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The Dark Side of Positive Psychology Part 2: Emotional Strengths in Overdrive.

22 May 2014

± minute read

    The Dark Side of Positive Psychology Part 2: Emotional Strengths in Overdrive.
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Most of us would agree that emotions play a pivotal role in our day-to-day lives. There also appears to be an uneasy balance between being emotionally void or emotionally oversensitive.

What are your strengths?

From a StrengthScope perspective, our strengths are ‘…underlying qualities that energise us, contribute to our peak performance and lead to peak performance (Brewerton & Brook, 2006, p. 5).Strengths are human characteristics that are optimally used in specific contexts in the right amount, at the right place, and at the right time.

Consequently, it is not enough to simply know what characteristics are strong, but also to have a deeper understanding of how these characteristics should be used to optimise human functioning (Brewerton & Brook, 2006). This is especially true of emotional strengths.

What are emotional strengths?

Emotional strengths are those emotional reactions or characteristics that allow an individual to optimally make sense of, express and manage emotions.

The StrengthScope lists six emotional strengths namely: Courage; Emotional Control; Enthusiasm; Optimism; Resilience; and Self-confidence. Below we evaluate some of the positive aspects associated with these strengths:

  • Courage: The capacity to stand up for a particular position even when under pressure not to do so; taking on challenging or difficult tasks; and facing risks.
  • Emotional Control: The capacity to manage emotions effectively and remain calm, composed, and collected.
  • Enthusiasm: The ability to use emotions to drive behaviour; communicate passion; and infuse tasks with energy.
  • Optimism: The ability to remain positive and up-beat about the future.
  • Resilience: The capacity to transcend challenges and overcome difficulties.
  • Self-confidence: The ability to believe in oneself and use this self-belief to accomplish goals.

Although emotional strengths are considered good they may also result in negative outcomes if overused.

This is sometimes referred to as strengths in overdrive. Below we list some of these overdrive characteristics:

  • Courage in overdrive: Taking on risky positions and challenges that may have a high probability of failure.
  • Emotional control in overdrive: Being dispassionate, stoic and aloof as emotions and feelings are not shared sufficiently with others.
  • Enthusiasm in overdrive: Being overly emotive and excitable and making people feel that their views are not valued or appreciated.
  • Optimism in overdrive: Being too optimistic and not taking into account the pitfalls or shortcomings of certain situations.
  • Resilience in overdrive: Taking on too much work or attempting tasks that cannot be accomplished without severely overextending your capacities.
  • Self-confidence in overdrive: The inability to perceive weaknesses in thinking or accepting constructive feedback from others.

Always be mindful of balance.

As mentioned in part 1, Aristotle believed in a balanced psyche where people are aware not only of their strengths, but also of their deficits and more importantly, their vices. Often, these vices are overlooked, because strengths are thought of as wholly positive. However, overused strengths can result in definite negative consequences that all individuals using a strength-based approach should be made aware of.

Strengths should not only be thought of as ‘good’ characteristics that allow the individual to thrive, but should also be seen as dominant traits that individuals use to cope with everyday life.

In the next instalment (The Dark Side of Positive Psychology Part 3: The Dark Side of Relational Strengths), Sandra Case and Paul Vorster will be looking at some of the negative aspects of relational strengths (interpersonal strengths that help people maintain and build relationships).


Brewerton, P., & Brook, J. (2006). Strengthscope™ Technical and User’s manual. London: Strengths Partnership.

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