On the difference between short-term healing and long-term growth
I wish someone had told me you’re not supposed to face the same problems, fears, and challenges over and over.
When you do the real work of adjusting your behavior and reconditioning your mindset, you move from old problems to new ones. Issues linger when you don’t rectify them at the root.
If you’re anything like me, your journey to emotional healing may at times feel unending.
Each time you’re confronted with another relationship problem, you think: This is prompting me to heal. You find yourself in a negative thought spiral and assume you have more internal work to do. You follow the same thought process whenever you confront familiar circumstances, feelings, and blocks.
Healing is to return to what was, growth is to transform into what could be.
You never stop to realize you’re running into the same issues again and again. Instead, you take each instance as a cue for introspection and change.
You begin to think of healing as a lifelong journey. But it shouldn’t be.
You may, for the first time, recognize your patterns, identify limiting thought structures, and become at least somewhat conscious of how you do and don’t want your relationships to play out. You may, for the first time, give yourself space to feel your emotions, sort through them, and understand what triggers them. You may, for the first time, become aware of what stands between you and the life you want to lead.
All of this is important and necessary.
But none of it helps you in the long run.
Often, when you think you need healing, what you really want is a sense of reprieve and comfort. You’re reaching for a hot bath and time to reflect. Let me be clear: Finding comfort is an absolutely essential part of the process, but it is not the end.
Instead, you must aim for something more long-lasting — not momentary healing, but growth. Healing is to return to what was; growth is to transform into what could be.
Growth happens when you look yourself in the eye and commit to changing your behavior — not for a little while, not until you feel better, but forever. It’s what happens when you take full and complete responsibility for your life. It’s what happens when something in you is shaken awake, when you begin to realize that your self-defeating thoughts, behaviors, and reactions are holding you back more than anyone, or anything else, ever could.
You can either go backward or forward.
There is a distinct difference between healing and growth, though they’re often conflated. Most of us spend our lives healing from what’s hurt us, and very little time actually growing from it.
You see, healing helps you return to who you were before, but that’s exactly what you do not need. You do not need to heal from heartbreak if it puts you back in the position of attaching yourself to an incompatible partner. You do not need to heal from self-loathing if it brings you back to an uncertain mindset where one trigger might set you off. You do not need to heal from doubting yourself if it brings you back to the subtle suspicion that you might not be good enough.
What you need is growth: real, tangible, and measurable.
You don’t need more people enabling you right back into the same circumstances you just fled. You need more people rising up and reminding you: You can either go backward or forward.
As Flannery O’Connor puts it, you will eventually face a “moment of grace,” the point at which you’re left to decide whether you will take action to transcend your circumstances or succumb to them once again. The choice is yours.