“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
Every year I meticulously trim my climbing rose. I don’t gently trim; I chop. By the end of the season, the branches reach the eaves. Chop, chop, chop. I read that pruning promotes new healthy growth. So I tried it. I was apprehensive the first few years; but the climber always grew right back. Healthy new shoots and vibrant colored roses. When the rose received sufficient sunshine, water, and fertilizer, the winter pruning revitalized the plant. Nature provides fodder for thought. Life—in all forms—educates. We share characteristics with roses, giraffes, dogs, spiders, and all other living forms—small and large.
Humans respond to environments. Physical and emotional growth doesn’t occur independent of the surrounding environments. Growth requires nourishment. Growth in self-esteem, security, flexibility, self-discipline, and compassion all require proper nourishment. Whether a plant or human growth depends on nutrient rich environments and capabilities to process nutrients. Health improves processing. A plant’s roots expand to extract more nutrients; thicker foliage absorbs energy and provides protection. Healthy people process positive energy from their environments. A diseased plant’s root, foliage and trunk limit absorption of nutrients; illnesses and anxiety also limit absorption of nutrients.
Failure to thrive befalls humans and plants. A lack of healthy contact stagnates growth. A dreadful discovery found in orphanages and hospitals of war ravaged regions is that young children—with adequate food, shelter and water—become sick and many die without modest doses of warm human contact. Adults also suffer when rejected and lonely. We need warm, accepting relationships.
As a police detective, I investigated a child neglect case. A six-month old baby boy was rushed to emergency. During the preceding two-months, the child drastically lost weight. Doctors and nurses frantically worked to revive this youngster who was now less than his birth weight. Failure to thrive isn’t a third world country disease. Children all around the industrial world suffer varying degrees of failing to thrive. In this case, a teenage mother slowly lost affection and then neglected her child. The excitement of a child faded after reality struck; caring for an infant is thankless work—especially as a single parent. The transition from breast-feeding to formula caused irritability. The emotionally taxing crying wore on the young mother. The young mother’s insecurities weren’t bolstered by a needy child. Limited resources, poor models, and several other complexities combined to the mother’s overwhelming emotions. The baby didn’t provide the needed acceptance of the naïve young mother.
The young mother tearfully admitted losing interest. She would prop the bottle up with a pillow and go to the other room—sometimes hours at a time. Every test for possible disease was negative. The child simply lacked human touch. Several months of attention from caring nurses combined with modern medicine revived this beautiful baby boy. The young mother received resources, training and counseling. Healthy human contact was essential for the young mother, too.
Impaired childhood attachments and past abusive relationships damage capabilities to enjoy adult intimacy. Intimacy is frightening. Defense systems activate to protect us from pain. When past attachments are painful, new attachments excite fear. Too much anxiety inhibits closeness. The past destructively interferes with absorbing essential nutrients.
The past colors the present. Emotions intimately combine with expectations; expectations materialize from the past. The ability to process the present is a complex constellation of past experiences. Past painful experiences ignite emotional markers for future protection. Learning can’t be accomplished without this adaptive system. The threat management system scans for new threats. New opportunities associated with painful past trigger strong emotions. Our warning-system becomes protects over-drive in response to harmless events. If we don’t recognize the influence of the past on emotional reactions, we will artfully justify the over-reaction. In too many cases, new opportunities will be discredited and abandoned.
Are we doomed to self-perpetuating cycles? If not, how do we break free? It is a painful conundrum; Lack of nutrients stymies growth but fear prevents creating the nourishing circumstances. We need to stop seeking a simple answer. Healthy living is complex; not solved by simple resolutions. Because of complexity, we always be faced with struggles. But there is hope. We can embrace the difficulty of our existence without discouragement. Futures can improve. The present can transform futures.
Many discovered the answers. The answers will never circulate effortlessly through the masses; because they don’t promise simplicity—a life of ease. They aren’t what we want the answers to be. Requirements for sustained growth are abandoned to promises of ease. We discard healthy advice for over-simplified-psychological garbage that offers little long-term benefit. The less attractive but more effective answers take second-seat to the constant viruses of thought that spread effortlessly. We need to be more discriminating with the programs we choose to build our futures.
Growth requires basic building-blocks. We need relationships, experiences and resources that nourish. Without basic building-blocks, growth is impossible. We also need to effectively process these resources. Recognizing the nutrients and skillfully integrated them becomes our challenge. Growth a continual progression of small changes. The skills required are perishable. We should constantly monitor our lives so we can identify deceptive thinking, distorted perceptions and misguided beliefs We create nourishing relationships only when we can identify the growth-destroying thoughts. New skills develop; old skills sharpen. This is work. But when we welcome the work with patience, we grow. We obtain new heights. We experience new joys. We enjoy greater intimacy. Hopeless addiction loosens its grip, the terror of rejection softens and the fear of failure retreats. The small building-blocks combine to create a pillar of strength—not because of a magic potion or a secret skill but through perseverance to take a path few have chosen.
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