Psychological Society of South Africa
Psychological Society of South Africa

What is your model for personal transformation?

By Curwyn Mapaling

There is a prevailing cry for transformation in our country, rightfully so, but surely we should remain cognisant of personal transformation as well? A simple Google search yields more than 15 million results detailing various steps, phases, models and methods etc. when searching models for personal transformation.

So how do we possibly begin to consider and decide on one model to follow? Does it depend on the type of person you are and the kind of personal transformation that is sought-after and/or necessary? Or does a one-size-fits-all approach to personal transformation really exist? One thing is for certain, we all experience adversity in different phases of our lives to varying degrees.

The AccepTTranscend workshop* which was facilitated at the Nelson Mandela University at the end of 2017 may be an example of one model of how to overcome our own personal, diverse, adversities.

Acceptance and the way to begin?
“People transcend when they have permission to be who they are”, says the founder of the AccepTTranscend model Tam Martin Fowles [Tam]. It appears that in order to transcend, we would have to allow ourselves to accept who we are. This requires demonstrating a degree of compassion towards ourselves. Often times we are unhappy because we are unable to accept something. If we connect acceptance with happiness in our understanding of compassion then the words of The Dalai Lama resonate: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.

The workshop introduced sub-personalities, within transpersonal psychology, as personas or masks that have evolved and which are heightened during periods of adversity and/or mental illness throughout our lives. Our various sub-personalities will pull us to do something and another will pull us in a different direction towards doing something else. In some way, we could view our sub-personalities as one way of us wrestling with finding purpose and forming our identities. We all know at least one story of how someone has claimed to find their purpose in their pursuit to overcome adversity.

Transcendence and the way forward?
Tam further said: “Resilience of spirit to lead us into the light from the darkest of places”. Along with indirectly asserting the significance of possessing grit and being resilient, the workshop highlighted the importance of community as well as expression more directly as steps on the path of transcending adversity. Expression and sharing within various communities play a major role in healing and transcending towards becoming a “Universal Survivor” which Tam defines as “people who transcend adversity to live richer, more effective lives as a result of that adversity”.

If we, for instance, view adversity as being on a continuum, then we could suppose that those with resilience and grit would be on the one end of the spectrum and that the generation snowflake would be on the other end. Generation snowflake is a neologism used to describe the young adults of the 2000s and 2010s as being increasingly likely to being more sensitive and possessing less resilience than prior generations, or as being too vulnerable emotionally to deal with with opinions that contest their conceptions of the world. On which side of the continuum do you currently find yourself and are there things which you are yet to accept before you are able to transcend the adversity you might be faced with at the present moment?

The most beautiful we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen
– Elizabeth Kubler Ross

*Background: The AccepTTranscend two-day workshop was aimed at individuals with experience of, and/or an active interest in, community development, volunteering and service work in its broadest context. The purpose of the workshop is to introduce participants to the AccepTTranscend model, the Virtues Project and the Charter for Compassion, with potential for application in community work in various contexts. AccepTTranscend is a six-stage model developed by Tam Martin Fowles in response to three decades of work with groups and individuals in many contexts. Throughout this time, Tam has observed “Universal Survivors” (people who transcend adversity to live richer, more effective lives as a result of that adversity) within those groups and elsewhere. Through extensive communication with many such people from diverse cultures and backgrounds – from Hiroshima to Soweto – Tam has identified common factors in their individual daily coping strategies. The AccepTTranscend model identifies these and offers an accessible non-theoretical and creative framework based around six criteria common to Universal Survivors globally: Acceptance, Community, Compassion, Expression, Purpose and Transcendence.

Curwyn Mapaling is currently Academic Advisor to the School of Engineering at Nelson Mandela University. He holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and Community Counselling from Stellenbosch University. Curwyn, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar and a member of the Abe Bailey Fellowship, is passionate about improving education and community mental health in South Africa as a servant leader.

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