When we write, we try to give our characters both strengths and flaws. Giving our characters a mixture makes them seem more real, more three-dimensional. Finding a balance often means exploring the thin line between strengths and flaws.
A helpful character could easily step over the line to interfering. A protective character could become controlling. Love could turn into obsession. Etc., etc.
Of course, the fact that characters seem more real when they have a mixture of strengths and flaws reflects that we are also a mixture of strengths and flaws, and sometimes our flaws hold us back. A week ago, I came face-to-face with one of my strengths that crossed a line.
I’m a first-born child, and like many firstborns, I have a strong sense of responsibility, determination, independence, etc. In other words, I possess several traits that can add up to the flaw of perfectionism. No surprise there.
Over the years, I’ve managed to temper my perfectionism with a need to actually get things done and not just fiddle with it endlessly. On an Enneagram test, two of my highest traits are the Type One (Perfectionist) and Type Three (Achiever).
Those two qualities balance each other out so I recognize my perfectionism as wishful thinking and it doesn’t hold me back. Even before I ever heard of Enneagram tests, I called myself an over-achieving perfectionist. So far, so good.
However, traits like responsibility, determination, and independence can also make me stubborn. Especially when it comes to thinking that I should be capable of doing something. *smile*
In most cases, I can learn to do something I didn’t previously know, and that flaw isn’t a problem. Or if I’m not passionate about doing something myself, I’m fine with handing off control to someone else.
However, what happens when I refuse to admit that I can’t learn something and I want to be able to do it? In a word: trouble.
Meet the Klutz Queen…also Me
I was the kid who hated gym class because I sucked at every sport. I’m the woman who isn’t coordinated enough to drive a stick shift car. In fact, as I learned last week, I’m the character we all scream at in a horror movie when they fall in front of the monster for no reason: “Don’t be stupid! Get up! Run!”
That’s right. I’m the one who would be left behind in the zombie apocalypse for being too much of a liability. *nods*
Despite being a klutz my entire life, I’m still not careful enough with my movements to avoid issues. As I mentioned a year ago, I’ve broken the same toe three times.
So a week ago Sunday, I was running down the stairs—in the dark, no less—because… I don’t know. I’m an idiot? I refuse to accept my limitations? I prefer to think of myself as graceful or superhuman? All of the above? *sigh*
Suffice it to say that my inability to accept my limitations is my fatal flaw. (And in this case, my refusal to be careful really was nearly fatal.) I fell down the stairs. Big time.
I managed not to pitch forward onto my head or anything, but I did tear my ankle. No bones are broken according to the x-ray, but I ripped the soft tissue (tendons, ligaments, etc.).
The doctor actually told me that I’d have been better off to break a bone because the soft tissue will take a lot longer to heal. No such luck to have only broken a bone.
One Flaw Leads to Another
Now I’m in a wheelchair and can’t put any weight on that foot, probably for a month. Now imagine me, the Klutz Queen, trying to navigate with crutches or balance on one leg for those times when you have to stand, and keep in mind my independent streak, and you can probably guess my level of frustration.
For someone who judges herself on how much she accomplishes, it’s debilitating to not be able to do everything, and I hate being a burden to my family. So I struggle for five minutes to get the wheelchair lined up just right to be close enough to reach inside the refrigerator and not so close that I can’t open the door.
Yeah, stubborn. *smile* I won’t ask for help unless I really think I can’t do something, or if I think I won’t put someone out too much by asking.
The lovely green bruises across my ankle and foot curve around to cover my Achilles tendon too. Isn’t that symbolically appropriate? *snicker*
From The Positive Trait Thesaurus:
- “Challenging Scenarios for the Independent Character: Incurring a debilitating injury that requires help from others (having to learn to walk again, etc.)”
From The Negative Trait Thesaurus:
- “Stubborn: Associated Behaviors and Attitudes: Not asking for help when one needs it”
Yep, it’s challenging all right, and my stubbornness isn’t helping. I was near tears almost constantly last week. Now at least I’m starting to see enough progress that I hope to start the first phase of physical therapy (non-weight-bearing stretches) next week.
Wish me luck—both for my injury and for being able to ask for and accept help. If I’m smart, I’ll stop being my own worst enemy. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll also learn to accept my limitations and be more cautious so I stop injuring myself with klutz moves. *smile*
Do you have strengths that sometimes cross the line into flaws? Do you have flaws that hold you back? Do you have flaws you wish you didn’t? Do you know why you have those flaws? Do you have flaws that you accept because you want the strength that comes with it?
Photo Credit: Rose Meschi
(Dying Achilles at Achilleion, Corfu. Sculptor: Ernst Herter, 1884.)