Self-Help or Self-Growth?

Understanding Personal Development Terminology

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Self-Help, Self-Growth, Self-Improvement, Personal Development… are these terms synonyms? If you have ever wondered about this, you are not alone; this is one of those questions that has no clear and cut answer.

While these terms are inter-related and inter-connected -and even used interchangeably- each refers to a specific area of the overall growth of an individual.

Looking at one’s self entails an honest evaluation of our personal attributes, attitudes, capacities, weaknesses and strengths, among other factors. The way in which a person feels, thinks and acts, stems from his/her understanding of himself/herself.

This is connected to a wide variety of factors –from genetic to environmental- that affect a person’s inward and outward disposition in life.

However, let us acknowledge that despite our individual circumstances and disposition, we all share something in common: Every person has the goal of projecting an image of success (whatever success entails for each one of us) which enables us to significantly contribute to a broader realm of life, outside of ourselves.

Searching for a well-meaning life is what drives a person to reinvent himself/herself in the light of so many personal development strategies. This is not only encouraging but gives purpose and meaning to one’s life. Some choose to self-help themselves to get better in one area. As they do, they experience self-improvement; and when several areas are improved upon, they go through self-growth.

There are several sociological and psychological theories that propel a person into a self-growth path. Yet, directing energies to systematically and substantially improve the self must start from within. Thus, the desire to learn is the #1 element which serves as a catalyst to initiate the self-growth of an individual.

Here is a good head start to help you understand the differences and similarities of these basic terms:

  • Self-help

    This is the act of learning a certain behavior and/or strategy with the intention to acquire a particular trait and/or habit. The purpose is to enhance a particular area of oneself. People who engage in methodologies to help themselves have the courage and will to improve by themselves and without the assistance of their external environment; hence the self part of “self-help.” They are also able to recognize the change within themselves which has an effect in their attitudeself-esteem and self-confidence. In this aspect, self-help happens “within” and you are the judge of your own changes as well as of the degree of such changes.
  • Self-improvement

    This is the aim and the ideal result of any self-help program; i.e. the achievement of a specific goal from a learned technique in a book or training.

    In his way, it springs from the desire to make something better and from having taken action on it. Moreover, your attained improvement can be perceived and noticed by other people; in the world “without.” Self-improvement encompasses the enhancement of oneself in one or more aspects of the self: psychologically, physically, emotionally, socially, mentally, spiritually, and financially – which reflects total well-being.

  • Self-Growth

    This refers to integrating all the life experiences, encompassing all that has been learned and gained, as well as the personal values and attributes of a person in order to achieve a well-rounded life. Spiritual Growth fits under this category as well.
  • Personal Development 

    This is the model that promotes a valuable and larger perspective of a person’s holistic endeavors; thus, you are developing yourself into a more complete individual. From self-help to self-improvement techniques and the evolution that comes from these experiences for self-growth, all incorporate sociological and psychological changes in the “self” and all of this falls under the umbrella of Personal Development.

To better illustrate such defined structure think of it this way: Personal development considers your goals from a comprehensive perspective; meaning that you will develop yourself into the person you want to become by learning either through self-help methodologies or as a part of a group with the intention to self-improve yourself.

Another definition could be: Personal development can be done with or without assistance and it is geared towards achieving self-improvement and overall self-growth.

Some areas of the self can be improved upon with self-help programs; however, some other areas may require the guidance of others, external to the self; i.e. teachers, coaches and mentors which can provide interactions that may be needed and/or important to achieve a more comprehensive self-growth experience. Of course, this depends on the area in which the person is seeking self-improvement and on the person himself/herself.

In general terms, self-help and self-improvement are essentially driven by the self, either going it alone or being guided/assisted by books, online courses and trainings, etc.

On the other hand, personal development tends to consider both, the experiences initiated by the self and the experiences gained from the interactions with others, resulting in a more comprehensive experience for self-growth.

A word of caution: Since empowering oneself relies mainly on a set of norms and principles where one is found to be biased with, some people will find the self-help experience incomplete. Thus, in seeking a more comprehensive self-growth, one must eventually expand the realm of personal development to include learning from and contributing to a community or society.

In other words, the power of the information learned in self-help books will only be valuable to the extent in which the knowledge acquired is shared with others and contributed to society. This is the essence of a well-rounded life.

Here is a real-life example of these terms combined:

Let’s say you want to learn public speaking. You attend an online class or read a book on how to do just that. This step was initiated by your desire to improve upon something, from the self.

This is the self-help aspect of your self-growth. As a result, you give better speeches to your audience. This is the self-improvement area that is noticed by others.

In doing so, you will have enhanced your personal development and as such, you will have added to your self-growth, and to the self-growth of those to whom you have delivered your speech to.

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