Turning Personal Growth on Its Head..

From Iceberg to Mountain Range

When Brene Brown launched her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, she offered this beautiful, profound insight:

For me, this quote captures exactly what my personal growth and self discovery journey feels like. I had no idea where I was going when I started. Seven years ago, I was leaning pretty hard on the quote “all who wander are not lost” which makes me laugh out loud…because I was indeed “lost”. I used a lot of maps to find my way – and I still do. Some of those maps are weathered and worn, some are pristine and folded neatly into a well scored rectangle, some are digital and some have ink so fresh it washes over the paper like a watercolor.

Initially I wanted the “how to” maps. I scoured the self help sections of libraries, bookstores and the internet. Over time I came to realize the most transformational way to go about self discovery and personal growth is to approach it more like looking for clues on a hidden treasure map and being open to discovery.

If I were to break out a gigantic three-feet long piece of butcher block paper, I could whimsically draw with chunky crayons what that treasure map looked and felt like for me. There would be volcanos, broken bridges, tornados and swampland…and a few fairies, leprechauns, trampolines and bungee cords, rays of warm yellow sunshine and a deep reflecting pool. I’d add in some glittery neon-bright fireworks to spotlight my “aha” moments.

It is only with the clarity of my “hindsight googles” that I can now truly appreciate all the trash and treasures I discovered on my ongoing personal growth adventure. My experiences are much like the one my grandkids have with one of those “shine a light” flashlight books where the hidden pictures are revealed when a focused beam of illumination hits them.

It occurs to me that so often when we talk about personal growth and self-discovery, the emphasis is on how hard it is. The images of peeling off the layers of our emotional onion, dumpster diving into the baggage we’ve accumulated and breaking old habits seem more like punishment than an appealing invitation to become a better version of ourselves.

Rarely do we hear the upside of embarking on the personal growth journey, at least not in tangible, realistic ways. We hear all those fluffy, gauzy accolades about finding our “authentic” self but it all seems as fleeting and surreal as dressing up in a costume and pretending to be Cinderella or Spiderman. Looks good…but what does it really “feel” like?

The greatest gift of personal growth work is how freeing and empowering it feels — once you get to one of the pinnacles in the process. That becomes the motivation to reach the next pinnacle. Each one creates more space for what we really want in our lives. We often are completely unaware of just how much we get in our way, until we start looking at our patterns and blind spots. As we lighten the load, the journey becomes a lot more engaging in a very positive way.

One of the most insightful moments in any self-discovery journey is when we realize just how far we’ve come. This is a big boost to our motivation to keep going — when we look back and recognize that we have actually made a lot of forward progress; that we are showing up in improved ways in old familiar circumstances.

Recently I was re-taking a self-assessment test with a friend of mine and expressed to her that I would have answered the questions much differently a few years ago than I do today. The same was true for my friend and she expressed her gratitude that over the past several years, I have often reminded her of all her forward progress. Both of us were well aware that we now move through our daily lives with greater ease, having discarded old patterns for better skills.

From my personal perspective, personal growth doesn’t have to be the “hard work” of a paleontologist digging through stratifications and fossilizations we’ve amassed for decades. We can turn this concept on its head and treat it as the fascinating adventure it truly is. What if we had a whole new, enlightened approach to how we enter and maintain personal growth and self-discovery?

Picture this: — we often use the image of an iceberg to help us understand all the baggage, beliefs, narratives and personal history we are dragging under the surface.

If we flip this image, we now have an impactful — and inviting — new way to look at personal growth, self-discovery and self-improvement.

This is a powerful transformational image….

We will get stronger physically, mentally and emotionally as we scale and explore; we will need a backpack full of supplies, resources, tools (and maps), it’s a great idea to have a buddy system for a host of awesome reasons (safety, shared experiences, a boost or tether, meaning and memory making). We will get fresh air, fresh perspectives and see the bigger picture.

We can re-write the guidebook for living our best lives. What if personal growth became a “call to adventure”. What if we “preloaded” all the resources and practices we really need to meet life in a skillful way?

The truth is that we are now spending an incredible amount of our time and energy undoing all the damage caused by old paradigms, old parenting models, old stereotypes, outdated methodologies and therapies – not to mention a complete lack of understanding about the value of emotions, empathy, and meaningful connection with others.

We have a growing mental health crisis, too many distractions for our attention, and a deficit of awareness (our own as well as “other” awareness). We keep throwing ideas and challenges at the problems. The big PIVOT is to look at the root causes.

All throughout my exploration of a wide variety of resources and modalities for my own personal growth, there was one common thread.

Regardless of the resource, the compass always pointed back to childhood: childhood narratives about who we are, behavioral patterns and protective armor we developed in childhood, our childhood attachment styles, our beliefs and how we make meaning from our emotions and experiences. There is a lot to unpack from our childhood BEFORE we can even begin a successful and meaningful adult life journey.

Once I discovered this overarching theme, it dawned on me that we can do better. Our children are sponges for learning — and we can equip them for life in transformational ways by “resourcing” them in powerful new, healthier ways.

Neuroscience, psychology, neurobiology and epigenetics are all converging in astonishing ways to shine a light on so much of what we did not understand, or got wrong, and can do better.

In upcoming blog posts, I will be unpacking what we are learning about the old childhood framework that did not provide healthy scaffolding for life. Together we can learn about the importance of secure attachment styles, how a child’s brain develops and how adult brains can be rewired, teaching emotional literacy and healthy coping skills, how we can keep our brains “updated and upgraded” thanks to neuroplasticity, and the importance of integrating our nervous system with our executive functions.

In just one generation, we can break cycles of dysfunction, addiction, insecurity and inauthenticity. At this very moment in time, we have more substantive research, more accurate knowledge, and unbelievable access to meaningful resources than ever before. Significant changes in what were ground-breaking, Nobel prize-winning discoveries 15 or 30 years ago are happening at a very rapid pace. Children are learning faster and differently than they did when we were kids. Even us adults are learning faster and differently in some arenas than we ever have before.

When I began my personal growth journey in my early 60’s, I did not realize that it would lead me to children – and I am ecstatic that it did. So many of us enter parenthood with hopes and dreams of giving our kids a good life, possibly a better one that we had. With all the new research, enriched skill sets and tools we now have, we can equip our children for life as smartly as we equip them for their favorite hobbies and sports; have you noticed that we now put helmets on those little developing brains for good reason?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

BEING WELL PODCAST: Listen to this relatable AND mind-expanding conversation with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest, on the Keys to a Great Relationship. Rick has a brand new book out as well that offers fresh perspectives on his many decades of counseling and his own personal growth work.

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-the-keys-to-a-great-relationship/

Learn 50 simple practices for solving conflict, building connection and fostering love.. Read Dr. Rick Hanson’s newest book – Making Great Relationships.

Broken Spirits

I have often shared how it was a broken heart that put me on the path of personal growth. The truth is that I also suffered from a broken spirit, one that was decades in the making. It was my fragile, broken spirit that needed to be healed first. I just did not know that at the time.

This morning I was reflecting on those first few weeks of being on my own after that painful breakup — how I wrote in my journal that I wanted peace, to feel safe and to be free to be myself. Ironically I thought that living alone was the best way for me to achieve those three things. What I should have been asking myself is “why were you not finding these things within your relationship?”

An inventory of both past and present relationships might have revealed some truths that required further investigation. It dawned on me that when I am behaving and feeling most authentically myself, then I am both at peace and feeling safe — both alone and within my relationships. No one else is responsible for ensuring those core values are ever present but me.

What became very evident was that I need to untangle myself from a complex combination of childhood trauma, learned behavioral patterns, exhaustion from hustling for my worth, and a heavy trunk of unprocessed emotions. It was this complex combination that had been breaking my spirit, slowly and consistently over time. I was completely unaware of the toll it was taking — on me, on how I showed up, how I reacted, on the dynamics of my most cherished relationships.

One thing became crystal clear to me. Those times in my life when I felt most at peace, safe and my buoyant, resilient self was when I was with people who saw past my flaws, who recognized my potential and who mentored me through role modeling and coaching.

My young broken spirit was often mended by my beloved Aunt Betz, my church choir director, a high school teacher, a cherished friend. These are the marble jar people that Brene Brown talks about — those who are so trustworthy that we feel safe to take refuge in their care. These earth angels give us little footholds to help us tap into our innate worthiness and foster our growth. I don’t think that I would have been able to cope with all the chaos in my family’s dysfunction without the help of these incredible people. They not only gave me a safe place to land for a while, they gave me wings to fly a little higher than my circumstances. When I was young, they were helping to untangle me from the baggage that was breaking my spirit.

As I dug deeper into personal growth work, two things really began to gel for me. One was that it is our responsibility as adults to do the work of untangling ourselves from outgrown narratives and old baggage. The second was that even the most dedicated practitioners also get snagged on their past, and fall into unconscious, unhealthy patterns from time to time. It is often in times of high stress, great loss or adversity that trigger us to fall back.

Much as I would like to pretend that this did not happen to me in my 60’s, it did. I fell back into old uncomfortable but very familiar pattern reminiscent of my childhood without even being aware of it. I slipped into the role of helper extraordinare and then followed that unhealthy path down a rabbit hole into enabler and co-dependent. Completely unaware of my blind spots, I became the one who was instrumental in breaking my own spirit. The warning signs of resentment, stuffing my emotions, and feeling so uneasy that I was jumping out of my skin at sudden noises only fed an old story line that I was not good enough, not worthy, falling short –again. Unbeknownst to me, I had drifted into the very unhealthy end of my enneagram spectrum. I was in a strange and complex paradox of trying to get my needs met while accepting behaviors that were in direct conflict with those needs.

To add to my confusion, while I was falling so short in that relationship, my friends and family members saw me as an easy going, cooperative, optimistic and encouraging person. How was it that others could see those good parts of me but my partner could not? This paradigm is common actually — as I discovered through long conversations with friends. Could the answer be in how we “show up” differently without so many deep rooted emotional entanglements clouding the waters. If so, what is it about ourselves that we do differently in our closest relationships that contribute to this conundrum?

For me, it was the fear of making things worse by bringing up something important to me. The tap root of my unwavering need for trust that was broken repeatedly in my childhood. So often when I would speak up for me and my brothers, the consequences were far worse than the initial event.

This pattern began to appear in my relationship and I got hooked on old insecurities. Trust unraveled and my spirit took a hit. I did try to explain this to my partner once but I was clumsy about it. It is a textbook example of why we need to get skilled at having hard conversations — both in the way that we articulate our truth and how we listen to learn.

The better we understand ourselves as well as our basic needs and desires, the healthier our relationships can be. I only wish that I had been introduced to the enneagram earlier in my healing journey. You see, the enneagram sheds a lot of light on childhood roots of learned behavioral patterns and what it is that we each need in order to feel fulfilled, loved, valued and safe. The enneagram is truly one of the most valuable self-awareness and self-discovery tools we can access. A companion resource for the enneagram is Brene Brown’s powerhouse book, The Gifts of Imperfection. This book illustrates so well the armor that we choose to protect ourselves from the core motivations and fears that the enneagram reveals to us.

Check out Yung’s deeper explanation of this wisdom in the Recommended Resources at the end of this post.

As I was working on my draft of this blog post, the above quote from Yung Pueblo landed in my inbox. It was so timely and his accompanying insights dovetailed with my own experience and the wisdom I’m striving to impart. While Yung Pueblo leans heavily into his meditation practice to peel back the layers of his patterns, I turn to the enneagram for course correction. When I find myself feeling off kilter, I know I am drifting into the unhealthy end of my spectrum. I heed the warning signs of resentment or feeling unappreciated as cues that I have overcommitted myself or failed to set a boundary.

These examples really just scratch the surface of all that you can learn from the enneagram. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts is helping us to see others in a whole new light. When we understand that each of the nine types has a dominant way of showing up in life, it releases us from taking things so personally. That creates a bridge to understanding and empathy. We can begin to recognize the bids for connection that others are making even when they might be clumsy about it.

When I reached the point of being able to trust myself enough to know what I needed to feel at peace, safe and valued, I knew that I was making meaningful strides in my goal of being my authentic self. Admittedly this was hard work and requires ongoing practice. Shedding the armor of being a people pleaser or shape shifter to feel like I fit in or was liked has been the equivalent of shedding unwanted pounds. It is easier to express my emotions and my needs now without all those old entanglements getting in the way.

This brings me back to broken spirits and broken hearts. Everyone experiences broken spirits and broken hearts in their lives — and sometimes that brokenness takes a very long time to heal. So often we do not realize just how much another is hurting, in need of empathy, compassion and trust. Sometimes we project our pain onto others because we lack self awareness. Sometimes we take things too personally because we ourselves are fragile. When we are not skilled at having hard conversations, we can inadvertently shame or blame others. This is why I believe Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability is crucially important. Self-awareness and vulnerability are two of the strongest gifts we can give to ourselves and each other. Deeper, more fulfilling relationships are cultivated in these rich spaces of trust, honesty, acceptance and understanding.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Yung Pueblo — Author of Clarity and Connection. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook for daily insights on personal growth, maturity and growth mindset partnerships.

Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest Hanson

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-how-to-create-a-relationship-that-lasts/

Sharing this episode from the Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron about the Gifts of Self-Awareness. Spoiler Alert: Amy Porterfield not only shares my name, but my enneagram Type 2 also! https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2021/07/10/amyporterfield

Constant Companion

Vulnerability is a fine precision tool that drills small openings in our armor, our fears and our awareness. A series of tiny. little openings allowing light to fall into the “what matters most” center of our being. It is the continual “breaking open” process that nourishes our life.

The very word “vulnerability” conjures up images so far from the truth of its strength, courage and tenacity. Against all odds, it is our vulnerability that protects us most and often is the jettison force needed to take action. Vulnerability is a constant life companion.

Vulnerability whispers in your ear when you are crying, heartbroken and empty. Vulnerability whispers that you don’t need to stay any longer. Vulnerability says “I will help you pack.”

Vulnerability reaches into your heart and makes space for your newborn as you craddle him in your arms, so tiny and fragile. Vulnerability places gifts of patience, resilience and resourcefulness you’ve never known possible in that heart space. You will operate on too little sleep and a deep well of love for many years. Vulnerability is your constant companion and your reservoir as you parent for the rest of your life.

Vulnerability embraces you and holds space for you alone for days, as you absorb the diagnosis. Vulnerability sits patiently as you tumble through an emotional vortex without judgment. Vulnerability listens to unspoken words, watches in silence as you envision all possible and impossible scenarios. Vulnerability hugs you when you have made your decision days later. Vulnerability becomes your invisible strength partner on your journey no matter the outcome.

Vulnerability sits with you weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a bigger dream. Vulnerability views the sacrifices, the risks, the rewards, the long hours and renewed sense of purpose. Vulnerability rarely misses a detail in the complex decision making process and still offers a nudge to seize the moments. Vulnerability smiles with you as you take that first step forward into a long-time dream.

Vulnerability never leaves your side when you are fraught with worry over a loved one though you cannot change a thing. Vulnerability listens to your heart, your fears, your prayers. Vulnerability helps you discover new depths of your love and faith.

Vulnerability urges you to call a trusted friend when you are falling apart.

Vulnerability reminds you it is ok to ask for help or state a boundary. Vulnerability holds your hand while you hold your breath waiting for a response or a reaction.

Vulnerability will wash into every corner of your very being when you fall in love — with your partner, with your grandchild, or with a passion. You will learn more about yourself than you ever knew possible.

Vulnerability’s best friend is courage. Vulnerability drills those little openings to break free of what holds us back and courage pulls us into a different direction, or back into life, or launches us on a growth spurt.

People who live wholeheartedly lives have come to understand that vulnerability is a strength for it opens our hearts to ourselves and to each other. Vulnerability enables us to get in touch with our deeper human emotional connection. Vulnerability makes no promises about rosy outcomes or happy endings but it invites and encourages us to not let fear hold us back from love and belonging or from pursuing dreams and passions.

The most valuable lesson that vulnerability taught me was that my heart can be broken but not irreparably. My heart will expand in all the places that it was broken and my capacity to love and be loved will grow exponentially. Love is a renewable source of hope, inspiration, comfort, peace and joy. Vulnerability encourages me to go bravely forward for there remains much to be learned from all of life’s experiences.