Cycles of Growth
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2015 (edited 2017)
We can only work with the aspects of self that are available for reflection. When protective layers of defenses obscure the faults, they faster and ruin.
Boom the moment hits us, emotions surge, drawing us into joy, sadness, anger or surprise. An experience sparks reaction. Emotions when examined, no matter how ordinary or spectacular, offer insight. When sentiments bubble to the surface, they carry embedded truths. These truths don’t necessarily properly guide behavior, although they may. In the present emotion contains remnants of past experience. The past expresses itself in the present through emotion. This is the exposed truth, not always appropriate response to the present but logical given the connected pasts, exposing truths about our history and our relationship to the moment. Seeping through the veil between past and present, emotions arrive, and for a brief moment, we have contact with the past and opportunity to learn. Self-observation—an avenue to personal insights—is frequently under-utilized; or when we do examine ourselves, we often do so in harmful and debasing ways.
The ability to bring the obscure into the open empowers effective planning and purposeful growth. We can escape the blind following of harmful and limiting instincts by dragging the unconscious into the conscious—seeing the unseen. With increased self-knowledge, we can alter behaviors, avoiding harmful repeats of the past.
Self-discovery isn’t always pleasant, unlike a child’s curious adventures at the zoo full of wonder; journeys into our soul exposes darkness we prefer to ignore. We are complex beings full of good and evil; darkness and light. We prefer the comforting warmth of over-inflated self-evaluations rather than the coldness of personal flaws. The comforting protected views of self, however, exact a high cost on the future; blinded by deceptions, we miss welcoming opportunities to flourish. Insecurities impede greater awareness. For many, recognition of shortcomings sparks fear, arousing shame and unworthiness. Deeply embedded defenses that constantly fight discomforting feelings stagnate growth, encouraging a cycle of avoidance and justification. The insights we desperately need to direct change often generate discomforts that we subconsciously learned to artfully avoid.
These protective mechanisms inhibit growth.
Our desires for acceptance are expressed through emotion. Interactions magnify feelings. We dread rejection and constantly pick at the small deformities that incite shame. We hide precious parts of our being to avoid censure from groups and people we wish to please. We all experience shame, some much more sensitive to possibilities of rejection than others. In order to flourish, we must navigate the tricky swamps of shame to successfully arrive. If we avoid the discomforts of inadequacy, at all costs, we will employ deceptions that block critical enlightenments. The things we need to know, the habits we need to change, and the expectations we need to temper remain hidden. The upcoming divorce, the employment termination, and the financial collapse may be avoided if we were more honest with ourselves. But the disquieting doses of reality—exposures of self—may incite fear, so we bury our heads and cover our eyes, hoping the boogey man will pass us by.
Growth doesn’t happen here. We sacrifice improvement for temporary comforts; stuck in a cycle of fear, we remain stuck in the quagmire of our own protections.
"If we avoid the discomforts of inadequacy, at all costs, we will employ deceptions that block critical enlightenments."
When we adjust our relationship to the flaws, willingly accepting some imperfection, the defenses subside. By soothing reactions, the shortcomings become an acceptable part of our humanity. Playing with Leon Festinger’s words, we become ept by acknowledging ineptness. Imperfections simply testify of our imperfect humanity. Compassionate acceptance of our humanity opens our mind to deeper revelations. The ghosts of the past no longer haunt the present with the dangling chains of shame but brightly light the path to better futures. New knowledge no longer frightens but enlightens, providing fascinating discoveries. Compassionate acceptance facilitates growth.
When we wait to engage change for the moment of action, we are too late. The same motivations of the past are engaged and pushing for completion. We can muster the self-discipline to fight the urges for action; but eventually the mental resources wane and we falter, returning to the comforts of the past. Self-knowledge gained from reflective investigations provides a better avenue, allowing for pre-planning of critical moments, constructing new directions, motivations and rewards. This directs more energy towards changing of self rather than critical face to face confrontations with habits in the heat of emotion.
The small progressions improve many aspects of our lives—relationships deepen, self-discipline strengthens, goals come to fruition. The improved living builds a stronger foundation, improving self-confidence and we commence with a new life cycle; instead of stuck in the cycle of fear and avoidance, we confidently explore a greater world of opportunity, further enriching our lives and continuing in growth.
When we consistently integrate healthy choices, we eventually reach a tipping point. One more stone on the scale tips the balance, pushing us free from habitual disappointments into bright new frontiers. Our lives are geared for growth. The healthy habits, the enriched environments, the greater personal awareness, the intelligent processing of emotions, the expanding empathy, and deepening relationships all combine to encourage greater attainments—a flourishing life. The pinnacle of wisdom feeds upon itself. We’ve reached the top of Maslow’s pyramid, the seventh stage in Carl Roger’s personal progression, the self-fulfilling and flourishing life. The positive-growth cycle gives life to itself; an exciting journey of self-discovery where freedom of choice expands creating perpetual positive changes.