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Personal Growth


A Description of Personal Growth

Emotional Needs Checklist Questions

Raising your awareness of your needs, of unhealthy traits, habits, etc.


Emotional Abuse

Personal Growth Story From My Real Life - about the expression "This is a fucking nightmare"

The Word "Should"

Toxic Feelings

Emotional Bank Account

Personal Growth Links

Notes from books I have read and tapes I listened to

Miscellaneous Other Things


Here I have a collection of things I discovered while in the course of my own personal development. (A journey which continues.) Personal growth became a priority for me after I had achieved so-called success in school and work, yet found myself unable to achieve emotional intimacy and maintain satisfying romantic relationships. I reached a point where I was financially independent and highly "educated," yet utterly miserable.

I collected much of the following material before I started thinking about making a website, so it is not as well organized and integrated as I would like, but for now this is what I have. I begin with the personal growth section because a good relationship with yourself seems to be a prerequisite to a healthy romantic relationship.

I realize that each person is unique and what has helped me may not help you. In other words, I realize that personal growth is just that: personal. One thing I would like to share with everyone is these words from Annette in Denmark:

You have a deeper, wiser, loving self that you can always ask for help

One Description of Personal Growth

Here is one description of personal growth,

Personal growth means you are in a process of looking at your life, how you are feeling, what is missing and what can be improved, and you are actively working on improvement through education, new knowledge, increased awareness and specific changes. You are looking are your belief system and making changes in it.

You are changing your identity to one that more closely aligns with your natural core self, who you really are, what you are really good at and naturally talened in, and what you really want in life. Home Page

Other Topics:

Emotional Intelligence | Empathy
Emotional Abuse | Understanding
Emotional Literacy | Feeling Words
Respect | Parenting | Caring
Listening | Invalidation | Hugs
Depression |Education
Personal Growth

Search | Support

Online Consulting, Counseling Coaching from

Raising your awareness of your needs, of unhealthy traits, habits, etc.

List of necessary freedoms

Sentence Completion Exercises

Signs of unhealthy authority and dependance based relationships

Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Unmet emotional needs, substitutes and fulfillment

People and their cars - warning signs

Deciding who to spend time with

Another list of traits of children from dysfunctional families




Awareness of our feelings

Managing Negative Emotions

Constructive thinking, positive thinking, cognitive therapy, cognitive distortions, etc.

Also see Managing Negative Emotions on General Emotions Page

Another page on self-esteem

Nathaniel Branden's Work on Self Esteem


Miscellaneous Other Things

A personal letter

A poem about abuse

A 1995 piece I wrote on codependency and personal growth



Awareness of our feelings is the first step to personal growth.

When I identify my negative feeling, I have identified an area for improvement. -- For example, when I am feeling impatient, I have an opportunity to work on my patience. When I am feeling inflexible, I have an opportunity to work on becoming more flexible. Here are a few more:

When I am feeling... I have an opportunity to become more...
Judgmental Accepting, compassionate, understanding
Confused Educated, enlightened, informed
Critical Accepting, compassionate, constructive
Needy, Weak, Dependent Strong, Confident, Independent
Pessimistic Optimistic
Self-blaming, self-destructive Self-accepting, self-compassionate
Insecure Self-secure

When we label people, places or situations, we rob ourselves of a growth opportunity. When we label our negative feelings, however, we identify our unmet emotional needs and the areas we need to work on in ourselves.

Unmet Emotional Needs, Substitutes and Fulfillment

When we have unmet emotional needs, we often seek physical substitutes.

For example, if we need emotional intimacy and acceptance, we may seek sex, alcohol or drugs. I remember once I was spending a lot of time in chat rooms on the internet, yet I didn't feel fulfilled. I suddenly realized that my real, natural need was for was actual human connection, but I was trying to fill it with a substitute. I was filling up time, but not filling my real need. Others try to meet their unmet emotional needs through buying things, controlling others, seeking status from their titles and positions in organizations or from memberships in groups, etc.

I find it helpful to remember something I heard once: You can never get enough of a substitute

More on Unment Emotional Needs and Substitutes

Constructive Thinking, Positive Thinking, Cognitive Therapy, Cognitive Distortion, etc.

Early in my personal growth process I read a book called "Feeling Good" by David Burns. The book is based on cognitive therapy (I believe Burns was a student of Albert Ellis). Cognitive therapy basically promotes taking control of our feelings by our thoughts. For example, it basically uses this model:

Event---> Thoughts---> Emotion

But the new brain research shows that our feelings actually precede our thoughts by a few milliseconds. Thus, it is only after our amygdala has reacted to the event that our upper brain then directs our feelings from that point forward. I now believe the book exaggerates, undervalues emotions, and reduces compassion/empathy and conscience, but I still like the section on cognitive distortions (what I sometimes call "CD's"). We all make these CD's and we would be happier if we became aware of them and broke these bad habits.

Recently the term "constructive thinking" is being used by some writers to refer to what is very similar to the principles of cognitive therapy and positive thinking in general. See, for example, my notes below from Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale who both talked about such things in a less academic sounding way. Whatever we call it, the way we think definitely impacts our feelings and lives. Here are some notes on a few of these various terms and books, in the order in which they were published (at least I think so!)

Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

Feeling Good by David Burns

Constructive Thinking

From Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" (These notes are from Chapter 2)

The one sure way to create happiness is by controlling your thoughts.

Happiness doesn't depend on outward conditions, it depends on inner conditions.

Happiness depends not on what you have or where you are, but on what you think about it.

Shakespeare said "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Abraham Lincoln: Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Dale Carnegie

Feeling Good by David Burns

I first read his book in 1994 at that time I was a big fan of Burns and his ideas. Since then I decided he took the concept of cognitive therapy too far. By this I mean he undervalues feelings and encourages us to think all negative feelings away without getting the value from them which I believe they contain. Some people I have known who were ardent students of cognitive therapy are overly detached in their treatment of negative feelings, and they strike me as robotic, inhuman, fake, overly cheery, invalidating and lacking of either passion or compassion.

I recommend the first chapter or so of the book. And towards the end of the book there is a good discussion of how anti-depressant drugs ((pre-Prozac) work. (By the way, I have no direct experience with any of them and I am not a fan of them at all. Teens for example need emototional support and emotionally competent parents, hugs and freedom and you can't get these from a pill.)

Here are some notes on the cognitive distortions, based on Burn's book:

Emotions have the ability to distort our vision of reality. Hence the following common expressions:

He sees the world through rose colored glasses.
He was blinded by his rage.
She always expects the worst.

At such times we are making what have been called "cognitive distortions" since our thoughts, or our cognitions, are being clouded by our feelings. When this happens we are thrown off balance from reality. Consider these examples:

Emotional reasoning. This is when we allow our emotions to lead us to faulty conclusions. An example of this is someone who believes that because he feels like a failure, he is a failure. Or a person who has been told they are selfish, then they start to feel selfish, and then they believe they actually are selfish.

Emotional imprisonment. This is where we become a prisoner to our feelings. We feel trapped or we feel locked into a certain course of action, even when our better judgment and all the evidence is against it.

Mental coloring or filtering. We may either see everything in an overly positive or overly negative light. We may for example, see any sign of trouble as "a disaster." Or we might allow our emotions to trick us into converting a positive into a negative. An example of this would be someone who feels so bad about herself that she thinks people who compliment her are lying out of pity.

Over-generalization. This is where we mistakenly think that because something happened before, it "always" happens. This is similar to black and white thinking. High EQ people refrain from making themselves feel worse by their distorted "self-talk." Some examples of over generalizing negative self-talk are:

I always screw up.
I am always forgetting things. .
I always get lost. .
I will never be happy.
My partner is always late.

Awareness of these common distortions may help remind us to try to remain realistic, to try to see in a more positive or at least neutral perspective, as opposed to seeing things based on largely negative perceptions, which often are actually distortions resulting from many years of negative social influences influences in our families or society.

Someone said "Man is not troubled by events, but what man tells himself about those events." (Aristotle or someone) But I think man is trouble by both actually. If we weren't troubled by events we wouldn't try to change anything. For example, if someone is abusing you, should you feel troubled by it, or just try to talk yourself out of it? The answer to this, though, depends partly on how much freedom you have.

Ten Common Cognitive Distortions:

1. All or nothing thinking. Black or white.

2. Overgeneralization. Always/never...

3. Mental Filter. Dwell on negative aspect. Filters out the positive

4. Disqualify the positive. Changing + into -

5. Jump to conclusions: a)mind reading b)fortune telling

6. Magnification/minimization (Catastrophizing)

7. Emotional reasoning. I feel like x therefore I am x.

8. Should statements.

9. Labeling.

10. Personalization.

Constructive Thinking

Recently I received a review copy of a book called Constructive Thinking, The Key to Emotional Intelligence, by Seymour Epstein. I was hoping the book would offer something new about emotional intelligence, but I felt disillusioned when I received the book since it has very little to do with emotional intelligence. Instead, it is a new version of a 1993 book written by the author before the term EI became marketable. I feel a little reluctant to criticize the book strongly, though, since the author sent the free review copy to me in Australia, which I appreciated. So here I will mainly summarize some the things I agreed with or learned from the book. My concerns are below.

Probably the main thing the book did for me was to remind me that our thoughts and our interpretation of events do affect our feelings and that changing the way we think can change not only our feelings but our lives. The book reminded me that many of us have been taught dysfunctional models of thinking. Or we could call it negative thinking or destructive thinking.

I am still reading the book, but here are some notes because I am afraid I might not get back to finishing it:

He says one reason people liked the 1995 book by Goleman was that people have "long resented the excessive importance that has been attributed to IQ." p. 3

I liked his comparison of moods and emotions to tides and waves, saying waves can be superimposed on tides. Moods are longer lasting and increase and decrease more gradually. p 7

His section on people who believe in astrology, ghosts etc. - he calls this esoteric and superstitious thinking.

He has developed a little self-test he calls the Constructive Thinking Index. He has a shortened version of it in his book on pages 36-40. I recently had a friend take the test and I found it provoked some interesting discussion. His discussion of the test categories on the next few pages was helpful also. There are six categories on the test: Emotional Coping, Behavior Coping, Categorical Thinking, Personal Superstitious Thinking, Esoteric Thinking, and Naive Optimism.

In my friend's case we found that she was high in coping skills, but also fairly high in the other categories, in particular naive optimism. She had recently been reading motivational books like Tony Robbins, Napoleon Hill and a book on creative visualization. When I reflect on her scores I feel a bit frightened. She may be an example of someone who is skilled at coping with the world and a fairly high achiever, but she might also not have a healthy sense of values prioritization. So she could set out a goal for herself, really believe that she can accomplish it, succeed in accomplishing it, but still not feel very fulfilled because it was not something which added much to the advancement of humanity.

A person like this probably makes a good salesperson or a good team member or team leader, as long as one doesn't consider what the value of the goals are which she or the group is pursuing. She may be able to cope with a lot of stress and still "succeed." But she may not stop to consider the sources of her stress. Because she is somewhat of a naive optimist she may not realize when there is a need for a significant change. She may instead just work harder, like the horse in Animal Farm, of use her cognitive intelligence to figure out new coping methods instead of using her emotional intelligence to identify her feelings and use them to make needed changes in her life.

Fortunately I saw signs that my friend was moving in a healthier direction so I am not so concerned for her in specific, but I am concerned with this combination of skills and beliefs in general. I am also concerned that companies will use tests like this to figure out how to more accurately predict who will "succeed" in their organizations. For that matter, a mind-control group might also find a person like this to be very helpful. Perhaps Epstein's work is more useful than I first thought since his test might help us distinguish between a person who is simply a positive thinker, and one who is thinking a bit more wisely. I still believe that Epstein undervalues our feelings, however.

Here are a few of my own ideas of constructive thinking:

  • Everything and everyone is my teacher.
  • Every negative feeling is an opportunity to work on an unmet need.
  • When I feel frustrated by one approach, it helps to remind myself I might find another way which works even better.

Concerns with the Epstein book

I found the book to put too little value on feelings and emotions. This is the same complaint I express in my introduction to the book by David Burns. When the author does talk about feelings he often to be encouraging us to invalidate ourselves and talk ourselves out of our feelings. If we do this, we can't learn much from the messages they are sending us about ourselves, relationships, our society, etc. The author also says that all our feelings are caused by our thoughts, and that everything is interpreted by language. He seems to forget that humans once had no language at all, yet we still had feelings. Nor does he consider that infants have feelings long before they are able to interpret language.

I was a bit discouraged by a comment he made on page 13 that the first question about emotional intelligence is whether it exits or not, and if it does, the second question is how to measure it! As I have said elsewhere, I dislike the emphasis on testing and measuring. I would say that if EI does exist the next important question might be how does it contribute to our survival as a species?

Here are some other concerns I have which I note mostly for my own sake.

I also felt averse to some of the terms the author uses and the number of times he repeats them. Finally, the author states his case as the absoloute truth a bit too much for my comfort, rather than reminding us it is primarily his opinion and his belief based on the work he has done.

He says there is no valid test of EI yet, so his statement is outdated since there is now the MEIS test and the MSCEIT test.

Here are a few more of my specific critical comments


List of Necessary Freedoms

We each need to feel free to:

  • Feel what we actually do feel rather than what we "should" feel

  • Not need to defend, debate or explain our thoughts, feelings or actions

  • Be our own judge of our thoughts, feelings, actions

  • Change our minds

  • Say no

  • Follow our feelings

  • Be "irrational"

  • Follow our own conscience and become morally autonomous

  • Make mistakes

  • Say "I don't know"

  • Say "I am not responsible for you."

  • Say "I am sorry."

  • Say "Thank you" and accept help, a compliment, etc.

  • Say "I forgive you"

  • Say "I forgive myself"

  • Say "I was wrong."

  • Say "I feel bad that you feel the way you do, but this is something I need to do for myself now."

If, as children, we were not given these freedoms by those who had power over us, then we must give ourselves these freedoms as adults. And sometimes, we must fight for it.

Note: Several of the items on this list were adapted from or inspired by work from "When I Say No I Feel Guilty," by Manuel Smith, PhD

Deciding who to spend time with

The inspiration for this list came from a woman who described in detail a man she married. Soon after, he disappeared-- with a lot of her money. She later found out he was an alcoholic, had lied to her extensively, etc. See also signs of low-eq

Note how much the person:

  • labels
  • uses sarcasm
  • interrupts you
  • invalidates you
  • changes the subject to himself or herself
  • talks about other people, other relationships, former partners
  • blames other people vs. accepts responsibility
  • uses flattery, BS, guilt, "shoulds";
  • boasts; name-drops

How evasive is this person; how many secrets does s/he have; how many subjects are off limits?

How often do they say something like "I don't want to get into that, " or "Let's not go there" Don't ask"

How often does this person ask too many questions, as if gathering information, without giving you corresponding answers?

How often are they inconsistent?

How do they spend their time and money?

How much do they spend on distractions and mood band-aids like TV, movies, fiction books, cigarettes, aclcohol, etc.?

How much do they spend on external appearance management, like cosmetics, make-up, hair products, clothes, jewelry?

How much do they still concern themself with their parents's and siblings' approval?

How much work do they do on improving themselves?

How open minded are they?

How defensive, rigid?

What kind of problem-solving methods do they use?

What kind of coping skills?

What do they say when you ask them why they believe they are lovable?

How often are you saying "I'm sorry", feeling guilty, asking what's wrong; trying to read his/her mind; wondering what you did wrong?

How much do you feel dependent on him/her; how much do you believe you can't leave the relationship?

People and Cars- Warning Signs

In my experience, a person's driving and how they relate to cars is a good indicator of his (or her) true personality. Below are some warning signs of an unhappy person with a lot of unmet emotional needs. I know this because I have done most of them myself!

Someone who:

  • Labels people; calls other drivers idiots, morons, etc.
  • Criticizes other drivers
  • Swears
  • Thinks he is a better driver than others
  • Doesn't look ahead to see if the light is red before speeding up to pass someone
  • Tailgates
  • Weaves in and out of traffic
  • Gets so close to the back of a truck that you can read the expiration on the license plate, even at high speeds
  • Indicates his car is more important than your feelings
  • Will hurt you physically or psychologically if you hurt his car
  • Spends more time talking about the traffic and how others drive than talking to you
  • Spends more time working on his car than on himself
  • Drinks, smokes and throws the bottles & wrappers out the window
  • Courts danger
  • Seems not to value either your or his life
  • Tries to teach other people a lesson as he drives, especially if they anger him
  • Gets out of his car & shouts at other drivers (or worse)
  • Needs to be first
  • Points out all your driving flaws
  • Honks at anything he doesn't like
  • Shows off while driving
  • Gets angry at himself if he gets lost or misses a turn
  • Leaves late, then drives dangerously fast
  • Speeds up at yellow lights
  • Uses the car to scare you
  • Uses the car to communicate indirectly with you or others
  • Slams on the brakes in anger
  • Slams car doors
  • Hits or kicks the car in anger
  • Says he "hates" a lot of things while driving
  • Deliberately refuses to let people in front of him
A Personal Letter

Here is a letter I once received. It has so much insight that I decided to share it here. Some parts have been changed to protect her privacy.

Dear Steve

Yesterday I came to understand something about myself and our relationship, and I wanted to share it with you. I realized that all this time when I said I loved you-- in reality I really didn't. The truth is I really needed you. I needed someone to love me, to show me that they loved me, to value me & say that I was important to them. In other words to help me feel loved, valued and important-- feelings I now realize I never got from my parents.

I know it's true because when I think of wanting to be loved, my throat tightens & the tears roll down my cheek. It is strange, while I'm crying, I don't have any thoughts going through my head, but my body knows the truth and it responds to the pain.

I have no idea what happened in my childhood. Relatives have told me that I would stand by myself and cry for hours. I vaguely remember one incident. I remember crying and then I remember standing quiet & still and staring, but at nothing external. I remember I stood there a long time, my body feeling numb, except at my knees- they felt heavy & tired, and I remember the tears drying on my cheeks. I remember feeling extremely angry & hurt and not knowing what to do with the turmoil going on inside of me. Then after standing there for a long time, I remember feeling nothing. And now the tears start, as I write this, so my body still remembers.

Looking back, it seems to me that by the time I was in second grade I knew I couldn't be me. A little part of me was there, but not very much. I had figured out how to behave in order to be accepted. I remember as a young girl and even as a teenager when I couldn't hold back the tears, relatives would say to each other, "Don't say anything else, clouds have come into her eyes." I remember thinking, "Next time I will try harder. Next time I'll be stronger, next time I won't cry."

I think the reason I have been so needy with you is because the little girl in me for the first time was desperately trying to get what she wasn't able to before. All the times I fought with you and said hurtful things and punished you and walked away, I was really fighting for myself because for the first time in my life I was able to-- I was strong enough to fight without fear of being left alone. At the core of this little girl inside me, I felt a deep need for you to give me the unconditional love and acceptance I never got when I was growing up. The acceptance I got was always conditional. I always had to be the cute, funny happy girl. I was never allowed to be angry or sad.

I feel bad for the times I deliberately tried to hurt you and for the times I laid guilt trips on you. I don't feel bitter or resentful anymore, because now I understand where my neediness was coming from. I feel understanding now and compassion, for you and for people in general.

The battle is over now, and for the first time I can truly say that I want you to be happy. I can say that I love you and not mean that I need you. Thank you for being my friend and for believing in me.

Personal Growth Links

David Baldwin's Trauma Information Site

Roger Elliott's Self-Confidence Site

National Association for Self-Esteem

Some old personal notes - not cleaned up