The Uncomfortable Truth About What Personal Development Does To Your Relationships
There are lots of us, passionate about personal development, who’ve noticed something similar.
We’ve read the books, been to the workshops. Perhaps we’ve even made personal development our life’s work – working as a coach, practitioner, teacher or guide.
But no matter how far along the journey we are, when our family member or partner does THAT thing… everything we think we’ve mastered vanishes.
We go from zero to red in a matter of seconds. We become a version of ourselves we don’t like – someone we hardly even recognise.
All the personal development work seems to abandon us exactly when we need it the most, when our loved one is pushing all our buttons.
And we feel guilty about how we react – ashamed, even. We should be over this by now, further ahead, more skilful in relationships.
How is it possible to do all this personal development work… yet still get so triggered by our nearest and dearest?
We pursue personal development so we can become the best version of ourselves… yet in the very places it matters, we can still experience ourselves as short, irritable, snappy, defensive, immature or righteous.
As if this weren’t frustrating enough, for some of us, our close relationships actually get more challenging when we embark on this personal development journey. All this focus on the self… seems to make us more focused on ourselves! We don’t show up as kind. We show up as selfish, self-centred and superior – and we feel separate from our loved ones.
With our increased self-awareness, we become more aware of the apparent flaws in our family members and partners. As we become more aware of our values and needs, we feel painfully disappointed that these aren’t being honoured or met.
Through coaching, yoga, meditation, clean-eating, coming to faith, therapy, CrossFit, tantra – whatever our chosen path – we have an awakening: “Oh my gosh, life can be so much better than what I was settling for!” We see the possibilities, life expands, we taste fulfilment, we get in touch with something bigger.
Our everyday relationships begin to feel unbearably mundane. There’s increasingly a gulf – a growth gap – between us and our loved ones, and so we experience distance when we’re most craving connection.
The fall-out of personal development on our closest relationships
The negative impact of personal development isn’t often talked about – but the reality is that relationships (both family and romantic) often struggle in the wake of our transformation.
Personal development doesn’t automatically translate into relationship development – in fact, it can bring relationship problems to the surface. Personal development work can actually make our important relationships HARDER to deal with.
Personal development and blame
It’s incredibly common when we get into personal development to blame others for lagging behind. We blame our partner for our life feeling small or inauthentic. We blame our family for being interested in irrelevant or shallow topics. We want to scream: “I need more than this! Let’s talk about something meaningful! Let’s talk about spirituality, growth, self-discovery!”
Blaming others can feel justified. We’re the one changing and evolving and doing all this inner work… so surely our loved one is the problem. It’s them who has to change now. It’s their turn to do their part.
The reality is: much as we might love them to change, we have no control over our loved ones. Yes, we can leave relationships, make requests and set boundaries, but ultimately the most empowering position is to find peace with whoever we’re with, however they are.
When we deeply accept our nearest and dearest, when we recognise that we don’t need them to change in any way for us to be happy, we become a version of ourselves we’re proud to be – and that’s what feels most fulfilling.
A different kind of personal development
The solution to our relationship challenges lies in a different way of doing personal development. A way that doesn’t build up our ego identity, but instead dismantles it. A way that questions the thoughts that cause all our suffering.
We come to see how our expectations are pre-meditated resentments. We notice that “I want” and “I need” set us up for disappointment and block connection.
Instead of focusing on the places where our loved ones don’t measure up, we can find genuine joy and gratitude for them being exactly how they are. We can feel closeness with them, because we’re pressing into reality, not arguing or fighting against it. We’re really looking, really listening, really leaning in. We can see them not as inferior or falling behind, but as people who can help us grow even more.
We question the assumption that we “deserve better”. We focus on our words and actions, we clean up our messy places, and we leave others to take care of their side of the street. We prioritise being kind over being right. We make empathy more important than enlightenment. We choose to put down the scripts that others should follow – and experience freedom as frustration, stress and conflict dissolve.
We find more peace with reality, more peace with other people. We know how to clear what blocks our connection and become a more forgiving, accepting, loving human being.
Get truthful, get empowered
These insights have come from 16 years of personal development – both from what I’ve seen in my own life and from my clients, friends and colleagues. Now I’d love to hear from you – can you identify with the negative fall-out of personal development? Do you feel frustrated that you can still be triggered by someone? Have your relationships become harder, as your expectations have grown, the bar’s been raised, and the growth gap has widened? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear about your path and its impact on your relationships.