Whenever I have taken the Strengths and Virtues questionnaire, “love of learning” always comes within the first top positions. “Love” per se shows up, in general, closer to the bottom of the list though. The test is not about telling you whether you have “love”, “wisdom” or any other positive characteristic. We all have those in way or another. The extent to which we express and embody each one of the 24 strengths and virtues does, however, change as a function of our development and context.
“Love of learning” has been defined as the ability to master new skills and new knowledge. It is a driving force that leads us to be always seeking new information or a new way to understand reality. “Love” is about the value we put in close relationships with others and the extent to which sharing and caring are mutual in any given relationship. When I ask my clients to answer to this questionnaire, we always work on using their top three strengths to improve the three characteristics that show up at the bottom of the list. I do this because I have grown the idea that we thrive when we use our top strengths and we do get ourselves into trouble because we haven’t developed certain characteristics well enough.
Let me give you my own example. Here are my top and bottom strengths:
- Appreciation of Beauty
- Love of Learning
This time “Love” came in the 12th position and my top strengths were creativity, appreciation of beauty, and love of learning. At the bottom of my list, there were teamwork, perseverance, and self-regulation. I used to follow the Positive Psychology approach which suggests that in order to flourish we should focus and make more use of our top strengths rather than thinking about what needs to be “fixed”. I still do see value on that, especially because we are naturally pushed towards what is negative as a way to prepare ourselves to “survive”. And although we want more than survival, I do think now that we also need to pay attention to the characteristics in which we score the lowest. Here is the thinking behind my argument: I have been so focused and dedicated to the expression of my top strengths that I dismissed how developing teamwork, perseverance, and self-regulation was extremely important to achieve my goals successfully.
Last week I commented on Twitter that I have recently realised how I’m lacking Love in life. I honestly didn’t mean Love in a romantic way, but Love as way to relate and be in my relationship with others. So I set myself on a reflection quest about re-finding Love and here’s the first step of that journey, a commitment to find out how I can balance my strengths and virtues in order to be and experience more Love in life.
I don’t know exactly what will follow, but I do know that I’m going to do a conscious effort to apply this thinking. I think I started it already, when I let my barriers go down in the beginning of the week and I sobbed in front of my mom. It took a pulmonary infection (it’s controlled now) and something else I’m waiting a diagnosis for, but the truth is that hitting rock bottom and exposing my flesh did activate my mother’s caring system and I can say I felt Love, even if it doesn’t last long. It made me feel more deeply how life without Love is a living Hell and how we should care more about each other. When there isn’t Love, there isn’t a reason to smile and maybe our modern problem is exactly the absence, the lack, and misuse of Love.
This experience with my mother made me embrace the concept of teamwork as a need to communicate effectively what I feel as well as what my needs and expectations are. I need to work on the fact that although I and others do have an ability to feel and know what others feel without further due, other people might not. It’s called being an empath or highly sensitive and we “secretly wish” to be seen as we see others: beyond the veil. We rarely do feel seen though, because being an empath is not something yet acknowledged or embraced in our modern society. One clear sign of that is the overmedication of children to they remain still, quiet, and “well-behaved” at school and at home. On this matter, you may like to read the post “What Are We Doing To Our Sensitive Kids?”.
Many empaths struggle with self-regulation too, another of my least developed strengths. Most of us grew up in a culture and in a context where emotions were not welcomed. We were shaped to suppress natural expressions so the adults around us wouldn’t have to be in touch with their own emotions and deepest thoughts about reality. We grew up in dissonance, learning that it wasn’t right to feel the way we did, it wasn’t right to question authority, or simply be who we are. We have a powerful inner compass which became rusty and dysfunctional. And once in adulthood, many of us struggle to own ourselves entirely. We are not sure about what to do, how to heal and recover from years and years of suppression. If I am not who I am, if I don’t own myself, how can I be and feel love? If I don’t know what Love is, I don’t know who I am, and vice-versa.
Then there is perseverance. Love requires perseverance and I have been a quitter. I start one project and instead of finishing it I let my creativity take control over it. I go from project to project, without a single end, because my creativity is too wild and instead of taming it I let it run my life completely. Once an idea comes to my mind, I have to act on it, but then another and another one comes. Creativity is great, but undisciplined creativity has led me to chaos. In order to love and be loved, I need to be more steady. I can’t fast forward it and I can’t forcedly take someone out of my heart just because I don’t want to lose time, feel pain, or only live in beauty, in creative flow. I must not tolerate abuse ever again, but I can’t expect that sharing my life with someone will always be smooth sailing.
Thinking and writing these thoughts is making a flower blossom in my Heart Chakra. It’s the second time I feel such thing. I don’t know the meaning of it, but it’s a nice sensation. And now it’s gone again, because I wished too hard to grasp it and explain it to you. Maybe it’s another lesson about Love: try too hard or try too little and you won’t be able to know what Love feels like. For now, let’s see what the next step of the journey will be. Perhaps the next one is about finding practical and concrete ways to use my top and bottom strengths in order to cultivate more Love in my life.