Am I Growing? Part 3: Relationship
I wanted to continue this series about the question of ‘what does personal growth look like?’ and expand upon some of my earlier thoughts.
I had a couple of instances recently where I was reading a forum post, or something like that, and the author of the post said something which baffled me. I would think ‘how can they think that this is a reasonable thing to say?’ and I pictured in my mind, a person who has no one in their personal lives to bounce their ideas off of, to make sure they aren’t saying crazy things.
It reminded me of a time in recent memory where I was really isolated, and it gave me inspiration for another idea to explore this question of ‘what does personal growth look like?’ and I think a really important aspect of personal growth is relationship with other people.
Learning Through Relationship
The therapist I was seeing in recent years said something that stuck with me. She said “people learn through relationship”. And she probably explained what she meant by that, but the only part I actually remember was the phrase itself. For some reason it’s cemented itself into my mind.
I use to have a feeling of restlessness, of frustration and angst, wanting desperately for someone to give me an honest reflection of myself. I didn’t know how I came across to people, if I’m as wonderful as I sometimes felt, or if I really was as worthless as I felt at other times. I thought that if I could just get someone to convince me that they really saw me and understood me, that their evaluation of me would resolve this constant swinging back and forth between “I’m awesome” and “I’m crap”.
The unbearable uncertainty did eventually go away, and I think that ultimately, it is because I worked on my relationship with myself. But part of the reason I was able to develop that relationship with myself was because I was developing my relationships with other people. And by “relationship” I don’t simply mean proximity, I mean genuine connection.
I think that “growing through relationship” means growing that connection you have with the other person and developing trust by being honest with yourself and with the other person, having integrity.
When I was isolated a little over a year ago, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands and do the really uncomfortable and anxiety provoking work of reaching out to other people. After connecting with a few people in the FDR community, a few of us decided to start a Skype group where we basically talked about how applying philosophy in our own lives is working out, and struggles we were having. It was really awesome to be able to connect with a bunch of really nice and committed guys.
I pushed myself to be honest and connect, and some really great conversations came out of that.
The group grew bigger and some people ended up making lasting connections and friendships which is awesome, but the group itself did eventually grow apart. I still talk to one of them often and that relationship has been a big reason that I’ve stayed committed to my own growth in the last year.
And when it comes to growing in relationship, if my buddy shares his judgment about a situation then I’m naturally going to take it more seriously than if it came from somebody I knew nothing about, and I’m probably going to, by default, dismiss something that comes from someone I don’t trust. And it’s not just because he knows me better, and I know him better, but because the reason I am drawn to wanting to be his friend in the first place is because he has a ton of integrity.
I’ve come to my own understanding of what my therapist’s words were “people learn through relationship”, which I’m modifying here slightly to say “people grow through relationship”. I think it’s a combination of the sense of self concept and the unlearning that I talked about in the previous two videos in this series.
When I started therapy, I had particular ways that I was relating to myself which I now am convinced were unhealthy. When something good would happen in my life and I was reporting it to my therapist, I would often do it in a very matter of fact sort of way, without any joy in my voice. And her response would often be one of joy. This was strangely disorienting for me, and I think this was very intentional on her part.
When we talked about this, I realized that I was already anticipating some future disappointment. I was attempting to protect myself from getting my hopes up, and the result was that I could not simply celebrate the potential, if all that it was was potential. The cost of avoiding the disappointment was that I wasn’t feeling any joy either.
As a result of being in relationship with my therapist, and because personalities are contagious, a pattern of thought emerged where something good would happen in my life, then I would feel that rush to curb my enthusiasm, and then a perspective not unlike my therapist’s would come in and relax that protective part of myself and encourage me to appreciate the good things that happen in my life. And eventually, that protective part relaxed to the point of not even coming up anymore.
And another example, also from therapy, was that I would sometimes present a side of myself that was very critical of me, my inner critic you could say, and I judge myself in a way which lacked any compassion, holding myself to confusingly high standards, and my therapist would sometimes express frustration with that kind of thinking. I wasn’t doing anything immoral, wasn’t hurting anyone, I just wasn’t being as totally honest with myself or others as I could be. I was showing no compassion for myself for relatively minor indiscretions. It was similarly disorienting to witness her response to my self loathing.
Eventually I started to experience that frustration myself when that self loathing came in, and as a result, I was increasingly able to step back from those judgments and evaluate them more objectively.
I think that a lot of people in the FDR community are really isolated, and I feel grief thinking about the lack of connection that they experience with people, the things that they can share and learn and grow together.
Part of the reason I’m making these recent videos is because of the very positive relationships I’ve been fortunate to have, and I want to be vulnerable with you the viewer, to share in my own struggles, my own progress.
I want to encourage growth in other people by letting people in, by building a relationship with you the viewer. There are things that I want to teach you, and things I want you to teach me.