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Why Is Personal Growth So Difficult?

We all know that the only person we can really change … is us!

And yet … and yet … when a problem arises, our thoughts just naturally drift towards what the other person ought to fix.

Why is this?

I wrote a post about the right ways to make relationship changes.

And Cheryl wrote this generous reply:

It isn’t as if we don’t know taking the high road and tending to our own behavior is the way to live as functioning adults — but we ( or anyway I) go off course when the change seems too difficult.

Personal growth is difficult, for several reasons:

  • It’s impossible to have accurate perspective on yourself. We all go through the day observing other people. But, unless someone follows us around with a video camera for an extended period of time, we can’t ever see our own behaviors. We have to guess at them from other people’s reactions to us.
  • We’re not psychologically separate from our loved ones. I discussed this in yesterday’s post; the people we love feel like extensions of ourselves. Therefore, working on changing them feels, to a great extent, like we are working on ourselves.
  • Personal growth and change require restructuring your identity, and the brain resists this for good reason! Once we construct an identity, we work hard to maintain it. Imagine how terrifying it would be to wake up each day without being clear on Who I am, What I do, What I like and don’t like, etc. Personal growth has to happen slowly in order for the brain to process it.
  • Personal growth provokes cognitive dissonance, which is a painful emotional reaction to critical messages. The psyche automatically protects itself by rejecting criticism and inventing other explanations. It’s you who’s screwed up, not me! is an automatic, mostly unconscious psychological response to evidence that casts us in an unflattering light.

Changing yourself is oh so difficult, and personal growth is always a work-in-progress. Let’s keep in mind just how hard it is, and let’s be patient with one another and ourselves as we move forward, ever so slowly.

As Cheryl reminds us, the rewards of change are great:

This is not only a good way to live w/your partner; it’s a great way to live with other people, period.

This isn’t “acting” to save a relationship, you are working on being the person you want to become.

photo of road in process of reconstruction

Good Music for a Good Cause: UFO’s album, Unity Creates Strength, benefits Chile and Haiti.

Why Is Personal Growth So Difficult?

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2011). Why Is Personal Growth So Difficult?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 29 Jul 2011
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