Just as we have a relationship with each aspect of life, we have a relationship with change, although we seldom think about it that way. Taking a closer look at this relationship may prove illuminating.
You may know people who say they love change, and their lives reflect that. They change careers, move to different parts of the country, try on different identities (not quite as often as they change their hairstyle, but often enough), move into new social circles, and let their interests roam freely.
Since life itself is constantly in a process of change, to have some major changes in direction in your individual life is natural and healthy. It is in keeping with our more fluid (deeper) nature.
There is, of course, a less healthy expression of embracing change, and that is when we’re looking outside to find who we are and desperately trying on one thing after another in a vain attempt to fill an inner emptiness or make up for a lack of self-awareness. Yes, life is change, but more often it happens incrementally and with some continuity than not.
Then there are those for whom change is hard. (If they won’t tell you that, their partner will.) Ask them to try something new and they’ll find a reason not to. When the unexpected shows up anyway, it throws them.
They may live in the same house for 40 or 50 years, stay in the same work (when they can), hold rather ferociously to their routines, and keep the same relationships, whether satisfying or not.
Psychologically it is as if their structure is designed to resist any attempt to move them. For those who resist change, safety is associated with stability, which in turn is associated with a lack of change.
Avoiding change to stay safe involves both a misunderstanding of safety and of what makes one most stable. Real safety comes much more with the ability to adapt and respond to changing circumstances than with holding tight. Stability comes more from being light on your feet than digging in your heels.
Is it really so simple?
Of course a typology of either-or is always limiting, because we may embrace change in some ways and resist it in others. This may be true about different areas of our life, but also could relate to disparities between our conscious and unconscious attitudes. For example, one may consciously say change is great, and yet unconsciously resist it.
While inborn temperament undoubtedly has something to do with our embracing or resisting change, so does early experience. Here are two examples.
Often we can look to the body to see what the unconscious is holding. I see in my body a resistance to change, even though as a psychotherapist, I’m in the change business. I’ve spent years working with a naturopath, and introducing any new supplement or more energy seems to be met with a response, “What’s that?!” I experienced unwelcome, intrusive change in my earliest years, and the body only too well remembers that.
The unconscious also leaks out in emotional reactions. In my inquiry this morning I saw a fear I hadn’t seen before: if change doesn’t come soon (right now!) it will never come. Earlier in my life, unchanging circumstances beyond my control were a source of despair. So today if I can’t see change coming when it feels needed, I get pulled back into that default value if I am not watching closely.
Noticing Change is Nurturing Change
Noticing change nurtures it along. So much of children’s early development comes from caretakers mirroring and praising each step of their development. The child then notices it herself, takes pride, and continues forward. Without this positive mirroring, we can lack the confidence to keep at something, especially if it seems like long, hard work.
This is also a secret of good therapy. The therapist, like the Good Mother, needs to see new capacities unfolding, like the tiniest leaf in spring, and water that with positive attention.
How can you notice changes that you want to nurture?
- Identify areas where you want change and record what you see in a journal.
- Be accountable to somebody. Have a buddy who wants to support you in an area and check in with that person about your progress.
- Ask for positive feedback from people you are around often. Having a partner, for example, mirror to you each time you demonstrate a desired change will help you see it.
Exploring Your Relationship with Change
You might also do an inquiry (on paper or with a friend) about your relationship with change.
- Identify ways that you seek or embrace change, along with ways or instances you resist it.
- Explore your attitudes. Do you see change as a threat or a savior? Do you view change as mostly something you make happen or as largely out of your control? If it is something you must make happen, do you generally feel efficacious (able) to do that? If change is seen as something that happens on its own, how do you feel about that?
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