Brian Petermeyer, MA, LMHCA
Am I Even Growing?
The Fertile Ground of a Loving Relationship
Have you ever wondered what it actually means to grow as a human? At Grey Sky Counseling, we talk a lot about healing, growth, and change, and yet it seems that growth is a category that is more difficult to describe, identify, and/or evaluate. Healing and change take time but are generally self-evident when our wounds (physical or emotional) have been attended to and we finally experience relief and recovery. This may look like regaining full mobility, the burden of depression has finally lifted, or that the relationship has transitioned into a much healthier intimate connection. But what about growth? It’s a little bit harder to notice, a LOT harder in fact.
I frequently have clients ask, “Am I even growing?” As their therapist, my answer is usually YES, but this often requires sharing my own experience of them and reflecting how much I’ve seen them grow for them to begin to see it for themselves. In the therapeutic relationship, growth happens in the presence of another person and that is why I am a therapist, because I believe so much in the healing power of a loving relationship. Even if someone is in therapy or seeking knowledge about a particular topic it is hard to see growth as it is happening. It is in our ability to look back, reflect, and remember how we’ve handled certain situations that we begin to realize that growth is a process and can happen without consciously noticing it.
One of the things I love about living in Seattle is that we get 4 unique seasons. As autumn begins to reveal its beauty, we get the warmth of summer with the crispness of fall! Leaves turn orange and red while the sun burnt grass starts to regain its lush green shade. The changing of the season is a gradual process for sure, but my experience is that it’s typically one day when I look up and see red leaves and realize “wow, those really changed fast!” But in reality, their colors didn’t transform overnight. I just hadn’t been intentional about looking at the leaves, and one day happened to notice them.
Recently, I was able to notice how much I’ve grown as a very unexpected and unfortunate event unfolded. Before I get into the story, I’m glad to report that everyone is safe! My brother and sister-in-law traveled to Mexico and my mom was staying with their kids while they were gone. During their trip, my mother got a call from a random number from Mexico. When she answered the phone, the caller went on to tell her that they had kidnapped my sister-in-law and were holding her hostage at gunpoint and would not release her until they were wired $2,000. Hearing this news, my brain was Instantly flooded with adrenaline and my heart started beating faster than I can remember. I instantly started to take deep breaths as I thought through what needed to happen. Do I call 911? Do I take the phone from mom? Not only was I concerned for my family members, but also, their children. Honestly, the thought of adding 3 more kids to my family crossed my mind as I processed through all the options and with limited information. I was scared, feeling helpless and the reality of being stuck thousands of miles away. I went on to take deep breaths and focused on staying as present as I could with my mom as she talked to a very troubled human being on the phone. To make a long and intense story just short and intense, we were finally able to reach my brother in Mexico. When he answered, he nonchalantly said “Am I ok? Yeahhhh, why?” Ok thank goodness, the reality this is a scam quickly sank in! I immediately took the phone from my mother and reeled off an obscenity laced tirade to this man!!! Ok Brian…why are you telling us this story???
The reason I share this story is because it wasn’t until after the event happened that I realized that I handled a very intense situation calmly and with composure. This allowed me to help my mom regulate and be as steady as she could, all while we believed she was on the phone with an extremely dangerous person holding my sister-in-law hostage. If you could have looked at a scan of my brain in the moment, it probably resembled a 4th of July fireworks show as my neurochemicals were going berserk!
While I am grateful not to have a similar situation in my life to make a direct comparison to, as I intentionally look back, reflect, and remember, I’m noticing just how much I have grown. There was a time in my life when I would not have been able to stay in the moment, regulate my breathing and heart rate, so that I could think more clearly and be present. Wow, it feels good to own that!! I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure I would not have responded this way even just a couple years ago. Yet I’m able to acknowledge that I have indeed GROWN. Developed. Changed. I am different. Did this evolution happen in one therapy session? One YouTube video? One self-help book or podcast? No—absolutely not! However, it was a cocktail of different factors that when mixed together, helped facilitate healing, growth, and change in me that has helped me function in more positive, healthier, and productive ways. Chances are, you have grown too but you have to give yourself an opportunity to see it. I know it’s difficult to sometimes see it for ourselves so maybe this is your opportunity to ask your therapist or trusted friend how they’ve seen you grow. It’s often easier to see it in other people which is why having loving relationships is so important to have it reflected back to you. As fall continues to show its colors, let it be a reminder to take a moment to reflect on how you, too, have grown. You deserve to know!