A vital piece of the self-help/ personal growth conversation keeps getting skipped, so we’re starting there today.
And that is this: Before you can put any energy into personal growth, you must be safe.
My friend Katie pointed this out to me recently, and she is correct. But it dawned on me at that moment it was a topic I’d never spoken about directly. In my manifesto, I’m clear about only working with folks on personal growth once they’re safe (and if they aren’t, helping them find the resources to get to safety).
When you spend an iota of time in the self-help space, you’re bombarded with messages like, “growth only happens outside of your comfort zone,” “there’s never the right time to start,” and “we’re all scared, do it anyway.”
Those messages ignore that the comfort zone is also legitimate safety (shelter, food, bills are paid). That sometimes, it isn’t the right time to make a significant change, and sometimes that fear is legitimate and should be listened to.
A friend lamented to me that she was struggling to read any of the personal growth books on her TBR list and to continue implementing anything from the last book she read. She’d fallen back into old patterns and was feeling beat up. I gently pointed out that she wasn’t “safe” at the moment. Money was tight, she and her partner were fighting a lot, and she was struggling to make some big “what’s next in life” decisions.
Her brain and body were at capacity. However, until some of her base needs and relationships settled, there likely wouldn’t be space for any personal growth type work.
We talk about looking back to previous favorite tools and resources (journaling and quiet walks on the river) to help her navigate this current rough stretch. She didn’t have to fall back on old-old habits and self-destructive ways. She had newer tools to implement and help her get through, which is personal growth. It was just time for a pause on any new personal growth tools.
Personal growth isn’t linear. Sometimes it’s incredible, beautiful challenges. Other times it’s going back to tried and true tools to work through the hard shit and reestablish a safe home base to work from.
If you’re feeling stuck or have slipped back to undesirable patterns, take a moment to evaluate your base safety. For example, if you fear a decision, dig into that fear. Are you taking genuinely too big of a risk? Or is it excitement and nerves running amok?
You have to be safe before you can grow.
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