Leverage Your Weakness
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
“Leverage your strengths” is well-meaning advice that’s frequently thrown around. The problem is it often causes us to turn a blind eye toward our weaknesses. What is a weakness? It’s a state or condition that lacks strength. It can also be a quality that puts one at a disadvantage and a fault. For instance, some people have a weakness for chocolate, which seems innocent enough. Others may struggle with low self-esteem or being assertive. How do we identify our weaknesses to leverage them? There are several ways to identify our weaknesses, such as introspection, accepting feedback from loved ones, personality tests like The Enneagram, and positive reframing.
Introspection in the form of journaling or asking ourselves pertinent questions about unhealthy or counterproductive patterns we see is invaluable and easy to accept. However, most of us have psychological blind spots: areas where we lack awareness or insight and therefore cannot successfully address on our own. That is where feedback from loved ones is priceless because you know they are coming from a place of sincere concern wanting what is in your best interest. External input like this can be harder to swallow and accept. So it may help to ask family and friends for specific examples of the behavior in question. If multiple people in your life point to the same trouble spot, it’s a definite indication. Sometimes this is something small that everyone can laugh off, but it may be a pattern that is causing you and those near you pain. The Enneagram test is a fun, objective, impersonal metric, which is available for free online.
The Enneagram is fascinating because it identifies your basic fears and desires, provides examples of people with the same personality type, and what that looks like at its best and worse. Let’s use the Enneagram to demonstrate how awareness of one’s weaknesses enables us to leverage them. For instance, Type Two is known as “The Helper.” This individual will most probably be caring, interpersonal, generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive. At their best, they have unconditional love for others. Can you guess what the weaknesses are of Type 2? When under duress, these individuals stop being unselfish and become needy, self-deceived, over-involved in other people’s lives, and codependent. Their biggest obstacle is facing their inner fear of worthlessness, and they seek validation outside themselves rather than realizing that they are enough.
By knowing this about oneself, Type Two can shine a light on their shadow and compassionately look at their intentions and actions. They can start asking themselves why. Am I doing this because I want to, and it matters, or am I trying to please people? Am I lying by saying “yes” when I mean “no” and “no” when I mean “yes?” Is it necessary to bend myself into a pretzel to become what I think this person wants me to be? What have I been doing in terms of self-care this week? It also enables Type Two to recognize what they need to let go of like unhealthy mental chatter, seeking the approval and permission of others to be, thoughts that make them sad, judgments about others, and the need to control others and how they perceive them.
Type Two can now leverage their weaknesses to bring them back to a balanced, healthy state in which they are encouraging, appreciative, and empathetic. At their zenith, they feel it is a privilege to be in the lives of others and know that they are enough. It’s not easy to leverage our weaknesses because it requires a lot of inner work and a willingness to explore our shadow. That said, it is highly satisfying and incredibly beneficial to have the ability to catch ourselves when we start moving in a direction that is detrimental to our wellbeing and happiness.
There is another method for leveraging our weaknesses, known as positive reframing. Dr. David Burns explores this in Feeling Great, and notes how “your negative thoughts and feelings are not, in fact, the result of what’s wrong with you (as the American Psychiatric Association would have us believe) but what’s right with you.” What if depression and anxiety indicate what’s positive and beautiful about you, rather than what’s negative and broken? For instance, anxiety motivates many people to work harder and be more vigilant. Worry and concern show love. If we label ourselves “bad,” it’s because we have high standards and want to be our very best.
Let’s close with the words of Imam ‘Ali (may Allah ennoble his face), who said, “reflection gives life to the heart of an insightful individual just as light protects those walking in the dark.” May we leverage our weaknesses and discover what’s positive and beautiful about us, may we light the way for ourselves and others, and be a blessing to all those we meet.
From one needy of your dua,