Using Weaknesses to Better Understand Others

by T.L. Hickman

“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

For years, I had a major weakness: I was extremely judgmental. I recognized it about myself, and I wore the label with pride.

What I didn’t recognize was the fact that I had another weakness that was keeping me judgmental and loud about it: I had low self-esteem.

It’s surprising just how many of our problems are linked to low self-esteem. But if we take a minute to think about why we feel the way we do and consider the negative thoughts we have, we’ll see just how much of it is a branch of that same tree.

For years, I made a bad habit of verbalizing how strong I was. Can’t you all tell? I don’t care what you think!

But I did care.

I went along fine like that for a while, but eventually my illusion of perfection came crashing down on me. Suddenly, without warning, I had severe panic attacks that would not allow me to leave my bedroom for the better part of two years.

This will illustrate for you just how little I left my bedroom: My preschool-aged son would stand at the end of the hall, applauding me and jumping up and down on those rare occasions when he saw my husband helping me make my way to the living room for a five-minute outing.

Before all of that, I thought I was handling everything well—telling people off when I was angry with them, telling people what I thought about everything even when they didn’t ask, and telling people how weak they were when they wouldn’t stand up for their beliefs.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the thing I thought was my greatest strength was actually a mask for my biggest flaw.

It is human nature to try to cover our flaws, but it is important for us to recognize our imperfections and see how we can use them to improve ourselves.

Of course, it would be best for us to recognize our flaws before they cause us so many problems. But sometimes, great change can come from a breakdown.

I look back on my condition now, and I know how breaking down was the best thing for me. Why? It taught me that people are not perfect. And most importantly, it taught me to face the fact that I wasn’t perfect and I couldn’t continue to bear the heavy burden of the masks I wore.

During the years I spent in my bedroom, I wondered why I had always thought other people were so “weak.” If I can’t leave my bedroom, why am I so intolerant of those with addictions? If I can’t make myself answer the telephone, how can I expect someone who fears confrontation to speak up for herself?

I became more compassionate in those two years. And as I became more compassionate, I became more confident.

No one is perfect. That line is over-quoted and under-appreciated. What does it really mean to us? We say it, but we often think “no one is” means “I am not.” And even worse, we can think “no one is” means “she is not.”

No one is perfect. This isn’t an excuse to behave poorly or mistreat people. But it is a truth we can use to cut ourselves (and others) a little slack.

When we understand that we all have flaws, and that having flaws makes us human, we can hold our heads a little higher. It gives us a better view of the reality that we really are just as valuable as other people. And more importantly, it helps us understand that the flaws others have are often forgivable.

People who knew me thought they understood what I was going through. They tried to understand the condition from their worldview. The truth was, I only told one person outside of our home just how bad my condition really was.

Because most people didn’t really know how bad I was, many people judged me when I wouldn’t visit their homes when invited or attend their social gatherings. Family judged me when I didn’t want visitors in our home. So, for a short while, I had a taste of my own bad medicine.

My condition taught me a lot about people and how judgmental they can be. Most importantly, it showed me how judgmental I could be.

I am not angry with those people who treated me that way, because if I hadn’t been through it myself, I likely would have been just as judgmental with someone else in the same condition.

If you have low self-esteem, do you ever think you are the only person? Do you ever think no one else understands? It might seem like that is the case, because people with the lowest self-esteem usually won’t tell people about it.

I used to look at people on television, attending baseball games, or on reality programs, and I would wonder, “Where are all the people like me?”

Well, it was a silly question wasn’t it? The people “like me” are probably locked away, hidden, nervous, and afraid to face the world. They are afraid of the judgment I once passed and later received.

I still struggle to remain confident. That is made evident by the fact that my blog image is still a drawing. But I am learning, and my progress in recovery so far has taught me that if I have come this far, I can keep going.

I’ll get a picture up soon. I believe I can do it, because I’m stronger today than I was yesterday. I am made stronger by my weaknesses, which have taught me so much.

If we have low self-esteem, it can help us be more compassionate if we use it to our benefit. And through our compassion, our self-esteem can improve.

No one is perfect, but through our imperfections we can become better.

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