Author: Carolyn Rennie, Foothills Centre for Change

Why is it important to identify our strengths? Most addicts and alcoholics get used to just identifying their character defects, their moral failings and remembering all the damage they’ve caused. Morbid reflection on the negative can lead to self-pity, shame and ultimately relapse. While it is important to take responsibility, it is also important to recognize that we are neither as bad nor as good as we think we are. Humility teaches us to do somewhere in the middle, accepting our humanness, which leads us to accept others as they are.

Accepting ourselves begins with respect. Self-respect takes honesty, courage, and self-esteem to name a few. Self-respect can be difficult when you’ve spent years, maybe decades beating yourself up for all the pain you’ve caused yourself and others. It’s normal to have doubts that there may be anything at all good in us, but we do have strengths. There’s no way we would have survived without some strengths to get us by.

In a moment we’re going to review a list of two dozen character strengths produced in a book called “Character Strengths and Virtues” by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. While looking at the list, think carefully if any of these strengths may be ones you have. Even if you only have a part of the strength, write it down as it’s something you can work on. Maybe there are character strengths you would like to obtain, write those down too.

How do you know if one of these listed is a strength for you?

  1. Sense of ownership and authenticity (“this is the real me”)
  2. Feeling of excitement while displaying it
  3. A rapid learning curve as themes area attached to the strength and practiced
  4. Continuous learning of ways to enact the strength
  5. A sense of yearning to act in accordance with the strength
  6. A feeling of inevitability in using the strength, as if one cannot be stopped from its display
  7. The discovery of the strength as owners in an epiphany
  8. Invigoration rather than exhaustion when using the strength
  9. Creation and pursuit of projects that revolve around the strength
  10. Intrinsic motivation to use the strength

The following list includes character strengths characterized under 6 Virtues: Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence. Again, think of which ones might apply to you and write them down. Feel free to print this list off so you can mark it up.

Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge

  • Creativity – thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things
  • Curiosity – exploring and discovering
  • Open-mindedness – thinking things through and examining them from all sides
  • Love of Learning – mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
  • Perspective – being able to provide wise counsel to others and having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people

Strengths of Courage

  • Bravery – not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain
  • Persistence – finishing what one starts, persisting despite of obstacles
  • Integrity – presenting oneself in a genuine way, taking responsibility for one’s actions
  • Vitality – approaching life with excitement and energy, feeling alive and activated

Strengths of Humanity

  • Love – valuing close relationships with others, in particular those in which sharing, and caring are reciprocated
  • Kindness – doing favours and good deeds for others
  • Social Intelligence – being aware of the motives and feelings of people and oneself

Strengths of Justice

  • Citizenship – working well as a member of a group or a team and being loyal
  • Fairness – treating all people the same, not letting personal feelings bias decisions
  • Leadership – encouraging a group to get things done while maintaining good relations

Strengths of Temperance

  • Forgiveness and Mercy – forgiving those who have done wrong, accepting the shortcomings of others, giving people a second change and not being vengeful
  • Humility / Modesty – letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves, not regarding oneself as being more special than another
  • Prudence – being careful about one’s choices, not taking undue risks
  • Self-regulation – regulating what one feels and does, being disciplined

Strengths of Transcendence

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence – appreciating beauty, excellence and/or skilled performance in various domains of life
  • Gratitude – being aware of and thankful of the good things that happen, taking time to express thanks
  • Hope – expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it
  • Humor – liking to laugh and bring smiles to other people, seeing the light side
  • Spirituality – having coherent beliefs about the higher purposes and the meaning of life

I hope that you found out about some strengths you weren’t previous aware of. When I went through this exercise, I found that I had a lot more strengths than I may have given myself credit for. In addition to this list of strengths there are lots of lists of character values, virtues, and principles you can research.

Now that you have it, what can you do with this list? Make some art! At the Centre we recently made I AM affirmations on Bristol board, or you can make affirmations on construction paper or cards. For example, if your strength was leadership you could put “I AM A LEADER” or if your strength is humour “I AM HUMOUROUS”.

I do hope you’ve learned something about yourself from going through this list. Next week we are going to do Part 2 of Finding our Strengths: Maximizing Our Strengths.



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