Focusing on Your Strengths in Recovery 

At Kagey Family Counseling, we have partnered with Positive Recovery Centers (PRC) to bring you our Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) located in the Energy Corridor of Houston. One of the reasons we partnered with PRC is due to their emphasis on positive psychology. The focus of our PHP and IOP programs is on developing your strengths and helping you to create joy and happiness in your recovery from substance abuse. While the road to recovery has its challenges, the goal of sobriety is to be able to experience more joy, fulfillment, and peace in your life than when you were caught in the cycle of addiction. 

Whether you’ve been on your recovery path for a few days or a few decades, sometimes you may lose sight of the strengths you possess. It’s often easier to believe negative things about ourselves, especially when we’re struggling. Afterall, you wouldn’t be in recovery if things had all been hunky-dory in your life. But just because you realized you needed to make some changes, doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of positive things to build on within yourself. Just the fact that you’re reading this article means you’re curious and brave – two of the character strengths we’ll discuss in detail. 

In recovery, you may find there are some strengths you need to learn about and start developing. However, many strengths are characteristics you already possess, but may have found yourself out-of-balance with. In other words, you have the strength already, but because it’s an underdeveloped or overdeveloped trait, it’s become distorted from its original, positive expression in your life. 

The Via Institute on Character – 24 Strengths We All Possess

The Via Institute on Character teaches that social scientists have found 24 character strengths common among all people, and they’ve created an entire research and training program around these strengths. 

Positive Recovery Centers uses tools provided by the Via Institute to equip and train all its leaders and managers. As a result, when you’re a client at our PHP and/or IOP in the Energy Corridor, your counselors will incorporate this perspective into your individualized treatment planning. 

While the 24 character strengths are universal, the Via Institute reports that each person expresses each trait to varying degrees. Being out-of-balance with any of these characteristics can cause unwanted problems in your life. 

When a strength is out-of-balance, the Via Institute describes this as either the Overuse or the Underuse of that character strength. Overuse means that you may have exaggerated or amplified that strength in your life. 

Underuse is the opposite – it means the strength is underdeveloped or not expressed enough in your life. 

When the expression of these characteristics are out of balance, they become problematic for you. 

The purpose of identifying whether you’re out-of-balance with these traits is so you can work toward building up the traits you’re underusing and simmer down the ones you’re overusing. The key is to remember that you have each strength – it’s just a matter of expressing each of them proportionally (getting them out of hiding).

Here’s the list of all 24 Strengths and their expressions when we Overuse or Underuse them, as described by the Via Institute:

Overuse  StrengthUnderuse
Narrow-mindedness, cynicismJudgment/Open-MindednessUnreflectiveness
Know-it-allLove of Learning  Complacency
Emotional promiscuityLoveEmotional isolation
Over-analyzingSocial IntelligenceObtuse or clueless
Self- deprecationModesty/HumilityHubris
StuffinessPrudenceSensation seeking
Snobbery or PerfectionismAppreciation of Beauty & ExcellenceOblivion
IngratiationGratitudeRugged individualism
Snobbery or PerfectionismReligiousness & SpiritualityAlienation

How To Use These Characteristics in Your Life and Your Recovery

To make this more applicable to your life, we’ll look more closely at 3 of these 24 strengths – Curiosity, Bravery, and Hope. 

  1. CURIOSITY                         
Overuse StrengthUnderuse 

Strength: CURIOSITY. If you’re a naturally curious person, you enjoy exploring new ideas and approach much of life with a sense of adventure and an excitement to discover new things. This is a great strength to have when you’re embarking on a new way of living, such as being in recovery from substance abuse. This strength will support you in being open to the new ideas and ways of living you’re being introduced to.

Overuse (exaggerated in your life): NOSINESS. You’re eager to know things that aren’t any of your business. You may struggle to stay in your own lane and find yourself getting involved in other peoples’ issues. In recovery, this may look like getting in the middle of others’ conflicts or asking a lot of personal questions to people you’ve just met. 

Underuse (not expressed enough): DISINTEREST. You’re more apathetic about what’s happening with others or what’s going on around you. You may come off as unconcerned or like you don’t care much. In recovery, people may think you’re only worried about yourself and don’t concerned with how they’re recovery is going. 

Overuse StrengthUnderuse 

Strength: BRAVERY. You show a lot of courage. You deal with things in your life that are challenging for you. Instead of avoiding your fears, you face them. If you’ve reached out for help and have started on your path of recovery, you have this strength! 

Overuse (exaggerated in your life): FOOLHARDINESS. You may be reckless and have a tendency to not be as responsible as you could. You’re careless about the consequences of your actions. If you’re struggling with substance abuse or addiction, this may be one of the traits that’s caused you a lot of problems. It may have even led to you being arrested or having significant issues in your relationships or at work.

Underuse (not expressed enough): COWARDICE. You struggle to face your fears. You may be very timid or overly-cautious. You may approach your life from a fear-based perspective. In recovery, it will help you to ask for support in this area if you find you tend toward this direction. Remember, you can work toward bravery – it’s already in you – it’s just been under-developed in you so far.

  1. HOPE
Overuse StrengthUnderuse 

Strength: HOPE. If it’s usually easy for you to feel hopeful, you have confidence that good things will come to pass. You also trust that there’s something better ahead – there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. This is a valuable strength to have on your path of recovery because it’s often filled with ups and downs, just like life. 

Overuse (exaggerated in your life): POLLYANNA-ISM. No matter how stressful or hard a situation, you respond with, “It’s all ‘sunshine and roses” and “Everything’s for the highest good.” The problem with this over-amplification of Hope is that you may be in denial about real issues. If you respond to others this way, you fail to meet people with a sense of understanding and empathy. Pollyanna-ism skips past this part and moves right on making everything seem wonderful. In recovery, responding to your own or other people’s pain like this will make you seem insensitive and disconnected from what’s really going on.

Underuse (not expressed enough): NEGATIVE*. If this is you, you may have been called an Eeoyre or a Negative Nelly before. If you watch Saturday Night Live, Debbie Downer provides a great example of what you’re like when you’re teetering in this direction. You may seem unfriendly or even hostile to others. If this sounds like you (especially in your recovery), you could try smiling at others more and making an effort to think of three things a day you’re grateful for. Practicing little things like this can inch you towards getting in touch with the Hope that’s been under-expressed in your life.

*This is NOT to be confused with persistent states such as clinical depression or feelings of hopelessness that require medical intervention and professional support.

Keep Building on Your Strengths

The more you use this list to discover where you are and where you may be off course, the more you’ll be able to build up your strengths and apply them to your recovery. You may even be surprised to see how many strengths you’re already expressing in an optimal way! Give yourself the credit you deserve and continue to build on them. They will carry you on the harder days of your recovery!

If you find that you’re either amplifying or underutilizing these strengths, work on moving more toward balancing them out. With time and effort, you’re bound to see improvement . And remember, no one’s perfect or expressing all 24 strengths consistently, all the time. It’s normal to fluctuate back and forth. The goal is to be aware these characteristics are within you and to head back toward the middle when you’re stuck in troublesome expressions of them. 

If you want to learn more about these 24 character strengths, visit the Via Institute here.

We’re Here for You
We’re here to partner with you and to help you to have the best experience you can in recovery. You can call our office at 832-928-0211 for a free 15-minute phone consultation.  We’re happy to discuss your specific needs and answer any questions you have. We have offices in Houston, TX, and we provide online therapy and recovery coaching for anyone living outside the Houston area.

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