Empowering Ourselves – through finding our strengths

To empower someone is to give them the means to achieve something

Collins Dictionary

This month, we turn our focus towards aspects and actions that we can take to empower ourselves on our mental health journey.  This can be done in so many different ways and, just like with the practices we can put in place to enhance our mental health, we need to find the ways that best suit ourselves. 

One of the ways that we can empower ourselves when it comes towards our mental health is through understanding and developing our strengths, or more specifically, our character strengths.

What are character strengths?

Each of us have 24 character strengths that we possess (Park, Peterson and Seligman, 2006).  These strengths are the characteristics of a person that allow them to perform well or at their personal best (Wood et al., 2011). The 24 strengths that we can possess, fall into the six categories outlined below: 

Wisdom and knowledge: cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge creativity, curiosity,  judgment, love of learning, perspective
Courage: emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internalhonesty, bravery,
persistence, zest
Humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve ‘‘tending and befriending’’ otherskindness, love,
social intelligence
Justice: civic strengths that underlie healthy community lifefairness, leadership,
Temperance: strengths that protect against excessforgiveness, modesty,
prudence, self-regulation
Transcendence: strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaningappreciation of beauty & excellence, gratitude, hope,
humor, religiousness
Park, N., Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Character strengths in 54 nations and the 50 US states. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 118–129

Though, as with anything, some of these strengths are more prominent in individuals than others.  It is important to remember that we are all unique and so is our strength profile.

So what is the link between using our strengths and our ability to enhance our mental health?

We know from previous posts (Understanding Mental Health) that those who have a higher self-esteem, self-confidence and are more resilient, have a greater ability to apply coping strategies when faced with things that can negatively impact our mental health.

Greater use of our strengths has been shown to lead to greater self-esteem and vitality (Wood et al., 2011).  By being able to focus on our top character strengths, we can positively influence each of our dimensions of health (physical, social, cognitive, spiritual and of course mental).  When we know what our strengths are, and we are able to understand how to use these strengths, then we start to feel good about ourselves and are able to achieve things and fulfill our potential (Govindji and Linley, 2007).  They can make us feel more authentic.

By understanding and using our strengths, the following benefits that link to mental health can occur:

  • Increase in confidence and happiness
  • Reduction in stress levels
  • Strengthen our relationships
  • Increases our sense of purpose and meaning

One thing that should never be discounted though, is looking at each of our character strengths and what we can do to improve the ones that aren’t at the top.  The benefits do come from a focus on our strongest, but we should never forget the other aspects of our character, because being able to work on those areas can also enhance our overall wellbeing. 

There are some key character strengths that link to practices that enhance our mental health directly that maybe we can improve on – such as gratitude, forgiveness and kindness.  Acknowledging areas we may need to improve on in life, and then working on those areas can also lead to a boost in positivity and self-confidence.

So what are your strengths?

You can find your strength profile through the free VIA Character Survey

  • Govindji, R. and Linley, P., 2007. Strengths use, self-concordance and well-being: Implications for Strengths Coaching and Coaching Psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(2), pp.143-153.
  • Park, N., Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Character strengths in 54 nations and the 50 US states. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 118–129
  • Wood, A., Linley, P., Maltby, J., Kashdan, T. and Hurling, R., 2011. Using personal and psychological strengths leads to increases in well-being over time: A longitudinal study and the development of the strengths use questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(1), pp.15-19.

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