By Steve K.
The following two articles are in relation to the nature of emotional growth and sobriety. They can be used as a helpful reference point for those in recovery from addiction interested in the process of growth and change. The first is by Clinical and Transpersonal Psychologist Ingrid Clayton Ph.D. in relation to the cyclical character of emotional sobriety. It can also be used to help in understanding the nature of spiritual growth and change by those who can relate to the concept of spirituality.
The second essay is by ‘The School of Life’, from the ‘Book of Life’, and is in relation to human beings’ innate drive to emotional growth and change. It’s written from a humanistic perspective and can be related to in terms of the concept of the organic self and its drive towards self-actualisation.
Redefining “Wrong Turns” on the Road of Emotional Sobriety
By Ingrid Clayton, Ph.D.
The path of spiritual and psychological development is not linear. In short, this means that we can toss out the idea that we are supposed to get better and better, day-by-day, eventually reaching a pinnacle of perfection. In reality, development is not only continual, but it is cyclical in nature.
By continual, I mean that we are never finished. It’s easy to see that physical fitness isn’t something that we “complete.” We don’t imagine that if we exercise everyday, we will eventually have a perfect body, free of disease and inevitable decay. We don’t think that yesterday’s yoga class means that we never have to stretch again. But we can feel that way about our mind and spirit—like we should be done already. People bemoan the work it can take to stay mentally and spiritually healthy: “Haven’t I done enough therapy, gone to enough meetings, etc.?” The answer is, “No.” Not that you need to relentlessly manage your spiritual and emotional path, but you do have to acknowledge that you are still on one. And you will be tomorrow—just like you will need to eat breakfast even though you ate it today.
By cyclical, I mean that we will spiral around the same themes throughout our lives. Our relationship to the themes will change over time, but we don’t necessarily conquer them. Personal growth isn’t like checking todo items off of a list. We carry who we are from one item to the next, and we stay who we are throughout our entire lives.
An example of cyclical development can be seen when we look at faith. A person’s faith waxes and wanes over time. It may become more robust in the long haul, but this usually occurs through a process of spiraling through connection and disconnection. This is because circumstances in life create new learning about what you believe, which in turn informs how you feel and express those beliefs. Depending on where you are in your cyclical process, you might be feeling a lot of faith, or none at all: and neither defines the totality of your experience. They are just markers for where you are at the moment.
Cyclical development does not mean that there isn’t growth or change, or that freedom from certain patterns isn’t achieved. In fact, it is because we are forever moving into different places in our lives (that are truly new) that the pattern itself is not the same as it was experienced before. Remember the saying by Heraclitus,
“You cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in.”
We are forever changing just as the waters are changing. So you might be beating yourself up for going through something “again,” but chances are it is a more nuanced experience this time around, with more insight than you had before. And, this isn’t a static state. Even if you stay put in the river, the water will continue to wash over you, ultimately informing and changing your experience.
One positive aspect of cyclical development is that we don’t have to feel bad if we aren’t in the “sweet spot” all the time. There are days when you don’t want to exercise. It doesn’t mean you will never want to exercise again. The same is true with your spiritual and emotional path. You may not feel very connected to your Higher Power, or you may be experiencing some challenging feelings. I invite you to bring great compassion to your process and to trust that the inevitable cycles of life will bring you back to the “sweet spot” of mastery, maturity, or mindfulness once again. In this view, there really are no wrong turns when it comes to emotional sobriety. There is simply a process of returning back to your true self, back to your challenges, and back to another opportunity to redefine them in a more sophisticated and nuanced manner.
Ingrid Clayton, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice.
The above article was originally posted on Psychology Today.
The Drive to Keep Growing Emotionally
By The School of Life.
We know well enough that we are equipped with an innate drive for physical growth; that the human animal is geared to keep developing towards its outward mature form, adding muscle and bone and fatty tissue, in a spontaneous process of development that begins in our earliest days in the womb and ends around our sixteenth year. What is less obvious is that we are marked by an equally innate, equally powerful, although here life-long, drive towards emotional growth. Without anything mystical being meant by this, unless we are impeded by internal or external obstacles, we are set on an ineluctable path towards emotional development. An obvious conceptual difference between the two drives is that we can know easily enough what it means to be fully grown physically, but it is rather harder to pin down what equivalent emotional maturity might look like.
We can hazard a twofold answer. Our emotional drive is made up of two strands: the first is a will towards ever greater and deeper connection; the second comprises a will towards ever greater and deeper self-expression.
To consider connection first, we are marked by an intense wish to move away from loneliness, shame and isolation and to find opportunities for understanding, sincerity and communion. We long to share with friends, lovers and new acquaintances an authentic picture of what it means to be us – and at the same time to enter imaginatively into their feelings and experiences. What we call ‘love’ is merely a subsection of the drive to connect, which extends across a range of activities and types of relationship, stretching to encompass the body and our desire for physical intimacy, touch and sexual play. We can count ourselves as emotionally healthy in large measure according to what degree of connection we have in our lives.
By the drive to self-expression, we mean the desire to fathom, bring into focus and externalise our ideas and creative and intellectual capacities – a drive that manifests itself particularly around our work and our aesthetic activities. We seek to gain an ever greater understanding of the contents of our minds, especially of our values, our pleasures and our way of seeing the world, and to be able to give these a kind of expression that makes them public, comprehensible and beneficial to others. We will feel we have had a rich life whenever we have been able to give a voice and shape to some of the many perceptions that course through us – and, in some way, however modestly, left a fruitful imprint on the world.
These two aspects of the drive for emotional growth help us to get a handle on our most acute moments of unhappiness. It’s because of the primordial importance of the drive to connect that it hurts so much when a friendship is broken off, when an established relationship starts to lack physical contact or when we can’t find anyone we see eye to eye with in a new city. And it is because of how powerful the drive to self-expression is that we suffer so much when our studies fail to engage our minds, when a job ceases to reflect our interests or when, on a Sunday evening, we feel in a confused way that our talents are going to waste – just as the same drive can explain the intensity of the envy we feel when we hear of a friend’s success in an area we aspire to.
Calling this aspect of human nature a drive, and equating it with that towards physical maturity, emphasises its essentially non-negotiable nature and hence its power over us. It is as misguided, painful and nonsensical to try to stop someone growing emotionally as it is to bind their feet. The drive takes precedence over all manner of more convenient options: the longing for respectability, money or stability. It won’t leave us alone until it has been heard. It might make us leave a marriage that would – from many perspectives – have been so much easier to remain in or to throw in a job that was hugely convenient financially in order to take up another that more properly answers the call of our deep selves.
If the drive to emotional growth continues to be unattended, and perhaps even unknown to us, it can short circuit our whole lives in a bid to be heard. Fed up with waiting, it may simply throw us into a paralysing depression or lock us into a state of overwhelming anxiety. By breaking us in these ways, the frustrated, stymied drive is trying to be interpreted and accommodated. What it lacks in eloquence and focus, it makes up for in persistence and strength. A breakdown is a roundabout attempt to create opportunities for a breakthrough, that is, a new stage of emotional growth.
By understanding more clearly how basic and important the drive to emotional growth can be, we may come to better recognise the symptoms of its frustrations and the logic of our longings. And, at points when we upset the otherwise steady course of our lives in its name, we can be readier to explain to ourselves and those who care for us what might be behind our puzzling behaviour: we have not forever lost our minds, we recognise the role of respectability and status, we would love to be less difficult and demanding. It’s just that we have to honour another, even more vital side to our nature: we are under an inner imperative to continue on our path towards emotional growth.
The above essay is from Chapter Four of the ‘Book of Life’.