My mom used to say “everything in moderation” and in my younger years, I used to counter with “you can never have too much of a good thing”. I may have warmed a little to her concept of moderation after I consumed too much Halloween candy or experienced the boredom of too many summer days off school. As I have gotten older, I realize that the concept of moderation is valuable in just about every area of life, including the characteristics about ourselves that we view as most positive. A characteristic that starts out as a strength can have negative consequences, unless we recognize the need to step back and reevaluate how we use that strength. For example, the ability to be honest and straightforward is beneficial, but at times, it may be better to spare someone’s feelings by keeping non-essential judgments to ourselves; similarly, it is wonderful to have a gentle and reserved nature, but times of injustice may call for us to use a more outspoken and vocal approach. When we combine our best character traits with a healthy dose of humility and adjustments, we can be more mindful of ourselves and avoid some of the pitfalls that are associated with “too much of a good thing”.
I like to think that one of my strongest attributes is my compassion for other people and desire to help make them happier. I rely on this strength to counsel others and reach out to people in need. There are times, though, when following the simple instinct to make others happy generates more negatives than positives. It would certainly please my household if I did all the laundry, cleaning, and cooking without asking for help: it comes naturally to me to do more myself and ask less of others, and this generous nature can be positive in many ways. However, imagine if my teenagers never did chores. They might struggle mightily to adjust to the responsibilities of adult life, not to mention how much I would struggle still doing laundry for a 30-year-old. If I recognize that my natural strength to do more for loved ones sometimes needs adjusting so they do more for themselves, I create less resentment for myself and more healthy independence for them.
Suppose you are extremely conscientious at work or in school. A diligent approach to responsibilities leads to plenty of accomplishments, but also generates excess stress when we pressure ourselves to be perfect. Striving to do our best is a positive, but viewing ourselves harshly if we make mistakes or fall short of our goal can lead to negatives. We may hold ourselves to such high standards that we forget to prioritize time off and relaxation, and our well-being suffers. We may take so much responsibility for outcomes that we neglect to delegate some jobs to others, leading to burn-out and overall energy depletion. Finally, we may struggle to let go after making mistakes, depriving ourselves of forgiveness and an opportunity to heal and learn important lessons for the future.
Sometimes, without a willingness to accept feedback, too much of a natural strength can weaken our relationships with others. I have a friend who has an amazing ability to easily bring humor into difficult situations. His is a welcome breath of lighter air into times of conflict or tension between family members. Yet, when people ask for acknowledgment of their feelings or need concerns to be directly addressed, his lighthearted approach can have negative consequences. People may feel he does not care enough to take matters seriously and his continued humor may cause others to feel more anger than relief. If he is willing to adjust and bring some seriousness to the levity, communication improves and the family has a chance to work through problematic issues.
The more time passes, the more I understand the wisdom of my mom’s words about moderation in all things. I consider my desire to help others to be one of my greatest strengths, but in my own family, doing too much for my children works against the independence I am trying to promote. Knowing how and when to adjust our strengths ultimately generates more health and well-being for ourselves and others. This may mean challenging ourselves to realize that even some of our strongest qualities can be “too much of a good thing”.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.