“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, Ed.S., LPC.