Can Personal Growth Be Reversed?

So often when we talk about growth it’s about progress. It’s cycles, restarting, letting go, living, learning. But like other life maintenance, what happens when we feel stuck, burnt out, or as though we are reverting back to old ways? Can growth be reversed? 

One of the most discouraging experiences for me is when I find myself in similar or recurring circumstances and react the same way when “I know better.” It’s exciting to recognize a pattern, reflect, and decide to approach it differently, but breaking a learned behavior or habit isn’t quite that simple. Usually I end up beating myself up for my repeated mistake full of regret and frustration. Then it escalates because I was trying to break that pattern with self-compassion. 

What a mess, but of course changes we want to make can take missteps. We can’t mold ourselves into figures who always know how to feel and what to say at the right time. And why should we? Who or what is that achievement good for? Growth can also be acceptance. 

When you feel like you’re reversing your efforts or going backwards in growth, it’s helpful to remember how you got to this point. How did this “old way” become “old?” Just because we’re facing something again that we have put behind us doesn’t mean we’re in the exact spot as the last time we faced it. 

This feels like a failure because we’re only seeing the path we’re on as linear. When the path is linear there are only 3 options: forward, backward, or remain where you are. If we’re willing to see this path as winding and circular, we have more options. We can’t always see what’s “ahead” because it’s around the bend. This is why I love the symbolism of labyrinths. We have to go outwards before we’re able to reach the center, the long way. Ultimately to acknowledge a circular path we understand that we are facing something again as someone who is facing it again, not as the one who faced it the first time. 

I don’t like to generalize, but I’d be willing to bet that most people experience a little defeat in their growth processes. We don’t often get to see the juicy, agonizing distress these blips generate in people. Instead we are exclusively exposed to the results and triumphs. Maybe sharing our blips with people we trust is enough to become re-empowered. Let’s start supporting processes in addition to outcomes. What happens if we take the “backwards” feelings as opportunities to test the skills we’re learning or unlearning, re-evaluate what we’re doing and why, and applaud ourselves for simply caring? How can we recover?

These trees are growing from a dead tree–Mount Rainier National Park

Go embrace the experimentation and process of your growth! If you like this page, please share it.

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