The Difference Between Growth and Change
Unless we are out of touch with reality and diagnosable as something called a "narcissist," everyone has at least one thing they'd like to change about themselves. Maybe its a habit like nail biting. Maybe it's a little more serious, like always being late. Maybe it's a lot more serious, like serial affairs. Whatever it is, it nags at us, doesn't it? We can force it to the back of our consciousness by staying busy. We can minimize it by comparing ourselves to others, "At least I don't do that..." But it'll come back up. And likely it's accompanied by shame and/or anxiety. Shame sounds like, "Why do I do this?? I'm so _______ (insert insult here)." Anxiety sounds like, "What if other people knew this about me? I'm missing out on ______ because of this."
We want to be different. That much we know. The next question is this:
Do we want to GROW or do we want to CHANGE?
Change happens as a result of discomfort. We grew tired of feeling unpleasant emotions associated with an part of ourselves we dislike. We connect the uncomfortable feelings to that specific part, consider better behaviors, choose one, and attempt to institute a new habit. If the new behavior we've chosen fits well with our lifestyle and is reinforced through personal satisfaction and even social approval, the behavior becomes a new pattern of living, or a habit. Once the habit takes root, we are in a new reality and can hope to enjoy the positive repercussions associated with the new habit. This was the goal. This is Change.
Growth is a different process, but it still shares a few things in common with change. We grow tired of unpleasant emotions. We connect them to an aspect of the self we'd like to alter or eradicate. BUT! Here's where Growth takes a different path: instead of going directly to behavioral modifications, we ask ourselves why. We seek to understand the reason for the behavior in the first place. Perhaps we suffered wounds earlier in our lives that led us to develop a pattern of behavior that protected us then but is harming us now. Growth means we look at the root causes, process the feelings we buried, become more aware of all the ways we avoided the unpleasant feelings - all the behaviors meant to calm and quell us - and decide to make a change from a place of self-compassion, self-knowledge, and recovered self-empowerment. We change the behavior and grow in depth, compassion, empathy, and wisdom.
Take for example a woman who struggles with maintaining a healthy weight. She dislikes her appearance and doesn't enjoy clothes or clothes shopping. She feels self-conscious around other, slimmer women. She shames herself when she views herself in pictures. Self-annoyance becomes downright self-loathing. One day, she decides ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
She hires a personal trainer who consults her on her diet as well. She begins losing weight through behavioral changes (exercise, clean eating) and feels great! She likes what she sees in the mirror and everyone around her is reinforcing the behavioral change through positive language and accolades. This is a new day! Life is looking hopeful.
She begins to see, with the help of a counselor, that her eating was her way of escaping her violent father. Food was the safe, warm, kind parent she never had. She recalls memories, long since buried, of feeling terrified, confused, and abandoned. She allows herself, finally, to feel. It's devastating and scary... and freeing. She finds her own voice, discovers her own rights, and takes ownership of her own ability to create the safety she needs in her life. She stops seeing food as a parent and begins a healthier relationship with food that enables her to make changes from a place of self-acceptance and love.
The woman who opts for Change may gain a benefit in the short term, until the emotions that remain repressed show up in another compulsion: shopping, sex addiction, alcohol, church.
The woman who chooses Growth is... free.
Sometimes Change is enough. For habits not hugely connected to deep emotional responses, opt for Change.
Sometimes Growth is required. For behaviors in which you notice strong feelings of shame, fear, anger, deceit, and/or sadness, opt for Growth.