Existential Psychology

Self-Actualization, Growth, Change, And Grief

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Self-actualization, growth, change, and grief don’t exist in vacuums. They are interdependent, each needs the other or is an outcome of the other. This is because each moment of becoming is a moment of change. And as we become who we really are we have to let go of who we were.

A lot of us try to compartmentalize change and growth, probably because change is scary. It reminds us that we’re not immortal, that nothing can stay the same forever, that one day we will be separated from everything and everyone precious to us. But change is not just an adversary to be feared, it’s also a friend to be embraced since without change growth would be impossible, and without growth self-actualization, the primary life task from an existential point of view, would be impossible.

When we’re only focusing on human growth the picture looks pretty rosy. It’s all expansiveness, it’s moving towards a goal, it’s increasing feelings of efficacy, it’s the pride of progress. But this is when we’re looking forwards. If we take a moment to stop and look backwards, we can appreciate how far we’ve come but we also see that who and what we were is gone forever, that we can never go back to that time and place, and this is grief inducing.

But if the ultimate goal of life is self-actualization we’ve got to accept that the only means to it is growth, which implies change and with change grief. The alternative, stagnation, is not a good one because things are going to change around us anyway, whether we choose to activate our potentialities or not. As biological organisms still tied to the natural world we will one day succumb to physical death and we’re powerless to stop it. The power we do have is to refuse to succumb to symbolic death, to keep striving towards growth and self-actualization, to move as far along the personal continuum as possible in the time we do have and thereby fulfill our destinies.