In Part 1, I gave an overview of the three strong suits as Landmark theorizes. Strong suits help us succeed in life and are our primary ways of being. Being aware of them allows us to choose different behaviors when required. Being unaware (i.e. blind spots) leaves us frustrated at least part of the time.
Landmark’s theory is that our three strong suits occur at distinct periods in early life.
- Child (3-7 yrs)
- Pre-Teen (8-14)
- Young Adult (15-24)
The exact age is not what’s important. What is important is that they occur within that period of life and that they occur following a similar pattern for all individuals.
The pattern is some traumatic event occurs and it shocks the child, teen, and young adult into making a decision about how they are going to be (behave) going forward.
The traumatic event is not necessarily something physical like a car crash, or broken bone, or death of a relative. It could be something like that – but often it’s something that is traumatic only to the individual. If it happens in a group setting it’s often only traumatic to you – others might barely notice it. It’s traumatic because it’s hurtful or painful to your psyche. It’s a hurt feeling. It’s a feeling of inadequacy. It’s embarrassing.
In the Landmark Forum, a skilled leader takes the group through several hours of discussion using real life examples of volunteer participants.
Other people’s stories helped me understand these concepts and dig deep into my own past. As an additional disclaimer, this accounting is simply a summary of what I learned about myself and the Landmark process as I remember it.
To help uncover your traumatic story and strong suit, Landmark proffers the following questions for each of the three time periods.
- Child – Something is wrong here … ‘I’m not smart enough’
- Teen – I don’t belong … ‘I’m not fitting in’
- Young Adult – ‘I’m on my own’ (as a burden)
Imagine a young child of age 3 or 4 who is completely self-unaware. Every day is joy and laughter and 100% in-the-moment. Some event happens and the child suddenly becomes self-aware. He says to himself, ‘Something is wrong!’ Or she says to herself, ‘I’m not smart enough.’ Up until that moment, life was 100% carefree. After that moment, a new consciousness begins and the child starts acting in a strategic manner. The first strong suit develops. The traumatic event could be as simple as a tired, exasperated parent telling the child, “Stop acting like a baby.” Or an older sibling saying, ‘You’re stupid.’ The child – at that moment – felt something was wrong and decided to be more self-aware. The child starts to behave in a certain way so they don’t look stupid. Self limiting behavior begins. This first traumatic event more-than-likely starts within the home.
Life then goes on and the child masters their first strong suit. The strong suit could be friendly, peace maker, helpful, cooperative, social, and so forth. The strong suit is a strategic way of being to enable you to get along with others.
As the teenage years approach, this same person has another traumatic event. Their singular way of being up until now (i.e. first strong suit) – does not work at that moment. He says to himself, ‘I don’t belong.’ She says to herself, ‘I’m not fitting in.’ This event most likely occurs with friends outside the family. The second strong suit develops. Now the young teen has two strategies for surviving in the world.
Finally, the young adult has the third traumatic event and the third strong suit develops. In this case, the young adult realizes that they are on their own. Being on their own is a burden – it is not a joy. It’s the realization that mom and dad can’t protect me anymore. ‘I’ve got to figure this out on my own.’ The first two strong suits weren’t enough. A third strong suit develops to handle the myriad of situations that comes a person’s way. This third strong suit will often begin when a person goes off to college. They are excited to be on their own but suddenly realize they are on their own. Yikes!
One of the questions I asked when learning this for the first time was, ‘Why don’t we develop a fourth and fifth strong suit at age 30, 40, and so forth. Landmark’s interpretation is we do keep learning but they are always modified versions of one of the first three. The additional learning throughout life are refinements of one of our previously established strong suits.
When you become aware of your strong suits, you have the option of behaving in a fourth or fifth or tenth different way. But even with a high degree of awareness, we still default to our original three strong suits throughout our lives – especially in times of stress, anger or fear.
Uncovering the traumatic event is critical to understanding why the strong suit was adopted. The traumatic event is the bogey man under the bed. The strong suit is what develops to protect us from the bogey man. Killing the story that gives the bogey man it’s power results in freedom and future possibilities. The self-limiting behavior we imposed on ourselves all those years earlier will start to unravel. Bringing the story out into the open diminishes the story’s power. The bogey man can finally be revealed as a fraud. The bogey man becomes powerless and dies.
Note: This series is a description of what I learned and how I benefited from attend attending the Landmark Forum. It is not meant to precisely replicate what Landmark teaches – it’s what I learned. The strong suit concept is one of several unique theories that participants learn during the 3-day seminar. I encourage all to attend and benefit in your own special way.
In Parts 3, 4 & 5, I’ll describe the traumatic stories I created that helped me develop my three strong suits. Part 6 will be a mind map that I created in the fall of 2013 diagramming my strong suits. That diagram is what killed the bogey man for me.
Here are the links to the rest of this series:
- Part 1 – Strong Suits
- Part 2 – When & How They Begin
- Part 3 – Smart Was Already Taken
- Part 4 – Roller Skating Rink
- Part 5 – Delusions of Grandeur
- Part 6 – Mind Map