Therapy isn’t just about dealing with pain or life problems; it can also be a tremendous tool for achieving personal growth and happiness.
Therapy can be a great vehicle for personal growth. Over the years, many of my clients used therapy not so much as a way to alleviate great emotional pain or deal with a situational problem but rather as a way to develop their character and become a healthier, happier person. Here are four of the most important factors which my clients have taught me make all the difference when it comes to personal growth:
Yep, you have to want it. If you’re not an avid seeker of growth, you’ll never succeed in achieving it. It’s often so much easier to just stay put — to stay in our comfort zone. We’re creatures of habit and routine. We’re also creatures of economy, forever weighing the costs and benefits of change. Make no mistake, growth demands change, and change is never easy. You have to be willing not only to bear the inherent discomfort that comes with change but also to pay all the other prices that come with the enterprise. Only when you want it badly enough can you find room in your heart for the costs that accompany growth.
When it comes to growing yourself, you have to be in it for the long haul. There will be ups and downs, and there will be periods of progress followed by periods of apparent relapse or regression. Growth is often three steps forward and two steps backward, and you can’t allow what seems like lost ground cause you to give up. People who truly want to grow are committed not only to their ultimate goals but also to the process that can enable them to achieve those goals. For genuinely growth-oriented individuals, the process of change and self-development is itself a goal. In a sense, you’re never really done, anyway. There is no resting place. Growth is a process. And that process defines life. When you’re no longer changing and growing, by definition, you’re dead.
There’s a saying in the personal fitness industry: “No pain, no gain.” Growth is inherently difficult, often quite painful. From the teeth we cut as infants to the heartbreak of an unrequited love, everything in life that grows us invites some pain. We have to make peace with that, and we have to be willing to patiently endure it. But perhaps one of the odder things about the pain of growth that mystics have long known and my clients have affirmed over the years is that how we regard and embrace our pain is really key to learning and growing from it. Pain can be instructive. Pain can be redemptive. We learn from our mistakes. We hurt others and we hurt ourselves, but it is how we respond to that hurt makes all the difference. If we respond in bitterness, hate, disgust, or despondency, we’ll only be tempted to throw in the towel. Growth is arduous work, and sometimes it takes a lot of suffering before we witness some gains. But when we do that with acceptance and forbearance, the weight of the endeavor becomes ever so much lighter.
Perhaps nothing is as critical to personal growth as remaining aware. Most of us go through life on what many have called “automatic drive.” We let our obligations and daily routines dictate our next moves. We do so many things without really thinking. But growth-oriented folks are mindful folks, reflecting on the things that are happening to them and what the events and consequences in their lives might be trying to teach them. It’s impossible to learn in any meaningful way without reflection, and learning is largely what growing is all about. We live and learn. But we don’t really learn in a way that truly promotes our growth unless we mindfully reflect. It’s not enough to reflect on things after the fact. Rather, it’s important to remain aware — in the here-and-now moments of life’s instruction — of what’s happening to us, our responses to it, and what there might be in both that can promote our growth.
Over the years, my clients have taught me some other keys to personal growth, particularly character growth. Those I’ve dubbed the ‘Ten Commandments’ of Character Development, and I’ve written about them both here and in the books I’ll list below:
- Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- The Judas Syndrome [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- How Did We End Up Here? [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on August 15, 2017.
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