Negativity: Better By Monday

“Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.” -Michael Jordon

The Client Intake Form I use in my counseling process asks the new client to list her strengths and limitations. Many clients can fill up the section on limitations, and a few have added negative items by utilizing the margin. It is curious why so many of us can label negative aspects of ourselves, or perceived negatives, more easily than listing strengths.

I remember hearing a lecture in one of my college classes about not using the word “weaknesses” to identify any shortcomings of a client. Limitations, as a category, was decided to be less harmful and therefore adopted by the professionals who created my Intake Forms.

Some of the limitations clients have written down over the years include, lazy, overweight, afraid, anxious, too angry, too sad, overwhelmed, underpaid, bossy, controlling, pleaser, tired all the time, too trusting, can’t trust, and no motivation. There are at least a hundred more limitations which I have seen listed.

McKay and Fanning in their book, Self-Esteem, 3rd Edition, have readers write alternative language for their list of personal limitations. A list they use for an example of a client’s self-talk included having Buckteeth, Blabbermouth, Wishy-washy, and Know-nothing.

The exercise to reduce or rename the negative qualities includes using specific language about each one. The labels a client uses to define herself can become damaging descriptors. The following is the list of derogatory labels with a correction added.

I. Buckteeth became Prominent front teeth.
II. Blabbermouth became “On two occasions In the past year I told something I shouldn’t have.”
III. Wishy-washy became “Tend to defer to others who have strong opinions.”
IV. Know-nothing became “Know little about current events or history; don’t read the newspaper. Know a lot about psychology, pharmaceuticals, children, modern dance, making a family work.”

The new list of limitations is fact based without being a criticism. It helps a person to see how the language they use about their self-perception can cause harm. Also, it helps them see that a fact-based version can be true without being hurtful.

One Thing to Do: Make a list of your limitations and then use filters to write an honest but kind version of each item on your list. (Self-Esteem by McKay and Fanning page 50-51)
1. Use accurate language, not pejoratives.
2. Be specific about incidents of occurrence of the limitation.
3. List exceptions and corresponding strengths.


Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling

Vice: Better By Monday

“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”

-Abraham Lincoln

Finding some balance between letting our limitations overwhelm us like heavy weights around our ankles versus letting our strengths seem like impenetrable armor is difficult.

When I was young I was taught about the opposites that exist within me at home, in school, and at church. One part of me was my good side the other part was my bad side, in cartoons this was represented by an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

Later in life I learned to frame the opposite ideas of good and bad differently. I was taught in college to help clients see their strengths and their limitations and that both can be good and bad. The context of how useful the strength could be, in different situations, made it a good or bad thing.

The idea that a personal strength could be a bad thing was a curious concept. How could something good like strength, ever be a bad thing? In an assessment called, The Friendly Style Profile (2004), a strength in excess can become a liability.

An example given in the profile is that a functional quality (or strength) in times of duress can change into a dysfunctional version of itself. A person who is normally careful (functional strength) can become wary (first level of excess) when under distress and can shift into being obsessive (second level of excess) when overwhelmed.

    [Careful > Wary > Obsessive]

Another route to excess: Hopeful >becomes> Disillusioned> becomes> Despairing.

The equation I have come to believe is that what limits us can make us stronger or better, in the right circumstances, and what makes us strong can feel bad, in the wrong circumstances.

One Thing To Do: Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. Write Good at the top of one side and Bad at the top of the other. List all the qualities you believe belong under each title. Then look at how each good thing could become a problem if overused, and look at how each bad thing can become a life lesson.

Dawna Daigneault

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.