Rolling backwards downhill

When I was a young adult and I took up aromatherapy. I loved reading all about it, finding out what the different oils were beneficial for, thinking about who might benefit from the different oils. My challenge was to work out whether I had the oils needed for the ‘recipes’ or blends as the author called them, it was fascinating. My knowledge has faded somewhat, but a quick google tells you the best essential oils for anxiety are lavender, bergamot, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang and frankincense. A few drops of lavender, marjoram, vanilla or cedarwood will help you sleep at night.

At one point a friend asked me to make her a potion for her eczema. So I diligently followed the guidance and handed it over to her. After a while, I asked her how it was going. She said with delight “Look! It’s got worse!!”. I was horrified. I’d made something for my dear friend to reduce her itchy uncomfortable suffering but it had actually increased it. She saw things differently. She believed that for it to really work its magic, it would have to get worse first before it could get better. A kind of cathartic approach.

According to the Oxford Languages, cathartic means providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions; causing catharsis. In her instance it was actually a physical relief to through the open expression of the eczema. Curiously she was right, her eczema got worse and then it subsided. It needed to fully express itself, and be seen before it was prepared to go away.

It is this cathartic approach that I sometimes see in my work with clients. When people are working through challenging things in their coaching or personal development training, it can get to a point where they feel worse than when they started. This usually feels like bad news to people and has the potential to demotivate. They came for support, growth, transformation… they have done some soul searching and personal reflection. They then find themselves in a worse situation. This can understandably feel confusing, or like failure or maybe annoyance with the learning process. Learning however, doesn’t happen in a linear fashion.

Few things really do happen in a linear fashion, and yet we are somehow programmed to believe and expect that they will. Think about age and growing up. The years add up in a linear and incremental fashion, but the extent to which we grow and develop is all done in abundance when we are small. Plus children can learn and grow in one thing, and simultaneously regress in another. One day they take a few steps, but then over the next few days they stay firmly planted on their bum.

Our careers rarely happen in a linear fashion. As young adults we might envisage a nice tidy series of career steps where we get promoted, or move to a company that aligns with our values more. We expect that by the time we’re ready to retire, we will have had a fulfilling career that has left us feeling satisfied and rewarded. This may happen to some, but I would say we encounter a number of challenges along the way that at least hinder our progress if not divert it completely.

How about trying to get fit or achieve a sporting goal? Have you ever set yourself such ambitions? Was it a simple case of just deciding on a new diet and exercise regime and off you go – suddenly ready to run a marathon? Or were there some false starts, some diet deviations, some sore muscles or painful blisters from over optimistic exercise, some self-doubts? Potentially leading to a re-think, or a re-start…

Life has its way of throwing curve balls at us, despite our best intentions, and our hardest work. This is no exception when it comes to personal growth and development. Feeling like what we’ve set out to achieve has gotten worse can be a healthy part of that growth. If you find yourself rolling backwards downhill when undertaking some learning, then allow yourself the comfort of knowing that this is part of the growth journey. Maybe give yourself a bit of time off from your learning and do something different for a while. Then come back to it with a fresh heart and mind.

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