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  • Writer's pictureLeah Kostamo

Brave Questions for Personal Growth

Entering a new phase of personal growth can feel like stepping into new terrain. The old habitual patterns that kept us stuck give way to new vistas and possibilities. Doesn't that sound lovely? Who wouldn't want a more inspiring view!?

But here's the rub, this new terrain isn't found by following the same path we've always trod. Finding this new land of growth requires we do something different and walk in a new way or in a new direction. It requires waking up from the same old route!

One way to wake up is to ask a trusted friend or a counsellor some brave questions. These questions shine a light into the dark places of old coping strategies born out of stress or trauma. These questions aren't for the faint of heart; they are for everyone courageous enough to want to break old patterns.

But, before we get to the questions, first some caveats:

  1. Don’t ask these questions if you don’t have the internal fortitude for an honest answer.

  2. Only ask one or two people who you trust and who want the best for you.This isn’t a survey you’re undertaking! 🙂

  3. Receive the answers with curiosity. Ask for specific examples so you can really understand what they’re talking about.

  4. DON’T DEFEND yourself. (This will be hard, because even though you asked for this, it will feel on some level like an attack! But remember, you asked and they agreed to be honest.Try to be open to at least a morsel of truth in what they’re telling you.)

So, without further ado, here are two questions that have helped me get “unstuck” in remarkable ways. 

  1. How are you experiencing me?

With a great deal of earnest sincerity, I asked this of a mentor a number of years ago. I don’t know what I expected, but I was stunned by his reply. 

His answer: “You are so anxious.”

To which I replied, “Huh!?!”

He went on to perform a little visual demonstration with the salt and pepper shakers on the restaurant table. He explained how he experienced me as an echo, mirroring back whatever I thought others needed/wanted to hear. This, he said, left him with no sense of a solid Leah. Was I just an echo?

As you might imagine, I found this whole revelation a tad humbling (nay, humiliating). Here I was, a leader of a national organization with an easy going personality, but I was suddenly exposed as also being deeply anxious. I was like a swan gliding over the surface of a lake, serene-looking above the water, but under the surface, my little webbed feet paddled furiously (and now there was an under-water cam to prove it!).

His honesty sent me on a journey of discovery. What were the roots of my anxiety? How was my compulsion toward people-pleasing connected to anxiety? How were my skills at ‘echoing’ really a way to stay safe, but also unseen? And on and on. It was a question (and answer) that opened a terrain of exploration that has borne a tremendous amount of growth in my life.

  1. What do you see as my next growth edge?

This is especially a good question for a best friend or therapist who knows you well. I asked this of my therapist about a year into therapy. Again I thought I was snowing him with my cleverness and easy-going way of being. He said something that felt both familiar and like a surprise.

He said, “You need to stop minimizing your pain.” 

Again, my reply: “Huh!?”

He went on to explain, “Every time you bring up something hard, you say, ‘but others have it worse.’ You’re deflecting your pain and lived experience.”

(In my defense, I am a white, able-bodied person with privilege, so there is a high degree of truth here – of course others have it way worse than I do in many ways!)

While acknowledging my privilege, I also got curious about what my therapist saw but I did not. How was avoiding my pain - not shedding even a single tear over very hard things – keeping me stuck in a cycle of avoidance and compulsive caretaking? What were the roots of my avoidance of hard emotions?  And, again, a new terrain of growth opened before me as I started to process emotions instead of avoiding them.

How rare to receive not just what we want to hear, but we need to hear! When we receive this gift of truth-telling it shakes things up.

But after the tremors subside, the truth bombs allow us to more honestly investigate why we do the things we do. This is where ‘parts work’ can be powerfully helpful. Through therapy and personal exploration, I realized that there was a little cottontail rabbit part of me that was very anxious and afraid. The cottontail part only calmed and shifted in its anxious energy when it could say what it was so concerned about - both in the present and past. As it unburdened its fears and as I gave it compassion instead of beating myself up for people-pleasing or being “echo-ish”, it softened and I gradually became bolder and more confident! 

Of course, there’s a much longer story to all this, but my journey of growth started by stepping out of the habitual patterns of behaviour by asking trusted others these two powerful questions.


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