In a previous post of this series (yeah, I know, it was forever ago), I emphasized the importance of self knowledge. You need to know yourself in order to know how to best care for yourself and how to best do your job of being a special needs mom. And bonus: learning about your own strengths and weaknesses will hopefully give you a better eye for spotting those things in the people around you. Like your kids. Like your partner. Because guess what, they ain’t gonna be like you.
So where do you start? What do you do when you look around after years of chaos and think “This isn’t how I want my life to be”? How do you get to know yourself? And how do you figure out how to take the life you have and make it one you enjoy?
Well, I have five tools in particular that I think have been especially helpful to me and fortunately, I just grabbed a book recently that goes over the basics of four of them. Ah, providence, you are incredibly helpful.
Reading People by Anne Bogel is really a stellar introduction to different approaches to personality. If you can find it at your library, go ahead and grab it and see what she has to say. It will be more in depth than this post, but you’ll be okay without it, too, so no worries.
CliftonStrengths (formerly Clifton StrengthsFinder)
Strengths Finder is a tool that I was introduced to when my husband took it through his work. We discussed his results some and looked through all 34 themes to guess which ones I would have, even went so far as to buy a book with a test code for me.
Two years later, it still sat in a drawer forgotten. I just felt too tired to take a test.
Finally, after a particularly rough hospital stay, my husband encouraged me to find the book and take the 30ish minute test in an attempt to figure out what I needed in my daily life to be happier.
So let me just give a brief overview of StrengthsFinder. The basic idea is that we are all naturally good at some things and that investment in those areas will give you better results than investing in areas you’re not as naturally inclined. They have 34 different themes in four domains (Executing, Influencing, Strategic Thinking, and Relationship Building) and when you take the test, you are given your top five initially (you can pay to unlock your full 34 order later, but I think they’re on track with forcing people to focus on their top strengths first. Seeing all 34 right away can lead some to only see their bottom five instead).
I completely fell in love with this model of how people operate. It was such an eye opener for me. 1) I didn’t realize the things I did well were anything special and 2) I didn’t realize the people around me were so different and had so much to offer.
My husband and I had such great discussions around our different strengths that I encouraged my entire family to also take the assessment. Wow! It has been incredible! We talk more now than we ever have before and I can see where their talents lie.
And I can also see how I had been dismissive of certain strengths in the past.
So once you get your top five themes, you’re given a few different reports and guides on how to both feed and grow them. They also have an amazing webcast called Theme Thursday that dives deeper into the themes. I have learned so much listening to those.
And then, after you’ve learned about those, if you want to, you can pay to unlock your full 34 report. It’s not cheap. I know. But I would say that if this is a tool you find useful, you will get quite a lot out of seeing your order of all 34. For me, it was helpful to see that 7 out of my top 12 themes are all Strategic Thinking themes. It gives me more confidence to go deal with doctors because I know that I’m good at researching my daughter’s various conditions and putting pieces together to figure out what she needs.
This test does cost money, but my recommendation is to get a code by purchasing one of their books. They’re usually much cheaper on Amazon than buying a code on its own.
Strengths Based Parenting is going to be my first recommendation. It’s a great book and features many stories of special needs parents focusing on the strengths of their kids. It includes (at the time of me writing this so please check the product description before buying) both a regular code for a parent and a child’s code for the StrengthsExplorer for ages 10-14. Oh, and I didn’t have luck getting codes with purchasing the ebook version. And make sure you get a new copy. A used one will likely have the codes gone.
StrengthsFinder 2.0 is the basic book that goes through the various themes and should include a single code.
How Full is Your Bucket? I have not read this book, but it seems to include a code and is often the cheapest of the three. Check the description carefully, though.
This is the system I’ve invested the most time and energy into so it’s my favorite, but it’s also just been such a huge help in learning self care for ourselves. Those days when I don’t want to do anything because I’m so tired? I know now that the best thing I can do to find some energy is learn something new and engage my brain. So yeah, nerd. I relax by researching.
Self Authoring is essentially a guided writing program to help you explore your past, present, and future. It walks you through a series of writing prompts, encouraging you to look at the events of your past from different angles, your faults and virtues that shape how you operate in the present, and the dreams you have for the future.
The main section that appealed to me was the Past Authoring. It claimed to help with past memories that still evoked an emotional response. With everything we’ve gone through with our daughter, I have a whole lot of those kinds of memories. I thought I’d at least give it a try.
They do warn you that you usually feel worse for about two weeks after doing this program, but then you start to feel better. I was shocked to find that was my exact experience. I actually did Present Authoring first, then Future Authoring, then started Past Authoring and hit a wall. I felt terrible and just could not bring myself to finish it. Then two weeks later, it all just clicked into place, I finished the Past Authoring, and I’ve learned so much about myself.
And I did have good success with dealing with some traumatic memories with our daughter. I can think back to those times and not have that strong emotional response anymore. I really need to take the time to do the program with more of those kinds of memories.
The Future Authoring was great, too. It really helped me get a clearer picture of what I want our life to look like and the things I could do to make that more likely to happen.
Overall, I really think this is a great tool and I highly recommend it. At the time of this writing, it’s $30 for the full Self Authoring Suite. And bonus: It’s the same price for getting TWO codes. So go in on it with a friend or significant other!
Meyers Briggs/MBTI/Objective Personality
Most people have heard of Meyers Briggs or MBTI at some point in their lives. It’s fairly common and there are close to a bajillion online tests you can take. I’ve taken a bunch of them. They were fun and somewhat interesting, but not particularly helpful.
Last fall, though, I stumbled across a rather different approach to this system and I was immediately hooked. Dave and Shannon of Objective Personality are attempting to expand the original sixteen types, but also help people learn and grow with what they discover.
Now, I’m going to warn you that this system is not as positive an approach as StrengthsFinder, so make sure you’re in a spot where you can take an honest look at yourself. That can be a difficult and painful experience, so I wouldn’t recommend you do it during a hospital stay or when your child is massively struggling. I wouldn’t even recommend it when you’re just coming out of a long stretch of hard things. Give yourself some time to recover and focus on the positives for a while.
BUT, I think this is really an excellent tool to learn more about yourself and figure out your life. They have some good videos that go over the basics of the system (and there is quite a bit of language, so be aware of that), but their website is also a great resource (and maybe the best place to start to learn the lingo). There is a class you can sign up for as well, but I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, so I can’t tell you much about it.
Just start at the beginning of their videos and make your way through, carefully looking at yourself and what you are really like as opposed to how you wish you were. Like I said, that’s not always a fun journey, but to be honest, I think most of us special needs parents are already ahead of the game on self growth.
I think the best thing I’ve gained from this system, though, is just seeing what they call ‘tidal waves’ in my life. We all have them, those complete freakouts/meltdowns/whatever you want to call them where it just seems like everything is going wrong, everything is against you. Their view is that those are usually caused because you were spending all your time on the things you’re good at and ignoring the things you’re bad at. Eventually all those things you ignored come slamming into you and then, like the delusional beings that we are, you tell yourself that if you simply do more of those things you’re good at, that will solve all your problems. Meanwhile, everyone around you is looking at you saying “Why don’t you just do that thing that you’ve been ignoring?”
We’re all just a bit crazy and delusional. It’s okay. You’re in good company. But once you start seeing reality a bit clearer, then you can start handling life a bit better.
Five Love Languages
I’ll be honest, I haven’t thought much about this system since I got engaged and read one of the books. And then highlighted the book to give to my now-husband because even back then I was aware that he didn’t love reading the way I did. It is mentioned in Reading People, though, and reminded me how much a part of our marriage it really is.
Five Love Languages talks about how you show love and also how you want to receive love. The five languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. There is a quiz online and various books as well.
With different love languages, my husband and I have had to work on those things over the years and it’s just become a part of how we interact. We don’t always get it right and sometimes we need reminders, but it’s really made a big difference for our marriage.
The Enneagram has been my most recent tool to dive into. It’s also maybe a bit more negative, but it’s really a matter of perspective, I guess. We all have weaknesses and fears and sometimes those can be difficult to see and admit. So that part is hard. It just is. But, then it’s very freeing.
The Enneagram is a great way to look at your own motivations, how you respond to stress, and how you can best grow. I’ve found it incredibly helpful in understanding my life lived to this point and how I can hopefully make some changes to reach goals down the road.
I know there are dozens and dozens of online Enneagram tests, but I think the best approach is just to read through descriptions of the different profiles and do some self evaluation. More than likely you’ll come across one that really cuts to the core of who you are and what fears are shaping how you interact with yourself and the world. I really like these Pinterest boards for some quick insights, too.
There ya go. Five different tools that will hopefully give you some insights into yourself and then into your partner and then into your kids.
We’re all so incredibly different in some really amazing ways. I always thought people were basically the same, to be honest. I knew people held different beliefs, had different views and different experiences, but the processing…I always thought that was more or less the same. Needless to say, that often left me massively frustrated when I couldn’t understand why people were doing the things they did.
I’m so intensely grateful that my husband and I have had some of these tools to help us work as a team as we live our crazy life. Our appreciation for one another has skyrocketed as we’ve learned where each of our talents lie.
Special needs parenting is a hard road at times so take some time to figure out how you’re wired, what you’re best at, and where you need to let others help you out!