Self Improvement — 25 April 2016
Healthily Addressing One’s Deficiencies

Some people capitalize on their strengths, others are besieged by their weaknesses. This is manifested in the way they perceive and present themselves. A balanced self-awareness occurs when we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses and present them factually, while staying attuned to another’s needs.

Relating to an individual who is routinely self-deprecating is challenging and interferes with a healthy, authentic interpersonal connection.  “Self-detractors” unwittingly place the listener in a compromised emotional state and hinder authentic human exchanges.

All humans have their strengths and weaknesses and no one is expected to be universally gifted in all skills necessary for effective living. Those who delve into feeling shame about their perceived weaknesses harm themselves and compromise others by discouraging contributing solutions in times of crisis.

It is perfectly reasonable for healthy beings who are aware of their shortcomings to occasionally humbly profess their lack of skill or knowledge. For example, while being a passenger one may say, “I am sorry I can’t help you find the correct route, I am directionally challenged.” or, in viewing another’s struggle to calculate, saying, “I am sorry about not being helpful, but math is not my strong suit.” Yet, the timing of using these factual statements must be carefully weighed to not jeopardize another person’s resiliency amidst an acute crisis.

On the other hand, lamenting about one’s shortcomings, such as, “I, too, always lose my way,” or “I am useless when it comes to calculating anything,” may be intended to provide empathy by normalizing the driver’s condition, but actually maximizes the driver’s distress by not receiving the assistance he/she needs.

When individuals label themselves as inept in skill, capacity or talent during an acute situational distress, they abandon the other person to singularly manage the problem. This unhelpful withdrawal from teamwork may further exacerbate the other person’s distress.

Nick Haslam, Ph.D. Professor of Social and Developmental Psychology at the University of Melbourne writes, “Self-deprecation can be an effective way to present oneself in egalitarian environments, where people are vigilant for signs of arrogance. But, in other circumstances it may be detrimental to the relationship by not participating in arriving at a constructive alternative solution.”  Demeaning one’s capacity during a crisis leaves the problem holder devoid of a partner in resolving the issue and further exacerbates his/her overwhelm.

To support a person in distress, one may state his/her inability to help directly, but must also offer a constructive option for remediating the situation, such as, “I am directionally challenged but I can call our host and ask for directions.” This manifests a team approach during mutual distress that helps free the driver from multitasking by solely carrying the burden of driving safely.

Wisely state your limitations:

  • Question the purpose and timing of stating your weaknesses.
  • Abstain from self-demeaning statements when you are with another person in a crisis situation.
  • Participate in offering solutions. Teamwork bolsters both individuals’ strength and optimism during crisis.


















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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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