Cycles of Growth
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2015 (edited November 29, 2021)
We are broken. The first steps of growth are painful. But through honest self-reflection, growth accelerates, leading to greater insights..
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 are remnants of past experience. The past expresses itself through emotion. Emotion exposes a truth, not always motivating the appropriate response to the present but offering in a window to view connected pasts, exposing our history and our relationship to the moment.
Splitting the veil between past and present, emotions arrive, and for a brief moment, we have contact with a past that was hidden and have the glorious opportunity to learn. Self-observation provides an avenue to personal insights. Self-reflection is notoriously under-utilized; and when we do finally examine ourselves, we judge and berate in harmful and debasing ways.
Our electrifying ability to bring the obscure into the open empowers purposeful growth. We can escape blind obedience to harmful and limiting instincts by dragging portions of the unconscious into the conscious—seeing the unseen. With increased self-knowledge, we can alter behaviors, avoiding harmful repeats of the past.
Personal Insights often Unpleasant
Self-discovery isn’t always pleasant, unlike the wonder of a child’s curious adventures at the park; journeys into our soul exposes demons 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 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 artfully avoid.
Protective Defenses to Limit Shame
Our desires for acceptance are expressed through emotion. Interactions with others magnify feelings. We dread rejection and often poke our small deformities. Preoccupation with insufficiency, laced with harsh judgements, incites shame. We begin to hide these precious parts of our being to avoid censure from those we wish to please. We all experience shame but at different intensities. Some are 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 discomforts by limiting awareness of inadequacy, at all costs, we miss critical enlightenments for personal growth. The things we need to know, the habits we need to change, and the expectations we need to temper often remain hidden to protect the ego. The divorce, the termination, or the financial collapse may be avoided if we were honest with ourselves. But those disquieting doses of reality—exposures of self—incite fear, so we bury our heads and cover our eyes, hoping the boogey man will pass us by.
Personal growth doesn’t happen here. We sacrifice self improvement for the temporary comforts of blindness; stuck in a cycle of fear, we stand 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 exhibit our imperfect existence. 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 for greater motivation, the moment of action passes, we miss the opportunity. Past motivations resurface, pushing towards familiar ends. We can muster some self-discipline to fight urges for unhealthy action; but eventually the mental resources wane and we falter, and we return to the comforts of the past.
Self-knowledge gained from reflective investigations provide a better avenue, allowing for pre-planning to combat critical moments of temptation. We avoid difficult decisions during emotionally trying moments by having escapes organized early, preventing critical face to face confrontations with habits in the heat of emotion.
Small progressions improve many aspects of our lives—relationships deepen, self-discipline strengthens, goals come to fruition. Our improved life builds strong foundation, improving self-confidence. We commence with a new cycle of growth; instead of stuck in fear and avoidance, we confidently explore opportunity, further enriching our lives and continuing in growth.
When we consistently integrate better choices, we eventually reach a tipping point. One more stone tips the scale, pushing us into bright new frontiers. Our changed lives are now geared for growth. The healthy habits, the enriched environments, the greater personal awareness, the intelligent processing of emotions, the expanding empathy, and deepening relationships 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.
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