When Your Strength is Actually a Weakness

Sometimes I like pretending that I know stuff in a magical kind of way to superficially impress myself. Like I can read your mind and predict what you were going to say before you said it. Yes, it’s silly and dorky but after all, we are talking about me, so it’s pretty on-point. So… I want to act like I totally know who’s reading this blog post. Ready? Ok!

Well, hello there, you sweet, precious soul of a woman! You’re the type of person who loves your family fiercely. Definitely the glue that holds everything and everyone together. You make sure everyone has what they need and you go out of your way to make it happen when they don’t. You aren’t perfect, but you are aware of your imperfections (in a good way). And when you feel like you didn’t do your best, you think about what you could have done differently and sooner or later, you try again. It’s like you’re compelled to make things better no matter how, why or who made things take a wrong turn.

So, this is you, isn’t it? So cool that I knew, right? But honestly, this isn’t about me- this is about you. How are you doing, love? How are you feeling today? (And, by the way, if you aren’t this precious woman, then you may be married to her or know someone just like her. Did I guess right?!)

I want to make you aware of something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Like anyone who is self-aware, you know that you possess both strengths and weaknesses. The way that I described you two paragraphs ago highlights some of your strengths. They are beautiful qualities but I have to caution you that if you are overusing a strength, that very same attribute can become an unintended weakness.

I’d heard that idea before, but it didn’t really click until I experienced it for myself. I have always been the “fixer” in my family. The good kind of fixer, not the mob boss associate kind… I’m the one who starts the difficult conversations after a disagreement, the one who comes up with the plan to make things better, the one who reads the relationship (and diet!) books, the ever-evolving self help junkie, and the effort-maker. Sometimes I’d get pretty burned out on making the effort, especially when I got the impression that I was the only one trying. I’d get disgusted and quit- only to return back to my true nature. That means after giving up, I would dig my heels in again and keep trying. Persistence personified, and I am sure you can identify with that. You, me, and Ms. Warren.

Behind every persistent behavior is an itch that needs to be scratched. That intense itch is what drives you to keep trying, even when it doesn’t make sense logically. Your strength is to fix things and make it better and improve it. It doesn’t seem like that could be a weakness because in the absence of your effort, there would be a void of effort. Right?

Typically, your partner doesn’t engage in fixing whatever issue is at hand and for you, it feels like it will either go on forever or get ignored. You don’t want that, but you don’t want to be the one making all the efforts and feeling alone, either.

You don’t want to sit by the sidelines waiting for the incompetent partner to make things better but stop for a minute and consider why this is. I’ll tell you- because if you did, you’d have to face feeling negative emotions (aka feel like shit) for an indefinite period of time. For a proactive partner, there’s some real, intense unwillingness of sitting in the emotion of fear and the thought of “I don’t know how to fix this” and having to trust someone else (the inaction taker) to rise to the challenge.  

So there’s where your strength of being a fixer becomes a weakness: you’re using it to try to control- rather than collaborate- for the outcome. And it’s not even because you’re a control freak, per se, or have bad intentions; it’s because you want to avoid pain. Avoiding pain is a survival skill, however, when we avoid pain at all costs, we miss the greater message that has superseded that primitive drive. The greater message is that the pain we are trying to pretend isn’t there is actually there and we need to figure out its purpose for our ultimate good and the good of our relationships.

Not taking control and fixing things doesn’t mean that you should suffer while you wait for your partner to step up, but rather you need to take action on what is in your control. Other people and what they do is not in your control, but – good news- depending on the relationship, it is within your influence. When you expand from having influence to attempting control, you’re overusing your strength.

You’ll know that it’s slipped from influence to control when your partner disengages and you’re doing all the work. Therefore, another reason it is necessary for you to let go is so that your partner has the opportunity to grow into being more proactive. This will only happen when you stop compensating for their weakness through developing your own strength of facing fear and uncertainty. You must be willing to trust that the void will be filled with your collaborative efforts, but you must be willing to take the risk that it might not go the way you want it to, either.

The real work for you is learning to collaborate and give affirmation to your partner. Encourage them along and be patient when they falter. Listen- truly listen- and pick out all the nuggets of wisdom and insight they offer. Understand their point of view.

And be patient in the process because it’s probably going to be like baby steps. Stay loving. Use your fixer skills to face your fears authentically so that you can stop running from negative emotions. Reassure yourself that everything will be ok because it will be. You’ve got your own back, sister.

When you’re willing to face the fear you were trying to avoid through fixing, you’re experiencing the worst that could happen. The worst that can happen is the emotion you will feel in your worst case scenario situation. Anything after that is cake, right?

If you’re willing to accept that, then you have power over your worst fear. You won’t experience your relationship with that same sinking feeling when trouble strikes. You can approach any issue while feeling calm and secure (and yes, still some fear because you’re human).

You’ve got this.


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