10 misconceptions about personal growth that are holding you back

How do you grow and improve as a person?

There’s certainly a lot of advice out there. But not all of it is good. In fact, a lot of common ideas many of us have about self-growth are totally off-base.

Even more confusing, a lot of the lessons you learn growing up and from friends and colleagues can lead you astray, too. 

Here are some of the most misleading ideas about personal growth that many of us struggle with: I know I have. 

1) “I am broken and need to be fixed”

Thousands of millionaires and self-help gurus have profited enormously from this belief. 

When you are struggling with self-esteem and finding your way in life, a belief that you are “not enough” or are “broken” can be very common. Sadly, many predators are there to take advantage of this belief. 

They reinforce it and tell you that you’re right. You must pay them, service them, market for them, and then you’ll be “fixed.”

What’s even worse is that the psychological industry and much of popular culture also feeds into this, boosting the idea that people who struggle are “broken” or damaged and must be put back together. 

The reality is that your pain and trauma is all part of your journey. It doesn’t lower your value in any way, and you are not broken or lessened in your abilities and strength. 

2) “I haven’t truly grown until I’m able to accomplish all I want on my own”

The next idea about self-growth that holds many of us back is the idea that we’re not truly growing until we’re doing it alone. 

This is deeply untrue. Your desire for fulfilling friendships, relationships and social situations is entirely healthy and growth-oriented. 

As the world’s longest study on happiness out of Harvard shows, good relationships and healthy connection with others is the most accurate predictor of deep happiness and fulfillment in life.

While it’s certainly correct that we should avoid codependency, or relying on others for our sense of wellbeing, there is nothing wrong with working together with others to improve, grow and experience life. 

In fact, having people you care about in your life and seeking out meaningful and supportive connections is a key part of self-growth. 

3) “My painful and unresolved emotions must be purified and replaced”

This relates back to the first misconception: the idea of being broken, flawed or in need of repair.

Difficult emotions like anger, sadness, hopelessness and even numbness are not “bad.”

Labeling them as “bad” actually separates off part of you, creating what the spiritual teacher Tara Brach calls the trance of unworthiness. You label part of you as unworthy or “wrong” and it grows and festers, becoming more and more un-integrated and vengeful. 

Instead, think of these painful and difficult emotions as valid and purposeful. There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with feeling angry: your anger could lead to fighting for justice. 

There’s nothing inherently “bad” about feeling hopeless. This could be the rain that washes away your old life and leads to a new one. 

Try to channel these emotions, work with them and accept them as much as possible instead of blaming or hating yourself for having them.

4) “Self-growth is about moving from failure toward success”

Many of us have the idea that self-growth is about winning. That would be nice. 

But it doesn’t necessarily work that way. 

A lot of growing as a person is about learning more lessons from failure as well as learning not to take failure and setbacks personally. 

Life is happening to all of us and finding ways to adapt and react that are empowered and channel our painful emotions and experiences is deeply valuable. 

You can’t ensure success, but it’s necessary to take some risks and take a leap of faith sometimes. Even if you experience tricky obstacles you always learn a lot once you stop expecting all green lights. 

5) “If I find that one path to success and inner peace my life will be much better”

Many people fall into this trap:

They believe there’s this “one” path, faith or spiritual teaching out there that will finally make everything make sense. 

You need to give yourself more credit. Your life, your struggles and your inner authentic self is valid. You’re already on the path. 

Putting the solution outside of yourself in such a way can make you feel helpless and lead to unrealistic thinking. 

Life isn’t meant to be “fixed.” It’s meant to be lived and learned, and growth comes from the ongoing process. 

6) “The more other people like me the more it shows I’m growing as a person”

We all like to be liked and wanted by other people

But this is never a realistic or meaningful metric of personal growth. 

In fact, in order to truly grow as a person you need to reach the point where the approval or disapproval of other people is not a significant factor in what you do. 

You have core values that inspire and move you and whether people cheer you or laugh at you, you’re not feeding off their energy or relying on them. 

While you seek out those meaningful connections I mentioned earlier, you’re not dependent on that validation.

7) “Understanding what’s holding me back in life is the key, while taking practical steps to move past it is the easier part”

Self-awareness and understanding what’s holding you back from your potential in life matters a lot!

But it only goes so far. 

Modern society puts a big premium on understanding, discussion, analysis and feelings. But when the rubber hits the road you do need one thing:

Action. 

This is where you get off the couch and go to the gym. Every day. 

This is where you feel sad but you channel it into painting and art anyway instead of just talking to a therapist about it. 

This is where you decide what to do in the future instead of just talking to a friend about your anxiety and reinforcing it. 

This is where you become disciplined and action-oriented instead of stuck in analysis and introspection. 

8) “Once the right moment or right person arrives, then I’ll be ready to step into my true potential”

Life is always moving, and if you stand still too long it will move past you. 

There’s a time to relax and sit back. But waiting for the right person or the right moment is exactly what leads to missing the right person and the right moment. 

Even worse is that it limits us into a Hollywood type of thinking where our life is unfolding as some kind of grand plot that will eventually work out in one glorious moment. 

It rarely works out that way. 

We have to be willing to act and be committed even when love or situations don’t seem to be going our way. 

At the same time, those who want to grow should never self-hate for being single for a long time or having trouble and sadness in finding someone they connect with. 

Which brings me to the next point… 

9) “It’s my fault if I’m not meeting romantic partners I connect with and it shows I haven’t grown enough yet as a person” 

It’s not your fault for being lonely or wanting love and not finding it, nor is it a fault. 

This is one of the most toxic myths of self-development out there:

My desire for love shows a lack of self-love or a dependency. If you’re hoping for love to come “save” you or “fix” you then yes that’s true, it’s unhealthy!

But that proactive desire to contribute to the life of somebody else and give love is a beautiful thing. 

Cultivate and become proud of this desire you have. Become selective with it. Value the love you have to give and start seeing your moments of frustration and loneliness in a new way:

They’re part of your growth to more authenticity and being ready for a partner who you’ll truly appreciate and vice versa once chance or fate brings you together. 

10) “I need to be easygoing and patient toward negative, toxic people”

Let me be blunt:

No you don’t. 

I used to think that it was me overreacting to people’s toxic and aggressive behavior, self-pity, narcissistic manipulation or codependency. 

But it was actually the opposite. I was being too tolerant and giving them too much time and attention. I was saying “OK I’m out of here” while simultaneously sticking around. 

It’s OK to walk away and take a breather from people who drain your energy or harm you. You have no obligation to grow by tolerating everything or exercising endless patience. 

Self-growth has a lot to do with learning your limits and respecting yourself, including who and what you want to prioritize in your life

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