People don’t always enter therapy with personal growth as their primary goal, but they almost always leave believing they’re a better human being. In several years of helping people improve their self-awareness, self-efficacy and self-esteem, here are nine commonalities I notice become more evident as my clients grow:
1. You notice and verbalize (with composure) when you’re wrong.
It’s far easier to get defensive and deny responsibility, or become overwhelmed with shame for our act of imperfection or ignorance. Being able to acknowledge when we’re in the wrong takes humility, self-compassion and courage.
2. You’re aware of your biases.
We all have innate biases and prejudices. It’s impossible not to: we’re socialized into a stereotyping world. So what’s important is learning to cultivate an active awareness of these biases and prejudices, and examine how they might influence our decisions and actions. Ask yourself where you might be practicing discrimination (subtly or unsubtly), and how you can begin to counter these ingrained behaviors.
3. You acknowledge your privilege and use it wisely.
I acknowledge that many things in life come more easily to me than someone who’s bearing multiple levels of oppression.
Sure, I sometimes use my privilege in ways that don’t actively help our society. But I also try to take advantage of it, to do what I perceive will make the world a better place — such as educating others, or empowering and amplifying the voices of those whose perspectives are dismissed due to oppression. Ignoring that privilege and oppression exist is a passive way of reinforcing it. Knowing how and when to stand behind those whom society tells us to dismiss often comes alongside self-betterment.
4. You’ve created a space between feeling and reacting.
Through practicing mindfulness, we can increase the amount of time between feeling a particular emotion and reacting to it. We gain a sense of spaciousness with regard to how we observe our emotions — rather than clinging to our feelings immediately and reacting instinctively, we learn how to first observe, and then react more carefully and productively.
5. You knowingly allow yourself to be vulnerable and allow difficult feelings in.
Perfectionism tells us to stay in a box where we feel comfortable, certain and in control. It tells us to manipulate our environments so we never feel vulnerable, needy or uncertain. It keeps us safe from our fears of failing, embarrassing ourselves or getting rejected. And sadly, many of us miss out on a lot of life because of this. So if you’ve felt uncomfortable feelings lately, and acknowledged them, you’re growing in the right direction, even if your perfectionistic impulses are telling you otherwise.
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