A short time ago, I was having lunch with a young girl I am currently mentoring through CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) www.casaforchildren.org. Grace* was working on a project through her church youth group wherein she was asked to write a list of her strengths and weaknesses. After some reflection, Grace was supposed to ask a trusted adult to complete the exercise on her behalf as well.
Honored to be asked to contribute, while we waited for our order I immediately began to assemble a number of her personal pros and cons. I think Grace was astonished I could come up with the response so quickly. She appeared even more amazed that my list of her strengths outnumbered her short comings. You have to understand, Grace often tells me she is "bad" and "useless". Since she has verbalized these things to me on a regular basis throughout the past year, I know she must also consciously and unconsciously repeat them to herself often as well.
Unfortunately, Grace lived through quite a bit of trauma during her first fifteen years of life. Her parents, who were drug users, verbally abused Grace and neglected her basic need for love and acceptance (as well as food and shelter on more than one occasion). However, Grace's life changed sixteen months ago when she entered the CPS system and met a very caring foster family as well as her CASA advocate (me).
Dr. Phil has been known to say it takes 1,000 "atta boys" to contradict just one "you are useless". If this is the case, Grace will need to hear several million kudos before she comes close to breaking even. The bigger shame is Grace is just one of many, many children who grow up feeling unloved and unworthy.
Her foster family and I are trying our best to help Grace see through her past and into her future. One where she feels worthy of unconditional love, of setting and achieving her goals, and one where she feels worthy of acceptance and belonging. In the past Grace has found her sense of happiness and worth through several forms of escape like drinking alcohol and spending time with boys who are happy to give her attention in return for a piece of her soul.
Although helpful, I know my regular visits [usually over wings and fries] will only make a dent in countering what Grace has experienced in life thus far. It is going to take a lot of time, faith, prayer, and courage on her part to get past the useless to the loved.
I felt Grace really did benefit from completing the exercise and from my thoughts regarding her plusses and suggestions for where she could use improvement. While I drove home from our visit, I continued to think about whether or not I had ever made a list of my own strengths and weaknesses, and how doing so might be of value. I mean, how many of us actually thinks about, let alone writes down, what makes us special and what areas we might still need to work on?
I then began to wonder: why is it so easy to write a list for someone else with more strengths than weaknesses and easier for my own list to start with weaknesses rather than with strengths?
*not her real name (of course)