Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Joe Omundson

strengths and weaknesses part 2

See part 1 for context.

If we accept that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, it activates a new dimension of reflection and growth.

We can look back on our own childhoods with the understanding that our parents were completely human. This has the dual effect of being maddening because we realize that some of our shitty experiences were directly their fault; it’s also freeing because we realize that all those standards that were normal in our childhood universe are not necessarily inherent to the way the world works, and we have the freedom to choose new paradigms for ourselves. We start to see how our own perspectives are just a small slice of reality, and how everyone has a different slice.

As we make progress with self-acceptance, it becomes easier to remember that people’s actions are shaped by experiences which were beyond their control. Instead of a fearful reaction to our differences, compassion becomes a more readily available response. We learn to see through people’s actions and see a bit of their background, and from there we get an idea of what’s keeping them from acting in a healthy way; or, it gives us a chance to understand that their difference is actually not a problem, and maybe our own perspective is skewed

When someone is "acting out", it might actually be an improvement from how they handled things in the past. For example, maybe you know someone who takes things too personally and becomes aggressive when they feel wronged. Imagine for a moment that this person lived a life where they were constantly undervalued and berated for speaking up as a child, and the only coping mechanism that worked was to bury their own needs and always be “nice” to the people who were oppressing them. They learned that they didn’t have the right to protect themselves. Maybe as a young adult this pattern continued, and they got into relationships where they gave up all their autonomy, living to please someone else and thinking this was normal; and maybe it led to an eating disorder, sexual trauma, or self neglect. Maybe in time, this person made the connection that always being submissive is what led them down a destructive path, and out of a very real place of self compassion and desire to become healthier, they decided not to take shit from anybody anymore. The tendency toward submission is replaced with anger, as a tool to get them out of the place of feeling crushed. It might happen often as they are breaking free of their universe in which they perceive everyone as a potential oppressor. Anger may not be the most ideal way to react, but for this person, it's the best choice they have access to; it's like someone who starts smoking cigarettes in order to stop drinking alcohol. We are all working toward self improvement, but it's an incremental process, and we make trade-offs that are specific to our own needs. So for one person, expressing anger is a healthful action, and for someone else it might be healthier to give up control and listen to other people's needs.

Some people's weaknesses are easy for us to handle. We have corresponding strengths, or can relate to the weakness in a way that doesn't feel threatening. Other times, someone's particular weakness may be too devastating for us to interact with and we have to get space from them. This is all unique from person to person and it's why we can form good friendships with some people but not others, even though everyone is lovable. When you are finding friends and partners it is important to find people whose strengths and weaknesses play well with your own. You will never find someone who has no weaknesses, but you can find people whose weaknesses don’t feel threatening to your own security as a person. In our closest relationships I believe it is actually more important to have weaknesses that interact well together than it is to have things be magic and sparkly all the time.

Our reactions to other people’s weaknesses often reveal how we feel about our own. If we think someone is bad for not overcoming their dysfunction, we probably judge ourselves for the same thing. If in fact we have already worked to overcome our own weakness, then we know how hard it is, and we understand what it’s like to still be struggling with it, and we hope that someone who is struggling can become healthier, not more punished.

To some extent, we need to trust that everyone is doing the best they can. Even if their best looks different than our best. I think most of our dysfunction centers around a lack of human connection, so being loving and accepting is almost always the best way to affect the root cause of the behavior. Sometimes, though, that has to be firm, and sometimes protecting people from negative behavior is a higher priority than helping the person who is doing that behavior. Ideally, we can do both.

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