Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Why You Need to Stop Compensating

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First Impressions

My wife and I recently adopted a 4 year old girl from China with cerebral palsy (CP).

CP is a disease that affects motor and sensory functions of the body. While she was still developing in the womb, her brain suffered an injury. Causes of CP vary from prematurity to hypoxia to infections. The part of her brain that was affected did not develop normally and she struggles with muscle control.

We know very little about the first 4 years of her life. When we picked her up, though, she was extremely weak. She struggled to walk 10 feet without falling. Forget running or climbing or dancing. The normal stuff of a 4 year olds life.

When you looked at her, it was easy to write her off. To place her in a category of a hopeless, pathetic invalid.

The first time I saw her, I was scared to death. Seeing her lack of ability to function gave me little hope that she would ever have a “normal” life.

She is anything but an invalid. In the short time we have had her, we have seen her development excelerate beyond what we had imagined possible.

The Problem with Compensating

One of her treatments is bracing.

The braces are called AFO’s or ankle-foot-orthotics. They completely surround her ankle from high up on her calf down the back of her leg and underneath her feet past her toes.

The interesting thing about the braces is how they help her. Strengthening her muscles is very hard for her. Most kids develop strength as they play and do stuff. She is so weak and her muscles function so abnormally this hasn’t happened for her.

Because she is weak, she compensates.

Eva is a really smart girl, which both helps her and makes things worse. She is really good at finding the easy way out of something. For her it is like breathing.

She takes a swimming class. One of the games she is asked to play involves her going under water to grab items. She is supposed to grab one at a time until they are all gone. When Eva gets tired, she grabs two.

She compensates to function. With weak muscles, she has learned to change the way that she walks. And yes, it looks funny. But the biggest issue with compensation is that it keeps her weak. The muscles that need to strengthen are not used. Her ability to compensate actually perpetuates her problem.

This is one of the reasons she wears braces. To remove the compensation. The braces force her to walk differently. And yes, it looks even funnier. But weak muscles are forced to be used which makes them stronger.

Walking differently and slower and funnier are the first steps to walking normally. Allowing her dysfunction is an important part of improving her function.

But the key part of this process is to remove her ability to make it easier. To put her in a situation where she has to do the hard work.

Everyday Compensation

All of us have some way we compensate. There is part of our lives that is so difficult and painful, or perhaps weak, that we have learned how to function some other way.

We compensate by finding joy in things that are easy to obtain but do not last.

We compensate by finding the easy way out in life.

We compensate by silencing the dreams in our hearts.

We compensate by keeping ourselves busy and distracted with lesser things.

We compensate by allowing excuses for our lack of effort.

Because we compensate, we are weak.

The only way to become stronger is to remove the compensation. To walk funny for a time so that we can gradually build strength.

And then one day, we will be able to run.

How do you compensate for weak areas of your life?

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About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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21 Replies

  1. “To walk funny for a time so that we can gradually build strength.” I think that’s the hardest part for me when I moving outside my comfort zone. That awkwardness can be so…awkward sometimes. Painfully awkward. It’s hard to be “okay” there. But, you are right. We need to be willing to go there in order to grow.

  2. I definitely struggle with it, but putting my daughter’s brace on her is such a concrete reminder, I had to write about it.

  3. Brian Lindner

    “Allowing her dysfunction is an important part of improving her function” Powerful. In my work with people with mental illness, treatment so often tries to erase all dysfunction with the expectation of improving functioning. The result is often disappointing until they are allowed some dysfunction and the work of recovery. Allowing dysfunction also seems to be God’s template.

  4. All of the above! What a thorough list of how I tend to compensate!! I find it most difficult to stop being busy — because there is always something else to do that feels productive — and start focusing on what matters most. Even though I know the long-term consequences, it can be hard to live by faith and put first things first.

  5. I think you are right that busyness can be a distraction from what we should really be doing.

  6. God even tells us he uses the weak to bring glory to himself. There is a beauty in allowing this dysfunction isn’t there?

  7. I’m sure it comes with practice, but you’ve got a knack for explanation.

    I definitely compensate. I think of it as finding the most efficient way to do things. It can be good but it’s also problematic.


  8. Lyman

    What I needed to hear this morning! The more we settle for the easy way, the less we end up with. What a perfect way to end up unfulfilled at the end of your days. Most messages I read and move on, this one gets printed for the refrigerator. Thanks.

  9. Katharine

    I tend to get satsified with lesser things:
    blogging over the book writing
    commenting on blogs over posting
    “liking” over commenting
    It is hard to figure, when one has many priorities, though, which priorities should come first, and then, whatsoever things are urgent — I tend to think on those things.
    Finding the real task for the moment is always my struggle. Thanks for this spotlight on that need.

  10. “We compensate by finding the easy way out in life.” this kind of rings with me today. I like to avoid confrontation…especially with difficult things. And then I wonder why I have a hard time buckling down/focusing. Could they possibly be related? DUH!! Thanks for the reminder. It hurts but I needed to hear it.

  11. Actually, I explain things to people all day long. It doesn’t mean I do it well, but it is a big part of what I do.

    There is efficiency and then there is hiding. I think efficiency is okay. But if we avoid something because it is hard, then we are hiding. And that’s not good.

  12. Agreed. On all accounts. (Minus the “It doesn’t mean I do it well” part).

  13. Thomas Mason

    Powerful line: “Allowing her dysfunction is an important part of improving her function.” I compensate for the weak areas of life by dwelling in them rather than trying to move past them. As such, no growth is experienced. Yet our weaknesses are not weak when they’re placed in God’s hands, rather, we are made stronger.

  14. Challenging, Jeremy. Very challenging.

  15. paminhenan

    Oh my, I know I compensate by checking out friends on FB instead of visiting or giving them a call…..pam from

  16. I found this to be SUCH a very powerful picture of of overcoming weakness and moving toward growth. Thank you.

    As a mom of a special needs kid with profound developmental delays, I can tell you that the bumpy and arduous road as a parent has a great many burdens that break the heart repeatedly. But too, a (SUBLTE) bountiful harvest of many insights, surprising rewards and joys other parents can’t have with “normal” kids.
    God knew you needed her, maybe even more than she needed you. God is full of strange blessings, and redeeming pain for our benefit.

  17. BrinaHarwood

    I know you are far to busy to follow me around and take notes, so I’m guessing it’s coincedence that your list of everyday compensations are pretty much my list? Powerful message.

  18. katina vaselopulos

    For years when I had problems with my hips, in order to avoid painfully walking, I had to move my legs not from hips but rather by rotaing from the waste. It took four hip replacements and revisions and a great physical therapist to show me that what I was doing was wrong and how I should bring my legs straight forward from the hip. I cannot believe the difference this made.
    Other ways I was compansating? Binging with food, eating suggary foods non stop, constantly being busy cleaning the clean. A few other great teachers, including you Jeeremy, helped me face the difficult and hard things I need to do and how to work on getting them done.
    I ove how you take life situations and turn them in life lessons!
    God Bless you and your family Jeremy!

  19. Brian Lindner

    His grace for me is certainly beautiful. Even when I compensate He is strong.

  20. You wrote words of truth today Jeremy. I compensated for my lack of social skills for years by avoiding interacting with others. It was awkward and uncomfortable to be in the crowd. My social muscles had atrophied. Only by getting out and engaging with others have I found strength.

  21. I do the same sometimes with social settings. It is just easier to avoid it so I do. But relationships are important. Glad you are building strength, Joe.

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