personal development,improvement,self help,self improvement,self development,
“The only journey is the journey within.” Rainer Maria Rilke
“Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life.”
Herbert Otto

Personal Development:

Personal development is learning to be reasonably happy. Life is not a beach. Change is a basic truism of living that is a gift of personal development. There is always the possibility of growth until we draw our last breath.

Here are 3 Steps in the process of personal development.

I. The first step of personal development begins with self awareness. Specificly, it begins with greater self awareness of our dark side. We all have one.

When I was on vacation, I started my second book by Charles Cumming and I was surprised & delighted that Alec Milius was the central character yet again. One of the main ways I exact pleasure from reading is to fall in love with the characters’ strengths & weaknesses over time. I believe that’s why the poorly written novels about Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) have captured the global imagination. She is one of the finest three-dimensional characters in print or film.

This is also one reason I’m lucky, because it’s easy to care about the whole personality of the people I work with. I’m a part of someone’s innermost struggles that very few people get to see. I have first hand knowledge of their strengths & weaknesses as they improve their personal development.

Personal development means knowing & caring about yourself, others or even characters in novels by accepting the dark side of who we & they are. Alec (in Cummings book) is competitive & he is glad when he sees his only friend Saul deeply troubled & realizes “I am not the only one of us in decline.” Lisbeth (in Dragon) is so profoundly angry, withdrawn & silent it is impossible to truly know her.

So the beginning of personal development is to understand & become self-aware about your own dark side. In my introduction to new clients I model this when I share that one mistake therapists can make is to be either too hand holding or too challenging. I reveal most of my mistakes will be on the challenging side.

Asking people (or yourself) to be more aware of their dark side can be a tricky business. I’m fond of the three dimensionality of being human, we never stop making mistakes. Personal development means greater self-awareness. Then you are able to reduce the spillage onto others, every decade.

So personal development requires owning your dark side. It’s tricky because you have to keep one foot in the familiar comfort of “I’m a good person.” and the other foot in the unfamiliar, honest discomfort of clarity about your problems. Especially in a culture where we love to be critical of others, rather than ourselves.

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It’s uncomfortable to take ownership of “I’m also a jerk sometimes.” It’s crucial to change & personal development to recognize how you are a jerk. Be specific with yourself (no vague generalizations) you are narcissistic, emotionally manipulative or _Fill__in___the___blank__.

I really like people because I understand we carry both sides of who we are to the grave, that’s authentic. It’s a question of reining it in to either stop hurting yourself (exaggerated guilt, codependency, or unmanaged stress) or others ( the aforementioned narcissistic etc). Awareness means recognizing hard things about yourself & only then it can happen less often.

Ultimately all relationships require accepting the other person’s dark side. (It’s why babies are so darn cute before they evolve into being teenagers).

Only fearless honesty about your own dark side can be the self help that replaces therapy. It’s a powerful part of personal development to own up to the pinch of pain when you recognize something ugly about yourself. Couples work is fascinating because each partner can help the other learn about themselves (if there’s not too much hatred piled up).

Understanding ourselves, relationships, film (The Dark Knight), books and our own lives, becomes richer when appreciating both the yin & yang. So decide for your own well-being & personal development: I’m not going to be so vain, masochistic, unfair, indulged, neglectful, frantic or a roller coaster of emotions etc. etc…

II. The second step of personal development is the choice to be less vain, masochistic or unfair etc. The choice is to make a serious effort to interrupt the behavior. You have to decide to take action & do something different.

These are examples of personal development:

If you are unfair by not listening to your partner, learn to put your finger over your lips to make sure you get better at it.

If you’re masochistic decide to learn something about using boundaries to be more self protective.

If you’re vain decide to stop spending money on your body & find opportunities to volunteer.

If you’re emotionally manipulative, ask yourself what you want and try to be direct, then cope with rejection if that occurs.

Imagine what the opposite polarity is of your dark side as a way to explore the less developed side of you. In therapy & personal development, we look for what’s missing so there is greater range to who you are. Experiment with some new ideas for your life.

The more range you have & the more whole you are; the more satisfying life will be. It is being able to make choices from the full range of who you are that makes you mentally healthy. Instead of a giant pile of unaware, knee jerk bad habits.

There are times where it is smart to chose to be masochistic because a very ill child demands the ultimate sacrifice of self.

III. Being choiceful is the third step in the process of personal development. If you practice making new choices, you will get better at it over time. You will become more of who you want to be.

Embrace both the awkwardness & new risks that are a part of personal development in practicing new choices.

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Red Azalea by Anchee Min
The true story of the author who struggled profoundly growing up in communist China. The opportunity to hear her speak is an unforgetable experience. She authenticly has learned how to make unbearable pain bearable. One of the ironies of her life is that she grew up with the dream of becoming a soldier who would kill American soldiers and now she is married to a Vietnam vet.

Movies for Personal Development & Self Help:

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Heavy (1995)
In this independent film an obese, short order cook who is terrified of life has to overcome his insecurities..

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Ruby in Paradise (1993)
An early Ashley Judd film who leaves home in Tennessee to try to make it on her own in Florida. It won the Grand Prize @ Sundance that year.

Groundhog Day (1993)
Bill Murray plays an arrogant newsman who is trapped in repeating the same day until he gets it right.

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Shirley Valentine (1989)
A housewife trapped in boring routine goes on a trip to Greece with a friend & discovers her true self.

Self Help is in Reality & SELF AWARENESS

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“Resilience is accepting your new reality even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that is good.”– Elizabeth Edwards

I knew a courageous woman who wore her bald head uncovered because she was angry. “I want to remind people I could be them dying of ovarian cancer.” She knew without a shadow of doubt that reality matters, she used the time she had left to write in journals for her daughters. I will never forget her.

Self help is to accept harsh realities. When reality pinches you it is an opportunity for personal development. I had another client who died & he did not write those books for his kids.

Facing your own dark side & owning it is the key to self awareness!

As human beings we have an instinct to pretend to ourselves that terrible things are not true:

I am not fat. I can have a machine give me oxygen and still sneak a smoke. I am not angry and bitter in the last years of my life. I won’t get any STD’s. I am not forty-one looking pitiful when I drink too much and flirt. My daughter can’t be a prostitute. There is justice for all regardless of your ability to pay for legal representation.

Therapy is most often about facing terrible truths about ourselves which leads to personal development.

Short term thinking encourages avoiding reality. I’ll admit the affair but pretend I protected my wife and used condoms. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. We love to avoid, deflect & deny.

Long term truth really matters because that is the only way to restore and rebuild trust.

Facing reality is the opposite of self-deception. Think of the massive amount of self-deception that played out in the later 1930’s in Hitler’s Germany. Think of how much personal debt has been ignored in America since the 1990’s.

Reality really does matter. I taught my kids to tell the truth to me when they were very small. “Tell Mommy three things you don’t like about me” I’d ask. I was teaching them a foundation of trust can only build on the reality of honesty.

Reality means we’re all good and bad. Solely good people don’t exist. Why do mother’s torture themselves wondering how to be perfect when it just isn’t possible.

My daughter made a cardboard TV set when she was little. It was very elaborate with a paper ‘screen’ of the two of us in a flower garden. In an endearing misspelled effort she wrote “Yer the greatest Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.” When you flip the flap to the other side it says “Well, sometimes.” That was a refreshing truth.

Change is consistent in everybody’s life. Those who resist change seem fragile and stiff with their resistance. Think of those you know who ignore new technology in comparison to those who work hard to be open and embrace it.

There are lots of hard parts to life. It’s hard to accept that in the beginning of being in love with someone, one person usually loves the other person more. It’s hard to be an immigrant who’s qualifications are discounted in their new nation – doctors working as orderlies and engineers as house cleaners.

It’s hard to watch someone you love continue to pile up their bad choices. It’s hard to face that you drink too much and you’ve been more than foolish in front of other people. Bad choices are so much easier to make which is enchanting.

We are all in cocoons of illusions that we use to defend ourselves. It’s breaking through them that makes us a better person. It is only through self-awareness, often painful self-awareness, that we can change. It is only then that we get to grapple with the reality of our life and make better choices.

“There is a bird in a poem by T.S. Eliot who says that mankind cannot bear very much reality; but the bird is mistaken. A man can endure the entire weight of the universe for eighty years. It is unreality he cannot bear.” – Ursala LeGuin, The Lathe of Heaven

In the quote above it is both T. S. Eliot and the bird in his poem “The Waste Land” that believed ignoring reality works. Eliot had his first wife committed to a mental hospital in 1938 and never once visited her. (Noted on page 561 – Painted Shadow by Carole Shemore-James.) Eliot wrote what he believed; the much wiser science fiction writer Ursala LeGuin corrected him.

Find your courage to face hard realities and you will make your life work better, guaranteed.


personal development,self help,self development

The Lathe of Heaven: A Novel
by Ursala K. Le Guin
Science Fiction that captures what a slippery grip we have on reality.

Projection, a Defense Mechanism

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“Unhealthy projections are the falsification of the self by appearing to be less than one is.” – Fritz Perls, In and Out of the Garbage Pail

“He marveled again at the effect of projection: how hostile Henry had seemed to him when Patrick was hostile toward everyone; how considerate he seemed now that Patrick had no argument with him. What would it be like to stop projecting? Was it possible at all? At Last by Edward St Aubyn

When we lack confidence & self esteem we tend to project more onto other people. Projection means seeing things in other people as true for them & not recognizing it is really more accurate truth about yourself. Just as in the quote above, Patrick Melrose realizes he has projected his own hostility all over Henry.

Stop and consider that trust and mistrust both, are almost always projection. There is usually not enough information to know if someone deserves trust except over time. Projection fills in the space of our fears we want to know and answer instead of risking the uncertainty of finding out.

Make a real effort to own your projections and you will learn a lot more about yourself.

The more you are able to age well, you will project less. Projection is when you see something in somebody else (good or bad) that you are unwilling to recognize in yourself. Think of two people who really annoy you. What bugs you about them? Then ask yourself if it could also be true of yourself. Then think of someone you really admire and ask yourself the same question.

I had lunch with Marrie Creelman, a woman still vibrant in her 70’s whom I worked with at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. I naively asked her, “Do you really believe love is only projections?” She laughed and said yes. She was right.

Projections fall apart over time, which is why so many marriages take a dive in years 6-10. We have the cultural reminder of this called the seven year itch. Real love is the hard work of learning how to be together more authentically after the projections crumble.