Every time I see my nephews, one of the first things I usually say is something along these lines: "Wow, I can’t believe how much they’ve grown! They’ve changed so much since the last time I saw them!" When kids are young, it feels like you can almost watch them grow and develop. When we reach adulthood and we stop growing physically, we no longer think much about growing. Though our bodies may stop growing, there is no limit to how much we can grow and develop as a person.
What is personal growth?
For me, growing as a person means to become more aware of myself and others; to become more accepting, caring, patient, forgiving and understanding of myself and others. For me, personal growth means to have a sense of who I am now and a sense of the kind of person I’m aspiring to be. It’s about developing my character.
How do we grow?
We do most of our growing, learning and developing when we are challenged; when we find ourselves in new or difficult situations; when we are confronted with obstacles; when things don’t go according to plan. When things go swimmingly, our character is rarely tested. For example, I only grow in patience, when my patience is being tested by circumstances or by people.
In every challenging situation, I have a choice to make: I can use it to learn, to grow and to develop my character, or I simply try to get through it with gritted teeth. Whenever I’m faced with difficulties in my relationships, or at work, or elsewhere, I can ask myself: "What can I learn from this? How can I grow through this? How can this help me to develop my character?" All of a sudden I’m no longer a victim of my circumstances, but instead I’m learning to recognise that every situation, no matter how difficult, is a learning opportunity. But it’s up to me whether I take this opportunity or not.
I recently read an article on post-traumatic growth. The idea is that even when awful and traumatic things happen, many people find within themselves the capacity to grow and develop strength and resilience in light of these events. This is not to minimise the fact that traumatic events can have a detrimental effect on individuals and can leave significant emotional scars. Instead, this is meant to give us hope: No matter what our situation is like, we can find within ourselves the capacity to learn, grow and develop, if we chose to do so.
Somebody recently said to me, "all of us have reason to change". All of us have reason to grow and develop. Regardless of our age, gender, nationality, background, upbringing, life experiences and so on, we’ve all got a reason to keep growing. And more importantly, we’ve all got the capacity to keep growing.
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About Elisabeth Brownlee
Elisabeth is an integrative counsellor and mentor and is based in South Manchester.