This blog will look at how a positive action, such as using our strengths, can also create an illusion of being psychologically healthy when we use them to protect a very vulnerable self-esteem issue.

Understanding strengths

Character strengths are a central theme within positive psychology and are a valuable source of personal growth. These are strengths that come naturally to us, that define our values and what matters to us, like being kind, having grit and determination, or being creative. Although it is well researched that we can ‘overuse’ our strengths, the basic premise is, when we use our strengths each day, we are energised and do better at our work. This then helps build our positive emotions, well-being, and meaning because we are being true to ourselves.

Strengths spotting

A great way to get to know your strengths is through ‘strengths spotting’, as set out by Alex Linley in his book “Average to A+’. To spot our strengths we need to pay attention to what energises us and makes us feel good. These are things we like doing regardless of external rewards. Whilst the things we avoid or don’t enjoy are linked to areas that are not our strengths.

Intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards

The reward we get from using our strengths should be felt intrinsically. However, it is all too easy to rely on extrinsic reward. In this lies a problem. If we set ourselves up to rely on external validation to feel good about ourselves, we are no longer using our strengths in a valued way, but as a ‘drug of choice’ to boost our self-esteem. One critical comment could break our self-esteem and our confidence in our strengths.

Developing awareness of strengths, and when to use them

It’s nice to be recognised for our efforts, but when we start to need that recognition to feel worthy, we are heading for a self-esteem crash. To minimise the chance that we could inadvertently misuse a strength or rely on external rewards in this way, we need to first know what our strengths are, and then we need to tune into our value system. This is knowing what gives us purpose and meaning in what we do in work and life.

Once we know this we can then become more aware of times when we are not using a strength to do something within our value base. Ask yourself these questions:

Is this activity genuinely enjoyable, energising and rewarding? If no-one else was aware of what I am doing, would I still be doing it, or am I looking all the time for others to praise and validate my efforts?


About the author: Lisa Jones has a professional background in human resource leadership. Now self-employed she is studying for a MAPP at Bucks New University where she intends to use her knowledge and learning to continue researching, primarily on the topic of meaningful living. Her aspiration is to facilitate more purpose and meaning in communities and workplaces.


‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’


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