Does Growth Have to Be Painful?

[Written around 2004.]

Yes. Pain is a byproduct of the growth process. Emotional growth stretches the limits of the personality, and this is unpleasant. At some level personalities want to remain static and fixed, and become rigid as such, even for the most growth-oriented people. Even children. If children were not compelled to grow, motivated deeply and intensely from within – by their inner spirits, their life forces, their passion – they wouldn’t be able to put up with the pain of growth. Growing is not fun. Its consequences may feel wonderful over the long haul, but its process is awkward, uncomfortable, and anxiety-producing.

Growth is humbling. Growth requires vulnerability. Crayfish are a wonderful metaphor here: to grow they must shed their protective exoskeleton, because with their tough skin intact their soft underbody cannot expand. So periodically throughout their lives they shed their skin, expose their softness to the world, and grow radically. But this is also their time of highest risk, as their claws are now soft and useless and their backs pierceable. The same fish and frogs they spend their lives eating can suddenly turn around and eat them back. Thus, during this time they must protect themselves. Generally they crawl under a rock and hide, doing their growth in a private, safe space, not unlike a therapist’s office, a confidential journal, or a sanctuary for prayer.

People who cannot handle the pain and vulnerability of growth are consigned to stay stuck in life. They must keep their true selves buried from the world’s eye and from their own. They cannot face their full range of feelings because this is too dangerous. These feeling tell the truth. They must instead act out their inner truth – their buried pain and rage – in disguised form, through addictions and self-destructive behaviors and inappropriate relationships (most notably with their own children), and even physical illness. The body tells the truth when the conscious psyche cannot.

5 thoughts on “Does Growth Have to Be Painful?

  1. I have just been accepted to an out patient mental health program, and I am anxious to make the most of my access to psychotherapy. As a Canadian, I am fortunate to not have to pay, but we deal with wait times and group work before getting access to individual psychotherapy. I need to once and for all deal with the root causes of addiction. AA helped me end my use of oxycoten and marijuana but I see I am a workaholic and dry drunk. This resource seems helpful and gives me something to work on as I wait to get professional help.

  2. Much needed. Though right now it feels like my brain needs renewal throbbing against my skull. How is it that when we’re doing relatively well, is when this pain is self-induced almost, by overthinking? Rushing possiblities in our limited cognitive resource.

  3. Wow. This & all your articles are *wildly* insightful. The best resource for personal growth I’ve come upon in quite some time.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom!


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