Orlaith O’Sullivan, Ph.D.


Strengths Constellations

In this post, we explore how the characters strengths connect and interact with each other and how a group of strengths, when activated, amplify the positive and protect from the negative caused by overuse or underuse of strengths.

In facilitating circles on the VIA Classification of 24 character strengths, I often witness people realising that these strengths simply cannot exist in isolation. “But how can you have hope without perspective?”, “How can you have leadership without social intelligence?”, “What’s love without the ability to be kind or grateful – or to persevere?”

It takes a village.

I always love this moment, when a silo mentality is abandoned and we can see these strengths more like a forest, part of a complex network of support, collaboration and communication. The vitality of these strengths and the power they can offer to each other opens up realms of possibility.

As we become more nuanced in our understanding, we can observe how these strengths can work together as a team. When a group of strengths is activated, it brings myriad positive qualities and also protects against unwholesome levels of strength energy.

Amplify the positive

When working with a strength, you can explore what other strengths might go well with it. With a little reflection, you can find a good Strengths Partner.

For example, Love of Learning and Curiosity can empower each other very naturally. Add some Zest into the equation and you will generate even more bright energy. Perseverance can really be supported by both Perspective and Self-Regulation – and if you add in Hope, you’ll bring a lightness to the whole experience.

Activity: You can do this exercise with any one strength: consider what it brings to the table, and explore appropriate Strengths Partners. Who would make good co-collaborators?

Protect from the negative

When a strength is overused or underused, it becomes toxic. When two or three strengths are out of balance at the same time, it can create a perfect storm of poor decisions and behaviour.

Again, we can identify Strengths Partners to correct, amplify or tamp down certain energies. For example, if I have noticed that my Bravery is too strong at times (resulting in reckless decisions), then Prudence might be a great counterbalance, helping to keep my expression of Bravery at a healthy level.

But what if Prudence grows too strong and then stops me from taking any risk? I’ll need to draw support from the interconnected ‘forest’ of Strengths. Prudence will help with too much Bravery, and now I’ll need Hope or Zest to help with too much Prudence.

Activity: Identify a strength that you sometimes overuse or underuse. Can you find two good Strengths Partners to help that strength to be expressed at a healthy level? Remember, you might need to draw in one or two more Strengths to balance out this new combination of active strengths.

With time, we can observe the interchanges and influences of these strengths, and we can design Strengths Constellations to keep us appropriately resourced for any situation. Over time, we help to curb our own habits of overuse and underuse.

A Strengths Constellation is a nuanced collaboration, and one that will always require adjustments in real time. Remember that by including a Signature Strength in the Strengths Constellation, you have an ingredient that will naturally energise you and will feel effortless to draw on.

Wishing you beautiful constellations of strengths to light your way.