What is Personal Growth and Development? Your Emerging Essence

When you read about personal growth and development you often come upon suggestions like ‚Personal growth means that you set yourself specific goals on how you want to improve yourself and then you go through the process of working out the challenges that are in the way of you reaching these goals.‘ But what is personal growth and development really?

Willpower is for sure one aspect of personal growth and development. But there is another aspect to personal growth, that is the major player in this game! And it’s not your willpower or dedication to reach certain goals, although that quality is certainly needed as well.

So what is this other aspect of personal growth I talk about?
This is exactly what I’m going to cover in this article!
As you read every word of this short post on personal growth you will realize, that there is way more going on than what usually meets the eye. There’s a whole hidden world within this little term of ‘personal growth and development’!

What does Personal Growth really mean?

When we think of personal growth only from the perspective of goals that we set ourselves and then try to achieve, we tend to forget that most of what makes us up as a person is stuff in our unconscious. 

Even though ‚we‘ – as the conscious aspect of our entire psyche – are navigating the everyday life and making the decisions on where we want to move with the possibilities and opportunities that are open to us, our unconscious mind makes up the bigger proportion of our personality.

Generally, we can say that 90-95% of all the information, that we filter through our everyday experience, is processed unconsciously. So it is only 5-10% of our psyche that we are really in touch with.

What has this to do with personal growth and development, you ask?

Well, most of the times, what triggers real personal growth is a situation where we come in contact with these unconscious aspects of ourselves!

A relationship breakup for example. Or getting fired. Losing a person very close to us.

In essence, all experiences over which we have very little control over and which are shaking up our orderly functioning life.


It’s not just about learning new Stuff!

Personal growth is not only about learning new information, skills or tools to better master our everyday life. Personal growth is about finding a whole new way of functioning in all areas of life, through a change in our meaning-making.

We can differentiate learning into two major categories: Horizontal and Vertical Learning

Vertical Learning is when we learn a whole new way of making sense of our experience. And because our sense-making changes, we interact differently with the same situations and circumstances.

Horizontal Learning is when we learn new information and skills. For example, you learn a new language. Or you find out how string theory works. Or you find a more effective way to achieve your goals by writing them down and breaking these goals down into feasible steps.

All of this is very useful and expands our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. We are broadening our horizons and can include more information.

But there is another – and more important – aspect to learning! One that is often overlooked.


Vertical Learning is when we learn a whole new way of making sense of our experience. And because our sense-making changes, we interact differently with the same situations and circumstances.

Vertical Learning takes place when we find ourselves in situations where our old meaning-making does no longer work.

Think of the example of the breakup: You find yourself in a state of chaos, not knowing how this whole situation came about, not understanding the deeper workings that were at play, that led to the end of the relationship. You have to find a new way to make sense of your experience and you can find the deeper patterns of what’s going on by facing whatever the breakup is showing you. Or what any other challenging situation that gets you to the edge of your map, is showing you, for that matter.


Embracing Challenges and Change – Treasures in the Dark

Being faced with difficulty, moving through the challenges, and emerging stronger and more capable than before, is an almost universal pattern, that humans have probably experienced since the dawn of consciousness. We can also find it talked about and written about in various religions, spiritual movements, and psychological theories.

But even though, it’s often the situations that come out of the blue and throw us of balance, that trigger our growth, we are not at the mercy of these powers beyond our control! Actually, we can step into this playing field and engage the process of growth consciously!

You can actively engage the process of personal growth and development!

And not only are you benefiting from better and better ways of navigating your personal life, communicating more effectively, being more integrated, and having a clearer grasp of reality! By actively engaging your personal growth you become the hero of your own story. By turning towards the challenges you find that life is actively communicating with you and wants you to grow. Everything you come across begins to turn into an opportunity for your self-actualization!

What becomes possible through Personal Growth

By stepping into your personal growth you are actively changing your experience in all areas of your life!

Through personal growth, you come to know and understand unconscious patterns and strategies of yourself, that you have been using to get along in your life. You can then find better and more fitting ways of being, that are more supportive of who you want to be!

In essence, through personal growth, you are moving closer and closer towards your true essence, finding out who you truly are, beyond all expectations and concepts.

It is a constant flow of remembering who you really are, and at the same time becoming somebody completely new!

In the end, personal growth is a highly individual process, even though the underlying principles of how it happens, seem to be the same for everyone.

Here are some examples of what effects personal growth can have:

What becomes possible through Personal Growth and Development

  • Deeper sense of purpose and interconnection
  • A deeper connection to your own goals and desires
  • Relaxation and trust in life and yourself
  • More integration of your Personality (Reclaiming split-off aspects of yourself)
  • More aliveness and zest for life
  • More understanding and empathy for the people around you
  • Deep insights into human nature and reality
  • Finding better strategies to interact with reality
  • Achieving your goals faster and easier
  • Fulfilling deep – and yet unmet – needs
  • Becoming happier and more balanced
  • Finding peace and calm within yourself



We could say that personal growth ultimately leads to enlightenment. Enlightenment in the sense of the deep acceptance of everything that IS. Finding ourselves, integrating split-off aspects, and being in a constant dance with the unknown/the mystery are just other ways to describe this deep freedom and realization that is possible for human beings.



How to engage your Development


But how do you get there?


Personal Growth first and foremost needs a willingness to be with what is. Every situation holds a richness of information. If you are willing to just experience what is happening without prematurely labeling, judging, or moving away from it, you will start to see through the surface onto deeper patterns that are present.


For Personal Growth, you also need the ability to observe yourself. You are not what is going on within you. You can just observe your feelings, bodily sensations, and thoughts. You are also not what is going on outside of you. You can just observe the situations, people, and places being there.


This ability to just observe allows you to not react, but to observe your reactions. Someone is saying something to you and your body reacts with certain feelings and thoughts and sensations. If you can just be present and observe these reactions you will begin to see your patterns and come to understand your functioning in deeper ways.


Reading books can help you find a deeper understanding of your way of functioning. Through this horizontal learning and your ability to stay present with what is happening (embodiment), you will spontaneously find new ways of being and meaning-making.


It’s an ongoing process and you are already doing it!


Here are some possibilities to actively step into personal growth and find higher forms of meaning-making:

  • Doing a practice that actively invites the Unknown (like Circling, Trauma Therapy, Bodywork, etc.)
  • Stepping out of your Comfort Zone – Experiencing yourself in new Situations
  • Facing difficult Situations and finding their deeper Meaning
  • Reading Books that incorporate Vertical Development
  • Meditation and Mindfulness Practices
  • Psychedelic Experiences and States



What’s in the way of your personal growth?


Personal Growth is the nature of us humans! We learn through every experience we find ourselves in.


I’d say, wanting to expand and become better versions of ourselves is a deeply seated desire of everybody!


So why does it happen so often, that you feel stuck? Why do you find yourself in the same conflicts and situations over and over again? Why does development come to a halt?

If you want to engage your personal growth, but find yourself unable to get through a challenge or change habits and circumstances, what’s most often behind this inability is trauma!


Read this article on Developmental Trauma to learn more: What is Developmental Trauma?


To put it simply: If you were missing support from your caretakers in your development as a child, you couldn’t develop and integrate certain core abilities that are necessary for your further development as an adult.


If for example, you didn’t learn how to be attuned to your own needs and wants as a child, because your caretakers weren’t attuned to your needs back then, later in life you will find yourself lost, not knowing what you want and what deeply satisfies and fulfills you.

Part of your development as a child was fragmented and now you are lacking the energy to go further in your development. And at the same time: Finding these places within yourself, where you need nurturing and re-integration of your early development, and then finding ways in the Here and Now to satisfy these needs is already personal development in itself!


Trauma is the biggest hindrance and the biggest catalyst for personal development at the same time!

The Freedom to be an unfolding Process

Growth and Development are your human nature! And you are already growing and developing every day. Sometimes it’s just about stepping out of your own way, by just observing yourself!

This is the paradox of personal growth. It doesn’t come by trying harder and working on yourself. It comes by taking a step back from ‚yourself‘ and what patterns and strategies are moving you, i.e. how you react!

By understanding these unconscious patterns of yourself and seeing the ‚why‘ behind them, you can find more elegant and integrated ways of serving this ‚why‘. You find a new way to make meaning of what you do and change your behavior accordingly. Not because your old behavior is bad, but because you just find ways that are so much better!

That is the reward for facing these challenges. You become ever more capable of dealing with everything life throws at you. You learn how to dance with life, how to be fulfilled with life. How to do this in your way!

See you there!

Leave a comment and let me know what you think! I’d be more than happy to connect with you!

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