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Each of us has our own unique individual characteristics. In traditional Chinese philosophy these are sometimes col...
Each of us has our own unique individual characteristics. In traditional Chinese philosophy these are sometimes collectively represented by the yin and yang: dark and light colours that unite to achieve balance and harmony. According to Taoism, each trait has its negative and positive side. People who are thorough might also be perfectionists, while someone who is independent may have difficulty cooperating with others. The key is not to develop so-called positive qualities or shed negative ones, as our fundamental characteristics are neither good nor bad, but to keep the sun and moon in balance, so to speak. Take, for example, how a tree branch bends in the wind so it doesn’t break. Is this strength or weakness?
Bearing this in mind, let’s consider the “strong” and “weak” sides of certain personality traits. For example, what qualities do you think employers seek from potential hires? They might want a diplomat or a decision maker, but not someone who is indecisive or rash. By the same token, enthusiasm is prized, but fanaticism is not.
“Our strength is often composed of the weakness that we're damned if we're going to show.”
—Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)
The above quotation from Mignon McLaughlin introduces us to another perspective on strength and weakness. In some cases we make up for what we perceive to be weakness in ourselves by developing what we consider to be strength. Think of someone with stage fright who pursues a career in stand-up comedy, or the small, bullied child who grows up to become a wrestling champion. These are examples of what is known as the psychology of compensation, as explained by Alfred Adler (1870-1937), one of the founders of psychoanalysis. In extremes, our own perceptions of our strengths and weaknesses can manifest in what Adler calls an “inferiority complex.”
According to Adler, compensation can be negative (under or overcompensation) or positive (healthy, conscious compensation).
Undercompensation is often displayed by being helpless or fearful, and relying too much on others. Overcompensation generally manifests as extreme behaviour attempting to mask insecurity. Both forms of negative compensation fail to address underlying feelings of inferiority.
Positive compensation on the other hand, begins with a certain level of self-awareness. An individual identifies a perceived weakness or a feeling of inferiority and consciously tries to address it at its source. Take someone who feels uneducated about art. Rather than becoming obsessed and then bragging about their knowledge (overcompensation) or fearfully avoiding the subject altogether (undercompensation), examples of positive compensation would be to take a course or read a book on art history.
From Eastern philosophy we see how weakness and strength can be two sides of the same coin. Modern psychology then teaches us to delve deeper into what we consider to be our strengths and weaknesses. It shows how a bit of insight can help us address our feelings of inferiority and enable us to overcome our problems.