Discover your character strengths using a questionnaire devised by academics at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Most of us indulge in the odd self-discovery questionnaire on Facebook after all we all want to know “Which English monarch do you most resemble?” but to upgrade your self-discovery questionnaires you could try the Character Strength Survey on the Authentic Happiness website at the University of Pennsylvania. See their questionnaires page here.
The Authentic Happiness website hosts various questionnaires to support investigations into Positive Psychology at Positive Psychology Centre run by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman. According to their website “Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive” and you can find “free resources where people can learn about Positive Psychology through readings, videos, research, opportunities, conferences, questionnaires with feedback and more”.
One area where this has helped me is to build up a sense of self. If you have had problems being narcissistically abused it is likely that you have a weak sense of self. You may find it difficult to define yourself and may find that your values and interests shift markedly depending on the situations you are in and the people you are surrounded by. If you grew up in an abusive environment it is likely that you suffered so much developmental trauma early on that by the time you reached the crucial teenage years where most people find their own identity in relation to their peers and the world around them, emotional dysregulation resulting from earlier traumas likely meant that you did not have the stable base you needed to find your own identity.
It is not too late however to start to build your sense of identity even late into adulthood. I realised for a long time that I had problems in this area. I really realised there was something wrong here when I went to a self-esteem program at Women’s Aid which helps people recover from domestic abuse. In one session we needed to sit and write on a sheet of paper things that we like about ourselves; our personal qualities, our achievements and so on. In my case, I could think of things that I associated with myself that rationally I knew should be considered as positive. Somehow however I could not commit them to paper. Anything associated with me immediately brought up a sense of disgust and shame. I found I was unable to write out a single thing. I had always found that whatever I did and whatever I achieved made no difference almost as if there were nothing there to attach it to. I always felt like psychologically I wasn’t standing on solid ground. Although I was on a program for self-esteem I realised at this point that my problem was not only to do with self-esteem but with the existence of a sense self. This is a common reaction particularly to very early chaos and trauma in the family environment, and to internalising the abusive messages we have received about ourselves from others.
If you have a negated or very ill-defined sense of self, as an adult you can build yourself up but you need to make a conscious effort to do so. You need to consciously go through the stages of self-exploration that most people experiment with in their teenage years.
I found the survey on character strengths to be useful. What I liked about this is that it highlights your character strengths which you have by virtue of being human. The survey highlights things such as “values fairness and justice” or “is compassionate” and so on. Everybody is worthy and everybody has strengths. No matter what you achieved or didn’t when you were little, somebody should have valued you for your intrinsic character strengths and worth as a human being. If you have problems being narcissistically abused, then this is an area where you were let down. You were treated as an object, abused and were not valued as a worthy individual in your own right but now as an adult you can reclaim the self-worth that was not bestowed on you when you were younger by your caregivers.
Try the survey and see what your character strengths are. If you have problems with your sense of self then commit your personal strengths to memory and repeat them to yourself often. Notice how you feel when you do so. If you feel afraid, ashamed, a sense of disgust or another unpleasant emotion, practice mindfully observing it but don’t get involved. Let it arise and pass away. If you keep practising this, eventually you will begin to associate these qualities with yourself and come to a greater acceptance of these things. Any unpleasant reaction you have to stating your good qualities will eventually subside and you will begin to believe in yourself more. I found that I no longer have the same negative reaction to being asked to list my positive traits and it feels like a big relief. Hopefully if you have this problem you can get to that point too.