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Using Weaknesses to Better Understand Others (and Ourselves)

“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

For years, I had a major weakness: I was extremely judgmental. I recognized it about myself, and I wore the label with pride.

What I didn’t recognize was the fact that I had another weakness that was keeping me judgmental and loud about it: I had low self-esteem.

It’s surprising just how many of our problems are linked to low self-esteem. But if we take a minute to think about why we feel the way we do and consider the negative thoughts we have, we’ll see just how much of it is a branch of that same tree.

For years, I made a bad habit of verbalizing how strong I was. Can’t you all tell? I don’t care what you think!

But I did care.

I went along fine like that for a while, but eventually my illusion of perfection came crashing down on me. Suddenly, without warning, I had severe panic attacks that would not allow me to leave my bedroom for the better part of two years.

This will illustrate for you just how little I left my bedroom: My preschool-aged son would stand at the end of the hall, applauding me and jumping up and down on those rare occasions when he saw my husband helping me make my way to the living room for a five-minute outing.

Before all of that, I thought I was handling everything well—telling people off when I was angry with them, telling people what I thought about everything even when they didn’t ask, and telling people how weak they were when they wouldn’t stand up for their beliefs.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the thing I thought was my greatest strength was actually a mask for my biggest flaw.

It is human nature to try to cover our flaws, but it is important for us to recognize our imperfections and see how we can use them to improve ourselves.

Of course, it would be best for us to recognize our flaws before they cause us so many problems. But sometimes, great change can come from a breakdown.

I look back on my condition now, and I know how breaking down was the best thing for me. Why? It taught me that people are not perfect. And most importantly, it taught me to face the fact that I wasn’t perfect and I couldn’t continue to bear the heavy burden of the masks I wore.

During the years I spent in my bedroom, I wondered why I had always thought other people were so “weak.” If I can’t leave my bedroom, why am I so intolerant of those with addictions? If I can’t make myself answer the telephone, how can I expect someone who fears confrontation to speak up for herself?

I became more compassionate in those two years. And as I became more compassionate, I became more confident.

No one is perfect. That line is over-quoted and under-appreciated. What does it really mean to us? We say it, but we often think “no one is” means “I am not.” And even worse, we can think “no one is” means “she is not.”

No one is perfect. This isn’t an excuse to behave poorly or mistreat people. But it is a truth we can use to cut ourselves (and others) a little slack.

When we understand that we all have flaws, and that having flaws makes us human, we can hold our heads a little higher. It gives us a better view of the reality that we really are just as valuable as other people. And more importantly, it helps us understand that the flaws others have are often forgivable.

People who knew me thought they understood what I was going through. They tried to understand the condition from their worldview. The truth was, I only told one person outside of our home just how bad my condition really was.

Because most people didn’t really know how bad I was, many people judged me when I wouldn’t visit their homes when invited or attend their social gatherings. Family judged me when I didn’t want visitors in our home. So, for a short while, I had a taste of my own bad medicine.

My condition taught me a lot about people and how judgmental they can be. Most importantly, it showed me how judgmental I could be.

I am not angry with those people who treated me that way, because if I hadn’t been through it myself, I likely would have been just as judgmental with someone else in the same condition.

If you have low self-esteem, do you ever think you are the only person? Do you ever think no one else understands? It might seem like that is the case, because people with the lowest self-esteem usually won’t tell people about it.

I used to look at people on television, attending baseball games, or on reality programs, and I would wonder, “Where are all the people like me?”

Well, it was a silly question wasn’t it? The people “like me” are probably locked away, hidden, nervous, and afraid to face the world. They are afraid of the judgment I once passed and later received.

I still struggle to remain confident. That is made evident by the fact that my blog image is still a drawing. But I am learning, and my progress in recovery so far has taught me that if I have come this far, I can keep going.

I’ll get a picture up soon. I believe I can do it, because I’m stronger today than I was yesterday. I am made stronger by my weaknesses, which have taught me so much.

If we have low self-esteem, it can help us be more compassionate if we use it to our benefit. And through our compassion, our self-esteem can improve.

No one is perfect, but through our imperfections we can become better.

Photo by daftcain

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About T.L. Hickman

T.L. Hickman writes for ToughLoveAnswers.com, a website devoted to the betterment of women, families, and personal relationships. She holds a Master of Science in Family & Consumer Science from the University of Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @tlanswers.

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  • Lv2terp

    Thank you for sharing such a touching, vulnerable, and amazing life lesson in this post!! I enjoyed reading this, and I myself have realized recently that my judgement, and need for control, etc…actually comes from low self-esteem as well, which was a TOTAL SHOCKER since my whole life I thought it was so high! haha….how ironic.  Thank you for this message and putting yourself out there! :)

  • Stefsspa

    I can so relate to this story. There I was going along in my very happy life and I began having severe panic attacks. I could barely do anything. All I wanted to do was stay curled up in my room and shut the world out but I had small 4 children under 5 to care for.It did lead me on my spiritual path to where I am now, my Hebrew roots. I still suffer from anxiety and nervousness.  I really don’t have answers. Everyday is different. I’m def not as social I like feeling comfort. I have been working on self love and self confidence. Ive gotten rid of toxic people in my life that i feel were one of the main causes. I grew up in a very toxic judgmental home. My family is still extremely critical and judgmental. I had to cut them off. I had to. Everyday I have gotten better and stronger. They do not understand or are unwilling to change how hurtful and how ugly it really is. Im tired of focusing on the why. I am now focusing on how and what I can do to have a happy life.

  • Cindi

    This post screamed at me to listen carefully and to thing deeply. I suffer from low self-esteem to the point that it has cause paranoid and self destructive behavior. It seems that I have such a lack of faith in myself that no matter how happy I am I find a way to sabatoge that happiness as I am convinced that I don’t deserve it. But, due to recent events in my relationship (I am getting married in 25 days) and the surfacing of past mistakes that both my fiance and I have made along our path together and the admission of the weaknesses that we have exhibited I am able to come more to terms with the fact that I am not perfect and neither is he – and that is OK! This post reminded me that acceptance starts in our hearts and with ourselves, if we wish to have others see us at our brightest and best we must first see that in ourselves. It won’t be easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard and it will take some work but I am worth it. By loving myself and believing in myself and learning that my weaknesses can lead to my greatest strengths, and that in realizing those strengths I will begin to embrace and accept others as well.

  • Kathryn A

    I am working through these issues as well, though luckily without the intense level of panic attacks.  I thought this was beautifully written, and so well put.  Wanted you to know the people like you are right here.  Peace.

  • http://twitter.com/tlanswers T.L. Hickman

    Thank you very, very much. Too often we try to live around the illusion that we have it all together, often to our own detriment. As with anything, recognizing our problems can make all of the difference. In my case, I was forced to examine myself. I am grateful for it.

  • http://twitter.com/tlanswers T.L. Hickman

     Oh, I completely agree with you Cindi. I made the decision that I might not be important to many others, but I am important to myself and to my family. I owe it to myself and those who care about me to be the best person I can possibly be. And the only way I know to make improvements is to recognize the areas where I *need* improvement. Good luck to you and your fiance. I wish you all the best.

  • http://twitter.com/tlanswers T.L. Hickman

    Stef, I know how that can be. I always remind myself that *no one* has to live my life. It is so easy to judge from the outside, isn’t it? People, including family members, who judge us might think they know, but they are simply trying to understand based on their own experiences, which are *never* going to be the same as ours. As hard as it is, I am trying my very best to tune all of that out and listen to myself. I wish you the best on your spiritual journey. Thank you for reading and for your comment.

  • http://twitter.com/tlanswers T.L. Hickman

    It is ironic, isn’t it? People thought I was so high on myself because of that front I put up for them. They had no way of knowing how much sleep I lost doubting myself or reliving the judgement I had received from them that day. Thank you for reading, and thank you so much for your comment. It reminds me that so many of us are more alike than we realize :)

  • Tasha

    I really enjoyed this article! It is amazing how quickly we judge others, even when we try to be aware of not doing it. Whenever I judge somebody, I try to think about why because when we are judging others, ultimately we are judging ourselves. Nicely written article! :)

  • TL Hickman

     Tasha, that is very true! Often, what we think we hate about another person is merely the reflection of ourselves. We see in them the very things that we dislike in ourselves. Unfortunately, sometimes we fail to see our reasons for it. Thank you for taking time to reading the article.

  • http://www.madlabpost.com/ Nicole/TheMadlabPost

    I recently read a chapter in the Tiny Buddha book (forgot which chapter it is though) that talked about relationships and it said something along the lines of the people that we are with are our own mirror reflecting back on ourselves….and I know that this has nothing to do with being judgmental but reading what you wrote about using weakness to be compassionate towards others reminded me of that “mirror” section in the book…particularly because I think that when people judge others, it is probably a reflection of what they see wrong in themselves or a reflection of some type of shortcoming or imperfection that they struggle with an are unhappy about so they start projecting that onto others, either knowingly or unknowingly, through the form of judgement.

    Also where you wrote “the thing I thought was my greatest strength was actually a mask for my biggest flaw.” — wow, that is something to be said!

  • Uttaragarg

    hi am a regular reader of this blog and could relate to this post of yours as i had gone thru a similar breakdown 2 years ago. and it has taught me great deal of things and lessons. faced the same social challenges of not wanting to confront people and still dont want to sometimes. everyday is a lesson for me and i keep introspecting what i learned. but yes people out there dont tend to understand u. they think they understand u but actually thats only on the surface.
    i thought i was the only one who felt that my family and friends still dont get or understand me for what i am and why i have become like this. but i like myself for what i am today cause this spiritual journey has led to new path which i never knew existed.
    thanks for sharing your life!

  • Ciska B

    I have been on anti-depressants for most of my adult life and still spend some days feeling that I can’t cope. It has been especially bad the last few weeks. I ended a relationship that was not working, one where I felt used and never a priority. 

    I have been very angry and hurt at the other party for making the decision he did. I couldn’t understand why someone would live the way he does even when he has the opportunity to be happy. But after reading your post I realised that it is not my place to judge his decision, but rather for me to accept it and do what is the best for me.

    Thanks for making me realise that even though I am compassionate in some situations I can still be very judgemental in others.

  • Brent Oh

    Wonderful Wisdom. Thank you.

  • Lorraine hansberry

    I am currently dealing with anxiety issues myself. I just want to let you know you our an inspiration not only for me but for countless others.