. No one does. In fact, many of us have little awareness about what they are or why they matter. Unfortunately, this can prevent us from tapping into the energy and excellence derived from expressing strengths.
A workshop participant recently took the free VIA survey of character strengths for the first time. His top strengths resonated except for one: Leadership. He didn’t view leadership as a top strength or one in which he was particularly interested. It’s not uncommon to notice strengths that don’t resonate after taking the survey.
He decided to explore leadership as a top strength. From Niemiec’s latest book The Power of Character Strengths, he learned the difference between “Big L” leadership – typically thought of as leadership demonstrated by corporate executives, politicians, and other high level personnel – and “small l” leadership – known as everyday leadership involving the guidance and growth of groups.
His awareness expanded as he noticed this strength in action in his life. He’s beginning to value this surprising aspect of himself and notice how it helps him succeed in his business, participate authentically in a group for small business owners, and rally his friends for dinner parties. As our workshop concluded, he noted these realizations as “best moments” and continued to see beyond the blind spot by exploring his unique expressions of leadership.
Blindspot #3: Undervaluing a strength
How to compensate: Seek input from others
Character strengths expand our capacity to do and become more, filling us with positive energy and confidence. It’s not an exaggeration to label them as extraordinary capacities.
Unfortunately, we often take them for granted, especially signature strengths. For instance, if social intelligence is your top strength, you might believe that everyone is as empathic or intuitive about other people’s feelings as you are. If perseverance is your top strength, you might assume everyone is as naturally industrious as you are. It’s just not the case.
When we undervalue a signature strength, we potentially diminish our own value and fail to live into who we are and what we do when at our best. We also shortchange others by failing to recognize their unique contributions and potential.
As an example, kindness is a strength that others consistently see in me. They’ve shared examples of me going out of my way to be helpful and caring. Although I hear what they’re saying, kindness doesn’t resonate with me as much as other signature strengths do. In this sense, it’s my blind spot.
Nonetheless, their input has given me a new perspective on how I operate when at my best. As a result, the value I place on kindness as a top strength is growing as I tune into what trusted others see and value in me. It feels good to know that the kindness within can have a profoundly positive impact on someone.
Here’s the good news
No matter which form of strengths blindness might be at play in your life, through practice you can learn to compensate and experience a growing sense of harmony. Over time, you’ll find yourself living more fully into who you are and what you do when at your best. And helping others do the same.
If you’re interested in taking a next step:
- Be sure you’ve taken the free VIA survey within the past year.
- Explore your unique profile of character strengths by scheduling a confidential debrief session with me (email Jane@StrengthBasedLiving.com).
- Check out my book 30 Days of Character Strengths, which was recently reviewed on Positive Psychology News Daily. (See the review here.)
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Niemiec, R. M. & McGrath R. E. (2019) The power of character strengths: Appreciate and ignite your positive personality. VIA Institute on Character.