Personal growth initiative and social support

In individuals lives there might be certain encounters or events that lead them to question themselves. The cause for this dissatisfaction may be internal distress, such as the individuals’ realisation that he/she is not living up to their own expectations. It is also possible that external forces, for example people pointing out certain shortcomings, may lead to discontent. The reaction to these perceived shortcomings will vary, for some it may lead to considering self change, but others might believe that they are not the ones that should change. Personal growth can be defined as a change in individuals feelings, believes, attitudes and behaviour as a result of understanding their shortcomings (Robitschek, 1999; Wright, Haidet, Kern, Beasley, Brady, Gress, Marwaha, Caccamese & Levine, 2006). An important aspect of personal growth is an individual’s continuous development in spite of any challenges he/she may encounter (Levine, Haidet, Kern, Beasley, Bensinger, Brady, Gress, Hughes, Marwaha, Nelson & Wright, 2005). Continued personal growth over a persons’ lifespan is important for a healthy and well balanced life. According to Robitschek (1998, 1999) personal growth can occur as a result of intentional and unintentional processes, however personal growth initiative is only concerned with intentional change.

Personal growth initiative (PGI) is defined as an individual’s constant and intentional change on a cognitive and behavioural level (Hardin, Weigold, Robitschek & Nixon, 2007). On a cognitive level the individual will be aware of life areas that need change, the person will know how to bring about that change and he/she will believe that the change is possible. On a behavioural level the individual will create or seek out situations where this growth can be obtained (Robitschek & Keyes, 2009; Whittaker & Robitschek, 2001). Previous research (Hardin et al., 2007) has suggested a correlation between PGI and high levels of instrumentality, internal locus of control, professional identity, assertiveness and problem-focused handling of stressful events.

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Hardin et al. (2007) further suggested that individuals with high levels of PGI experienced higher levels of psychological wellbeing such as happiness, life satisfaction and self acceptance, but also a decrease in psychological discomfort such as depression and anxiety. According to Robitschek and Kashubeck (1999) a possible reason for this might be that an individual with a high PGI might foresee problems and respond to them appropriately. A further explanation is that these individuals are more confident in their ability to find solutions for a problem.

According to Robitschek (1998) PGI can be an important contribution to the field of counselling and the therapeutic relationship, because it has the potential to focus the attention of both the client and the counsellor on the assets already present within the client or his/her live. Counsellors, therapists and psychologists have two primary goals when a client comes to them for counsel. The first goal is to help clients manage their problems more efficiently and to assist them in utilising their unused resources and opportunities. A second goal is to assist clients to be able to help themselves in their everyday lives (Egan, 2007). In order to help the client develop the necessary skills for functioning effectively on a daily basis the counsellor has to guide the clients towards developing or enhancing resources, such as his/ her social support system.

In a study about psychological wellbeing Compton (2001) suggested that individuals searching for psychological wellbeing will concentrate on their social environment and make use of interpersonal relationships to increase their sense of worth, but will also make use of greater independence and personal growth processes to develop an authentic self. It was suggested by Robitschek and Kashubeck (1999) that individuals need to be aided in their personal growth development and taught the necessary skills in order to enhance their personal growth. The present study will thus focus on the social support individuals have and how it relates to their PGI levels.

Research (Robitschek, 1998) has postulated that interventions might enhance PGI, which leads to the conclusion that an individuals’ PGI can be increased with the help of other people. Further research (Levine et al., 2005) has supported this claim, suggesting that supportive relationships provided by parents and friends may contribute to personal growth. An explanation put forth by Levine et al. suggests that a safe environment is created for a person in which he/she can reflect on emotions and events, but also question certain aspects and receive honest feedback. Research (Robitschek & Kashubeck, 1999; Robitschek & Whittaker, 2001) also found further evidence of the possible protective nature of PGI, this research suggested that positive family functioning might lead to an increase in personal growth orientation and in turn might reduce psychological distress. Because of PGI’s possible therapeutic implications and its protective nature, it is important to research whether the amount of social support individuals have influences their levels of PGI. An important element of PGI is the intentionality of growth (Robitschek, 1999) and individual’s willingness to engage in the improvement of themselves or their lives, it is thus important to identify certain personal characteristics that correlates with PGI and can be improved in a therapeutic relationship and thus also improve PGI.

Ryff (as cited in Robitschek & Kashubeck, 1999) alleged that a person with the best possible psychological functioning will be open to new experiences and will develop on a continues basis and not get trapped in a rigid state. A characteristic that can be associated with openness to new experiences is curiosity. Curiosity elicits proactive, intentional behaviour as a response to stimuli and activity with characteristics such as novelty, complexity, uncertainty and conflict. These characteristics can lead to two types of responses form an individual, diversive and specific curiosity. Berlyne (as cited in Kashdan, Rose and Fincham, 2004) defined a person involved in diversive curiosity as someone who is actively seeking out various new and challenging experiences. This exposure to a new or challenging situation can activate an individuals’ specific curiosity that will lead to an active involvement in stimulus or actions in order to gain greater depth in their knowledge and experience. Kashdan et al. (2004) refined these two aspects and found that they lead to learning and a sense of control that is gained through new experiences.

Overall the research (Kashdan et al., 2004) indicates that an individual that is curious might have a positive awareness of himself, the future, the world and his experiences. Curiosity may also lead to an individual being open to new experiences and a belief that he/she can attain certain goals and overcome obstacles. Being curious is also negatively associated with social anxiety, boredom and indifference. Research (Kashdan et al., 2004) suggests that an individual with high curiosity are more likely to capitalize on personal and social assets when confronted with life stressors and that they may be more mindful of what resources is currently available to them but will also show a willingness to seek new resources. One of curiosity’s most basic characteristics is its intrinsically motivating element (Kashdan et al., 2004) that may be a useful tool in a therapeutic setting. This study will thus attempt to prove that there is a significant relationship between PGI and curiosity, and that by increasing the use of curiosity an individual may also increase his/her PGI level. The goal within a therapeutic relationship would thus be to increase an individuals’ PGI through specific encouragement to use curiosity as a tool to facilitate personal growth. DeCarvalho (as cited in Robitschek, 1998) posited that individuals who are constantly involved in self change will be best prepared for challenges and self discrepancies, and will thus perceive them as an opportunity to grow.

When an individual comes to the realisation that he is unhappy with certain aspects of himself or his life it can lead to personal growth. In other words there is a discrepancy between what he is and what he strives to be. Self discrepancy relates to four domains (Hardin, Bayer, Nixon & Robitschek, 2003) of the self: the actual self relates to the qualities the person believes he/ she possesses; the ideal self consists of qualities the individual want to possess; the ought self relates to qualities the individual believes he/she should possess; the undesired self is made up of qualities that the individual would not want to posses. According to Egan (2007), individuals who want to change feel trapped in their current selves and as a result go to counselling to get a sense of direction. It is thus important to research PGI and how it relates to self discrepancies, because the process of moving from your current self to, what Egan (2007) calls, your ‘possible self’ involves intentional change.

Previous research (Hardin et al., 2003 & 2007) on self discrepancy and PGI focused on PGI as a moderating factor and self discrepancy as a mediating factor. No support was found for PGI as a moderating factor between self discrepancy and affect. However it was found that self discrepancy partially mediated the relationship between PGI and social anxiety, but does not mediate the relation between PGI and affect (Hardin et al, 2007). The results of this study indicated that individuals who have high levels of PGI have less social anxiety. A possible explanation provided by Hardin et al. (2007) suggests that individuals that are involved in intentional personal growth may experience more consistency between their current and possible selves. It was suggested by Hardin et al. (2007) that hardly any research has been conducted to investigate factors that influence the formation of self discrepancy and also whether problems such as self discrepancy causes or predicts PGI. The purpose of the present study will thus be to investigate whether there is a direct relationship between self discrepancy and PGI.

Based on the preceding literature exposition the assumption can be made that there is a theoretical relationship between personal growth and curiosity, social interaction and self discrepancy. In their research on personal growth and mental health, Robitschek and Keyes (2009), suggested that personal growth can be a protective factor against the onset of mental disorders. With this as a motivating factor, the present study will thus attempt to provide evidence of a relationship between individuals PGI levels and the social support they receives, the amount of curiosity they utilize and the amount of self discrepancy they experience.

Research question

According to the previously stated goal of the study the research question would be as follows:

Is there a significant relationship between individuals Personal Growth Initiative levels and the social support they receives, the amount of curiosity they utilize and the amount of self discrepancy they experience?

Measuring instruments

Personal growth Initiative scale (PGIS)

To measure the respondent’s personal growth the Personal Growth Initiative Scale (PGIS) (Robitschek, 1998) will be used. Previous research supports construct, convergent and discriminate validity of the PGIS. Robitschek (as cited in Hardin et al., 2007) also found an internal-consistency ranging between 0.78 and 0.90 and a test-retest reliability of 0.74.

Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS)

The MSPSS was designed by Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet and Farley (as cited in Gilbar & Refaeli, 2000) and is a 12 item instrument that measures an individual’s perceived level of social support. It is designed to assess perceptions of social support with regards to three specific domains: family, friends, and significant others. Internal consistency (Cronbach’s coefficient alpha) was obtained for the scale as a whole, as well as for each subscale; significant other (.91), family (.87) and friends (.85) subscales (Gilbar & Refaeli, 2000).

Integrated Self-Discrepancy Index (ISDI)

The ISDI may be used to assess ideal or ought self discrepancies from the participants’ own standpoint and /or the standpoint of a significant other. Evidence supported the reliability (.71) and validity of the ISDI as a measure of an individual’s own self-discrepancies when self-discrepancies and mood are assessed simultaneously (Hardin & Lakin, In Press).

Value of the research

Since PGI is a reasonably new construct Whittaker and Robitschek (2001) encourage research into variables that can have an influence on the development of an individual’s personal growth initiative. The present study will attempt to expand the PGI, curiosity and self discrepancy literature. Because of PGI’s protective nature and possible contributions to the field of counselling, it is important to identify the elements that can have an influence on the development and utilization of PGI. If the present study indicates that social support, curiosity and self discrepancy have an influence on PGI, it could lead to the hypothesis that increasing the levels of social support and curiosity, but decreasing the amount of self discrepancy might enhance the utilization of PGI. These findings can contribute to future research with regards to developing interventions for the increase of PGI, which counsellors will be able to implement within therapeutic settings.

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