Having breast cancer is wearing me down in so many ways, not just physically. I used to be so full of life and energy, and now I feel weak and timid. What can you suggest for feeling stronger on the inside?
One of my greatest beliefs is that each of us has inner strengths that help define who we are as individuals and that help us get through any situation with more confidence and clarity. When you’re feeling weak and timid, that is the perfect time to reconnect with your strengths and who you are when you are strong and confident.
Perhaps you’ve done a strengths inventory at some time in the past. If you haven’t, or if you’d like to get a fresh perspective, I recommend taking the free online VIA Assessment of Character Strengths. It is the most widely used survey of its kind, having been taken by more than 15 million people over the past ten-plus years, and is scientifically validated.
I also like it because it is not work-focused, as so many strengths tools are; instead, the VIA Assessment shows who you are across all areas of your life. (You can opt to purchase an extensive report on your strengths, but it is not necessary. For no charge, you will receive a summary of your strengths in ranked order.)
What do you do once you know what your strengths are? You leverage them to do the things you’re struggling with. For instance, let’s take the strength of kindness. It is the most common strength among people worldwide, but I’ve found that it is most often directed at other people. For a change, try using kindness on yourself, treating yourself gently and with loving compassion.
I recently re-took the Assessment for the fun of it (for the fifth time in ten years) and my top strength is love. It’s always been near the top of my list, but since my diagnosis, the desire to deepen my relationships and focus on my family and dear friends has grown even stronger. I believe love and the people I care about are the most important aspects of life.
Each of the 24 VIA strengths can be applied in this way. Read through the descriptions below and choose the ones that best describe you (or take the online assessment). Those are your go-to, “signature” strengths and will be easy for you to use, feel essential to who you are as a person, and will energize you when you use them.
Strengths of Wisdom
Creativity: Thinking of novel and productive ways to think about and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.
Curiosity: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding various subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.
Judgment/ Critical Thinking: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change your mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
Love of Learning: Enjoying mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, on your own or formally; adding systematically to what you know and what interests you.
Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to you and others.
Strengths of Courage
Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what’s right even if there’s opposition; acting on your convictions even if they’re unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it.
Honesty/ Authenticity: Speaking the truth, but more broadly presenting yourself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being unpretentious; taking responsibility for your feelings and actions.
Perseverance: Finishing what you start; sticking with a course of action despite obstacles; taking pleasure in completing things.
Zest: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or half-heartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated.
Strengths of Humanity
Kindness: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.
Love: Valuing close relations with others, particularly those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated.
Social Intelligence: Being aware of the motives/feelings of others and yourself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.
Strengths of Justice
Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting your feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
Leadership: Encouraging a group you belong to to get things done while maintaining good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
Teamwork: Working well as a member of a team or group; being loyal to the group; doing your share.
Strengths of Temperance
Forgiveness: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting others’ shortcomings; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.
Humility: Letting your accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding yourself as more special than you are.
Prudence: Being careful about your choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.
Self-regulation: Regulating what you feel and do; being disciplined; controlling your appetites and emotions.
Strengths of Transcendence
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to sports to science to everyday experience.
Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
Hope: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.
Humor: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.
Spirituality: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where you fit within the larger scheme of things; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape your conduct and provide comfort.
I have been working with the VIA Assessment for more than a decade and am available to help you decode your results and make a plan for using them to deal with treatment, feel more energized and capable, and even to approach life from more of a strengths-focused perspective. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.