How to Avoid Traps That Hinder Our Growth

We all engage in many things to grow our lives, whether physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. However, we sometimes inevitably experience certain things that impede our growth and progress. Some of these things are within our control while others are not.

These experiences sometimes hinder our growth, keep us stuck, and move us backward towards bad habits and destructive behaviors.

It is essential to identify the things hindering our growth so that we can be aware of them, avoid them, and in some cases, confront them.

Shame Spirals

Single mom Elizabeth Cole identifies one of the traps she often falls into that hinders her growth. She calls it the “Shame Spiral.”

To shed light on what a “shame spiral” is, she starts by sharing a story about a phone call she got from a person she hadn’t met before but whose hurtful remarks about her job and performance messed up her mind that she started questioning her abilities.

Elizabeth, says “In the middle of the night, I wake up and I’m spiraling out of control with all the criticism he poured on me to the point that I’m questioning what I’m doing with other clients. Am I living up to their needs? Maybe I’m not good enough.”

The shame spiral is a trap that tells you lies and how you’re not good enough. It is an unhealthy criticism that focuses on everything you are doing wrong while ignoring your strength and what you’re doing right.

If not checked, it could damage your self-worth and make you feel less qualified for your job or anything you are doing. So you want to make sure you do not fall too deeply to the bottom of the spiral before drawing yourself out. It takes a lot of work, but it’s possible.

To deal with a shame spiral, engage in a productive activity that will shift your focus from the negative energy you’re feeling. Also, ensure you do not allow people’s opinions to determine who you are. For example, Elizabeth says to herself, “I’m going to get up in the morning and go for a run. I’m not going to allow this guy who doesn’t know me pour lies on me.”

Find healthy ways to be in control of your life and what you feel. People will come at you with criticism and demeaning comments. However, whatever they say does not define you or determine your self-worth. People and their opinions can only be as important as the value you place on them, and as Richard puts it, “it’s incredible how much power we give to people outside our circle of influence.” Therefore, you shouldn’t allow people, especially strangers hamper our growth.

A growth trap can look healthy.

Robert believes that trying to overcompensate by doing more than you need to correct a perceived weakness or problem can look good on the surface, but when you take a thorough look, you will realize that it can be a growth trap.

For example, when Robert’s ex accused him of not doing well as a father, he overcompensated by doing more than he should for his daughters, not because he felt it was the right thing to do but to prove to his ex or himself that what she said about him was not true.
“If you overcompensate for your kids, it can set them up in life for things that are not healthy,” says Robert.

Another lesson here is people close to you or who know you well can play a role in slowing down your growth. It could be deliberately or not, but it happens, and one way they do this is through their opinions and criticisms. What often makes an insider's comment about you a more potent force is that you easily believe them based on your relationship with them. Therefore, you will want to go all out to correct their impression of you. That is where overcompensating comes in. In your mind, you might be thinking you're doing something admirable and praiseworthy to right your wrong, but in the real sense, you are only trying to impress or clear your name. That’s not a healthy way to grow.

Self-awareness is a significant part of growth, but it’s more about focusing on who you’re becoming and want to be and not escaping the pain of becoming.

Perfection and Busyness are traps.

Kimberley Mitchell believes that being busy doing good stuff but not doing what really matters is a growth trap. She shared how she spent so much time in church and volunteering as a single mom without spending quality time with her kids. My son said, " Can we have one Saturday where we can just sit in our pajamas? That's when I decided to change stuff." Kimberly says.

Also, trying to be perfect can be a trap because attaining perfection is not achievable. You will become disappointed and lose the motivation to grow if all you do is try to be perfect. God tells you, “You are not perfect, kid, but I still love you,” says Kimberley.

Since perfection and busyness look like good attributes, it takes work to overcome these growth traps. However, Kimberly believes that it's not a day's job. It's a journey, and you need to keep moving every day. A good starting point is first recognizing and accepting them as growth traps.

The U Diagram

Drawing inspiration from Adam Young’s podcast on “How Healing Happens: Revisiting The U Diagram,” Elizabeth talked about how avoiding to go through the painful process of healing can hinder growth.

The three parts of the capital letter “U” represents Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which signify the death, burial, and resurrection days of Jesus. The lower part of “U” is the burial, which stands for the depth of hell. There will be no resurrection or growth if we try to skip the depth of hell in the healing journey. The depth of hell is our healing place.

Unfortunately, people exert so much effort to build a bridge to cross to the other side just to avoid the depth and act like they have got it all together. Elizabeth says that it is when "you want to fast forward and get to the place of healing."

Elizabeth highlights how we sometimes use perfection and busyness to avoid the depth of hell. So, instead of facing the real issue, we ignore it by getting busy, building a perfect bridge that we believe will make the pain or problem magically disappear and take us to a place of healing. But at the end, “that bridge is going to fall through and crumble and you’re going to end in the depth anyways,” Elizabeth adds.

Elizabeth adds that she used to feel that her Saturdays or “depth of hell” would last forever, and she would not reach resurrection. Then, however, she realized that Saturdays come and go. So, even while grieving her broken marriage four years later, she understood that she had to experience that depth of hell phase to experience her resurrection. Grieving, for example, is an uncomfortable feeling you might want to downplay, but it's important you experience it to get your healing. No matter how much you try to bury it, it will resurface again, and at that time, it will become a major growth trap.

“Growth happens on Saturday in the valley,” says Robert. One challenge with Christians is we associate lack of progress with not growing. However, so much is happening in the wilderness, just as in the case of the children of Israel who enjoyed God’s blessings and saw great miracles during their wilderness moments.

The wilderness is an uncomfortable place, but it’s where you prepare for your Promised Land.

Another growth trap Elizabeth mentions is that you can get busy going through the experiences and healing journeys of others by reading their books, listening to their podcasts, etc., while not paying attention to your own healing process. Elizabeth believes that by learning about others, she was "getting through their personal stuff but not walking through my own stuff." Instead, learn to focus on your story.

Facing Life on Life’s Terms

The idea here is that life is like a river or a river of life, and you’re right inside it. The river of life is everything life brings us, like a child being born, a grandmother passing away, and every other big and little experience. As you float in the river, life throws many things at you. Elizabeth says it is “floating down the river and taking things as they come.”

However, when floating becomes too bumpy and too much for us to handle, we sometimes jump to either of two sides of the riverbank as coping mechanisms instead of living life on life’s terms. One side is activities, where we overcompensate, while the other side of the riverbank is apathy, where we kind of stay laid back and don’t care anymore. We engage these areas to be numb out.

Finding a healthy coping mechanism if you’re overloaded is good, but completely neglecting the bumpy ride or problem and not facing it can inhibit our growth. “Activities lead to anxiety, and apathy leads to depression,” say Elizabeth.

Robert says, “To make progress in life, you have to stay in the river.” It is through confronting uncomfortable situations that you grow. “Sometimes, you just have to stay with the current,” Robert adds.

Are you an activity or apathy person? Coping mechanisms are not bad, but a really healthy way to grow is to identify what you are doing and check-in with yourself, and most importantly, try to pay attention to what God is trying to teach you based on life on life’s terms, not as we want things to be.

Living in the middle

Elizabeth talks about balancing the two river banks - activities and apathy. She believes that it’s best not to overreact by engaging in too many activities or getting caught up in a drama and underreact by shutting down from what is happening. “It’s about making a conscious choice,” she says. However, no matter your choice, do not allow it to pull you away from the other things you could be doing to make you better and get you to an actual place of growth in the river of life.

Robert believes that there will be moments when as a single parent, you get overwhelmed. But it is essential to understand that there are healthy ways of detachment. Rather than just numbing out or getting busy, sit with it like in the “U” analogy. It also has to do with surrendering to God. You must understand that God uses all things to help us grow. Sometimes, it might be challenges and challenging moments. Therefore, surrender to God by waiting, yearning, and not trying to bridge past it but finding healthy coping mechanisms like “finding time to detach, read a book, relax, pray, going on a walk, journaling, changing our focus,” says Robert.

You care for yourself when you do all these, allowing yourself to grow at God’s pace rather than what you think is best, “because frankly, what I think is best has gotten me into a heap of mess,” says Robert.

It’s important to know when to surrender to God and take life on life’s terms. But if we don’t, we start impeding our growth related to what He wants to do in our life.

We are not meant to do life on our own.

Robert believes that isolation hinders growth tremendously, especially for single parents. It’s so because it’s hard to reach out and ask for help, ask someone to be a sounding board, join groups and talk. But there’s so much reward and tremendous benefit in not isolating. Remember that you are not alone; there’s still hope. You can be in a place of pain right now, but just know that you are going through a transformation that will change your life for the better. Not only is there hope for you, but you are also going to recover all that you have lost.

When you bring people into the things you want to do or the decisions you want to make, you approach things with wisdom and a clear mind. You mostly lead yourself to destructive paths if you isolate yourself and do not reach out to people before making certain decisions or even praying to God. God created us to be a community and to depend on one another for help. According to Elizabeth, “when I rely on myself and I'm not going to God or people, or a combination of both, I lead myself to some destructive paths.”

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