Self-expression and connectedness are what make up emotional growth
Many of us are familiar with the physical limbs Pain associated with the growth of our bodies during childhood. But not many are consciously aware of the pain we experience as adults during emotional growth when, in fact, more people experience this kind of Growing Pains than they do the former. Whereas the growing pains of childhood are felt in the bones and muscles, those of adulthood are felt in the mind and heart.
That afternoon at work when you couldn’t shake off the feeling of being stuck in a rot. That Sunday when you suddenly felt age was catching up with you while your dormant talents were going to waste. That late evening when your mood immediately shifted to melancholy after a party because you knew deep down that you were utterly alone. That longing for the simplicity and ease of childhood… These are growing pains. This is what we experience when the desire for self-expression and connectedness sets in and demands to be heard ever louder. In my case, these growing pains were the complete meaninglessness of my studies that I perceived in the early phase of my higher education and the gripping sense of isolation I feel now.
However, just because these pains are not tangible and curable with modern medicine, it doesn’t mean that they can be brushed aside as some sort of metaphor or a fancy. Instead, they must be recognized for what they truly are: our inner callings to actualize our emotional growth that will undoubtedly have negative consequences should we choose not to heed them, not the least of which are career dissatisfaction and social loneliness. And as is the case with medicine, identifying the pain and understanding it is the first step one can take to properly cure it. So here goes.
Self-expression is the intense drive to discover, identify, and physically manifest our core values in a way that expresses our own uniqueness and individuality. It might sound a little strange to say that one is driven to discover one’s own values, but the truth is that these are things that are not nearly as obvious as they seem. At the end of the day, true self-knowledge is indeed an elusive treasure. This means that experimenting, trying and failing should not be stigmatized at all. Instead, they should be praised and encouraged. Yes, maybe you did choose to study medicine by your own free will. But what if you discovered later that you intensely disliked it and instead had a calling for business consulting? Sometimes (and I say sometimes) switching paths might be the right thing to do if we are serious about and committed to our own wellbeing and emotional growth. At other times, as was the case for me, we just need to look at our existing situation from a different perspective and to creatively come up with ways in which we can bring our values to bear in such scenarios. The need for self-expression is most manifest in our professional and free-time activities. It is the reason why some of us choose to be politicians and others fashion designers. The politician might be driven by a core value of service and the designer by excellence and beauty. But it is also possible that both are driven by the same core value — bringing happiness to others, for instance — but they simply express this value differently. That’s why many of us might find ourselves stuck in deeply dissatisfying careers; it is because such jobs are not our preferred ways of expressing our values or, worse, these jobs might go against our values altogether.
So next time you feel like you hate your job or that your talents are going to waste, ask yourself questions like:
- Do I really know what my core values are?
- Are the values my job upholds in line with my personal core values?
- Do I enjoy and can I excel in this particular way (profession) of manifesting these values?
- How can I apply my creativity to bring my values to my current job?
- What can I do differently to carry out my job in a way that I like more?
Connectedness is the degree to which we feel satisfied with our existing social connections. The need for connectedness stems from our innate need not only to know ourselves but also the need to be known and to get to know someone else just as closely. This deep human need is a prerequisite for emotional growth, and it is most manifest in best-friendships and intimate relationships. In fact, this is exactly what loneliness is: it is not having someone we can completely let into our inner workings, our greatest hopes and our deepest anxieties. That’s why one can have many connections but still feel very disconnected. Simply put, connection deals with the quantity and connectedness deals with the depth and quality of social interaction. But this goes both ways too. In the same way that we wish to be understood and cared for, we equally seek out people who will let us understand them and contribute meaningfully to their wellbeing. Thus, we seek to synergize; to both give and take. And the truth is that no one form of connectedness is enough. You might have a lot of deep and satisfying friendships but still feel lonely because you lack the intimate component. Or you might enjoy a successful and happy marriage but still feel isolated in the absence of close friends. A balance is always needed: between friendships and romances, between giving and taking, as well as between quantity and quality of social interactions.
Hence, the cure for the growing pains of the desire for connectedness lies in seeking the answers to questions like:
- Am I truly happy with the relationships I have now, or am I just using them to distract myself from my muffled loneliness?
- Do I have friends I can count on and talk to when the going gets tough?
- Am I ready to start a new intimate relationship? Or am I doing it mainly out of need and instincts?
- Do I both give and take in my relationships, or am I one-dimensional?
With that being said, I have to admit something: this is all easier said than done. But, at least, recognizing the issue and identifying the first steps is better than continuing on this path of doomed emotional angst. Yes, it will be very hard to act upon this knowledge (I wouldn’t be writing this article otherwise) but, as the cliché proverb says, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Now that you (and I) know the basic root cause of your (and my) emotional growing pains, what are you going to do about it? Remember Stephen Covey’s remark in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“To know and not to do is really not to know.”
By Beshr Al Khateeb
Growing Pains was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.