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Fear of Weakness: How Shame Stifles Growth

Mean Instead of Weak

We all have weak points—areas in which we struggle more than others do. Often, we’re able to compensate for them by leaning on one of our personal strengths, but sometimes we take a different approach: we hide or deny our weaknesses. Usually, this strategy of disowning our foibles is based in shame. We find them so unacceptable that we can’t even acknowledge them to ourselves, let alone allow others to see them. When other people do indicate an awareness of our limitations, we may lash out at them. We may even become angered by others who exhibit their own personal shortcomings without shame, as we can’t stand to be reminded of our deficiencies. In our determination to deny inconvenient facts about ourselves, we become enemies to those with whom we should most be able to sympathize.

Knowing is Half the Battle

In addition to making us more unpleasant than we need to be, denying our weaknesses can, for lack of a better way to put it, keep us weak. This isn’t to argue that we should strive for some state of perfect strength or flawlessness. When we can accept our limitations, that is wonderful. That said, we sometimes struggle needlessly because we don’t address our impediments. When we deny the difficulties we have, it makes overcoming them all but impossible. Medical treatments need to begin with a diagnosis, a good exercise program should begin with an assessment of the initial limits of one’s physical strength, and any attempt at self-development necessitates reckoning with the areas in which one finds oneself lacking. Only then, can we determine what needs to be done to shore up our weak points, and in doing so, make living less strenuous.

Safer as Superman

In order to grow, we have to accept our frailties. Children play at being invulnerable superheroes, but eventually, they take off their capes and accept their comparatively un-empowered status as mild mannered humans, allowing them to grow into strong, competent, and resilient adults. Sometimes, though, that’s hard. Sometimes, kids learn it’s not safe to be Clark Kent. Kids in chaotic or unsafe environments may learn to deny their powerlessness. They learn to hate and fear their weakness, which may generalize to a disgust towards weakness in others. This might be a necessary adaptation, helping confused children fend off hopelessness and despair. Carried into one’s adult life, however, this disposition is a recipe for frustration and stuntedness. Alternatively, a child’s fear of weakness may be transmitted didactically by the adults in their lives. Parents and role models may simply express to the child that weakness is inherently shameful. However, it is likely that if one were to follow the transmission of this message backward through the generations, they’d find that it was born of the same necessity to deny one’s precarity described in the first scenario. Hard times create hard people, who tend to have a hard time.

The Challenge of Asking for Help

It’s an act of courage to accept things as they are—to accept oneself as a limited being, and the difficulty of doing so shouldn’t be written off. The task of encountering and integrating that which we’ve disowned is difficult and confusing. There are various forms of psychotherapy that can be helpful in this undertaking (e.g., psychodynamic therapies, internal family systems therapy, and compassion-focused therapy), but the necessary first step is a willingness to acknowledge that we might need some help with some stuff. A good therapist will recognize that their client is doing something that takes a lot of guts, and they’ll afford them the appropriate amount of patience in aiding the client in their journey toward self-acceptance and growth.

Thomas Shooman is a mental health counselor practicing at Resolution Psychotherapy who provides teletherapy to clients across New York State. Thomas’ clients include individuals dealing with anxiety, grief, and obsessive thinking. He enjoys helping people navigate uncomfortable circumstances and find solutions that are in line with their personal style. To inquire about therapy with Thomas, send him an email at

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