10 Delusions of Personal Growth:
Part I

When You Make Wonderful Changes and Feel Worse Than Ever
December 2, 2010
10 Delusions of Personal Growth: Part II
December 2, 2010

10 Delusions of Personal Growth:  Part I (Delusions 1-3)

by Carl Buchheit

First published in 2008

1. That you can get somewhere positive by defeating something negative.
When we act to improve our lives by defeating some aspect of ourselves (for example, “an old, unwanted behavior pattern,” or a recurring issue of “self-sabotage”) who is it, exactly, who wins?

One of the most enduring and unfortunate delusions to come out of the personal growth movement (especially the “monster power growth” version of it) is the idea that we all contain a “strong self” that can be trained to compel the subjugation of our “weak self.” It is completely understandable that almost all of us develop this impression. Human beings have been trying to make meaning out of their internal conflicts, their affinity with the light or dark sides of things, with their distresses related to virtue and guilt, for tens of thousands of years—long before the invention of the personal growth weekend seminar, as far as we know.

The easiest way to allow personal change and growth is to include—not to exclude or defeat—whatever it is that is not working in our lives. We can recognize that unwanted patterns of behavior are simply old solutions that have unwittingly outlasted their usefulness. Actually, when we go beyond this—when we seek to actively respect whatever it is that seems to be causing us the most pain and frustration—the experience of including and changing even long-standing patterns becomes safe, fun, and rewarding. Our old patterns are much more available for easy, comfortable change when we do not fight against them. In fact, when they are respected properly, we find that old, unwanted behaviors usually seek to change themselves. It’s as if they want to catch up with the rest of us, and that makes for a wonderful, and defeat-free, reunion.

2. That people who take the “path of least resistance” in life are weak.
Everything in the Universe is coordinated to move and change along paths of least resistance. Everything—electrons, inter-galactic clouds of hydrogen gas, white mice, and melting ice. There are no exceptions. So, it is curious and weird that, for humans, the words “taking the path of least resistance” are usually tossed out as in insult. Now, we are all getting gradually better about this. One is rarely congratulated about the pointlessness and intensity of one’s struggle any more. Still, who do we think we are, anyway?

3. That fighting ourselves shows strength and builds character.
Some of the saddest words are, “At least I respect myself enough to despise myself.” Proper self-regard is always the most courteous way to be in life and the universe. It invites the best for and from others. Too little self-respect provokes other humans to want to withdraw their care and support. They can’t help but feel this at some level. It is an ancient instinct in our hunter-gatherer DNA, a not-quite-knowing designed to protect the well-being of the whole troupe. The instinct can be overridden, and it often is, but to do this requires some energy and work. Proper self-respect is never costly or inconvenient for anyone. And, it is hardly ever fatal.

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