Get out of the refiner’s fire
March 15, 2013 by
Categories: Human

“When the pressure to change reduces, the potential for growth increases”

When it comes to self-improvement in our culture, we have images of the refiner’s fire or the amount of pressure and heat required to change carbon into diamond. I think that’s great for elements and minerals, but as humans, I think frequently our reaction to pressure does not always foster growth. Pressure may create change in the short term, but I haven’t seen it hold up in the long run.

Image by dimitri_c

Image by dimitri_c

For example, I have met with many people struggling to overcome a habit that causes them great shame. Their process goes as follows. First, just after they have given in to the habit, they, their culture, or people around them apply a great amount of pressure to change. They swear that they are done and will never do it again. They are genuine and sincere in their pledge and I believe that most people really give it their best. However, as time continues on, the desire to fall back into the old habit increases. Sometimes their resolve also increases, which makes the pressure to change even greater. Soon the pressure becomes too much, and they fall back into the old habit.

The sad thing is, the application of pressure to change generally just increases shame, and shame is not a good motivator. As we’ve talked about shame on this blog before, I’ll be brief to remind that research shows that shame does not motivate change or growth. What it does tend to encourage is more self-destructive behaviors, depression, anxiety, and feelings of being stuck.

I have found not only in my own life, but in my clinical work, that growth happens when we no longer put pressure on ourselves to change. Once we’ve not only accepted who we are, but shown compassion for ourselves, are we able to allow ourselves to grow uninhibited. This growth comes in ways we never knew we could because it happens naturally as a result of living and being open to experience and others. It truly happens freely as we have no expectations as to how we are going to grow, we just have the faith and hope that we will. I haven’t seen growth this way fail yet, but I have seen putting pressure on people to change fail time and time again.

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