Do you Really Need Friction For Growth?

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A recent discussion in a group I lead was whether it is possible to have had a perfect upbringing.  Is it even possible for parents to have done a perfect job raising their children so that as adults we wouldn’t need therapy?  This was the sentiment of the group discussion.  I thought to myself, well that sounds like a dull childhood!  Any parent if they are honest will tell you that it is not possible to be completely attuned to their child even if they are super committed.  And I think parents would agree it’s even less possible if you have more than one child.  There will most definitely be misattunements and failures to meet a child’s needs with the most caring and well intentioned parents.   I think most of us are under no illusion and can recognize this as a fact.

But here’s something you may not think about.  Not only is it not possible to have a perfect upbringing, it isn’t in the least bit desirable.  Yeah, that’s right.  Growth requires friction.  It absolutely requires imperfection and dissonance.  Any developmental psychologist will tell you that a child needs frustration, gaps in her needs being met in order to stretch towards the next developmental milestone.  If a child is satisfied every step of the way without the experience of frustration, she will not grow.  It’s the contrasting experiences of our lives, as painful or uncomfortable as they are, that spur us to become more.  The good enough parent knows when the frustration is enough but not too much to discourage a child.

Like the formative experience with a family, in group therapy there are also experiences such as frustration, not getting needs met, misattunement, competition, jealousy, and deprivation.  Those can be uncomfortable but are important internal and interpersonal states that must emerge if maturation is to occur.  My hope is that the group setting becomes a safe enough space for members to talk about these experiences openly and that they are useful in the service of growth.