Creating an Environment for Growth
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2018 (edited January 6, 2022)
We need kind environments. Neglected children and abused adults stagnate. Gentleness starts in our hearts, giving ourselves a respite from harsh criticism.
Life is difficult—full of hazards. People threatening our well-being. For many, living is scary. We avoid contemplations that terrorize peace, bullying our stability. Reflecting on weakness provokes discomforting emotions that invite unhealthy adaptations for rescue. Personal development is doomed by self-protective blindness. We must first see, and then constructively approach. We must move forward in gentleness, kindly protecting fears and treating wounds.
Psychological Defenses to Protect
When acknowledging weakness ignites shame, poking our sensitive ego, we protect, conveniently overlooking faults and smoothly projecting blame. This defensive reaction softens fears of rejection. Often demanding parents instills this fear in a child—a fear that continues into adulthood. The internalized parent lives on. We become the harsh critic—the new taskmaster, exacting grating punishment for imperfection.
Gentleness is tender kindness arising from understanding and acceptance.
We accept the conceptual idea of personal imperfection; a few brazenly don’t (we usually avoid those narcissistic brutes—or vote them into office). But typically, we accept that we aren’t perfect. General acceptance of the concept is dandy but without accepting our specific imperfections with gentleness, the general understanding is worthless. The reality of seeing a personal flaw rips into sensitivities, eroding self-worth, weighing us down with shame and guilt. If we desire personal growth, we must transcend this tiresome cycle. We can learn to acknowledge our imperfections with gentleness.
Gentle self-compassion towards identified flaws, wraps the shortcomings in the softness of understanding and acceptance. We see the weakness—our soft spots—but with care, we accept it as part of our present character. We understand the roles of environments and biology clashed to create our perfectly flawed selves.
We naturally nurture perceptions of self images that feel good, coddling strengths and overlooking weaknesses. We feel warm when pondering strengths. Growth requires reaching deeper, offering gentle welcoming to the flaws as well. This is compassion. Gentle self-directed compassion expresses kindness to our notable flaws. We can offer self love and acceptance despite our flaws.
"Gentleness corrects whatever is offensive in our manner." ~Hugh Blair (1718-1800)
Addictions, destructions, tempers may be part of our current state. We may dislike the behaviors and tirelessly work to change; but growth only comes after gentle and compassionate acceptance of the blemishes. Our faults are only a part of the wonderful whole—a struggling but worthy human being. We quickly learn that we can survive despite the flaws. Our mindful watchfulness sees our human fragileness as we work through errors.
"We must reach deeper, offering gentleness to the flaws as well. This is the essence of compassion."
Gentle Self-Acceptance is Our Safety Zone
Gentle self-acceptance provides a secure base for explorations into the soul. Children need security for early development. The child’s courage to explore is only possible because of the foundational knowledge of an ever-present safety zone—a home base. Only when the child knows parental support is available does the child venture into unfamiliar environments. Danger without a trusted escape overwhelms.
With gentle self-acceptance, the demands for perfection no longer burden our inner-child. Recognizing flaws no longer strikes the delicate self with impunity. Our safe base opens new opportunities. We compassionately embrace the vulnerable and frightened inner-child, not because he is perfect but because she is loved.
By responding gently to weakness, we create a protective environment that stimulates growth. The person who gently tends to their spirit also encourages action, creating gentle external environments, abandoning people and places that compromise our physical or emotional safety. Harsh inner environments seek collusion from the outside, our self meanness seeks abusive connections on the outside, supporting harsh self-judgments of undeservedness.
We seek outer environments that match our inner environment.
Books on Gentleness
As adults, we have more power than the child. We create gentle or harsh environments—inside and out. By embracing with gentleness our perfectly-imperfect human condition, we can acknowledging weaknesses and nurture growth. This is gentle self-compassion. Life is still difficult, but success and flourishing doesn’t demand perfection. We are adaptable. We face the demands—fail at times; succeed at times—and continue forward, reaping the rewards of courage and gentle kindness.
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