Change Is Hard
Why is change so hard?
Signed: Change is Hard!
Dear Change Is Hard,
Hercules once said, “There is nothing permanent except change”. I once had a very dear friend tell me that this thought terrified her. And I don’t think she is alone in that sentiment! Change IS hard!
Human beings are hardwired to resist change. Our brain’s amygdala interprets change as a threat to the body and releases hormones for fear, fight, or flight (C. Pennington, 2019). This is the very definition of what we often refer to as “resistance”. It is how our body protects us from change. And it is very natural and organic.
However, staying stuck in a state of resistance usually ends up hurting us more than it helps us. That change (whatever it is) is likely going to happen, whether we want it to or not. It is often not within our control – we perhaps cannot stop it. So, to fight it endlessly only exhausts us and keeps us feeling miserable. In order to regain a sense of control and autonomy over our life/choices, we have to find a way to embrace change, as odd as that might seem.
Christopher Germer (2009) has outlined 5 main steps in the change acceptance process. Knowing what to expect (and understanding that resistance is a normal/healthy part of the process) can make the whole experience much easier to navigate. Keep in mind though, that one of the very important aspects that Germer explains about these steps is that they are NOT linear. They happen in a zig-zaggy kind of back-and-forth direction, as we move between each of the stages. And this fluctuates, with everything else that is also going on in our life at the time.
Step 1: Aversion – this is the usual first reaction we have to a change that we did not expect or invite into our life. This is the stage when our resistance is the strongest. It has been described as the process of “arguing with reality”. We sometimes demonstrate our aversion to the change by way of denial (acting like nothing is any different) or disbelief (double and triple checking with various sources before we can believe it is really happening). Our defense’s go up (because a fear or dislike reaction gets triggered) and our flight, flight or freeze response kicks into overdrive.
Step 2: Curiosity – this stage of the process has us softening (even subtly) in our resistance to the change. We start to explore our reluctance to accepting the new circumstance that is developing. We consider how we MIGHT live with the change – or how it might be less awful than we first imagined, in some way. In this stage, we show the first signs of opening our minds to the new situation. We touch on the fear or displeasure that we were initially feeling, to see how real it is.
Step 3: Tolerance – as we hit the half-way point in our change acceptance process, we begin to walk two pathways, at the same time. As we travel down one path, we will likely still resist the newness by talking smack about it. We will profess its unfairness and insist we don’t want it. But we will also now have one foot on the other path, and we will be figuring out how to make room in our life to tolerate whatever is happening. We will be implementing small modifications and adjustments and learning how to cope with our new reality. We will be creating a new level of “safety” in our life (or a truce between the new change and our resistance), so we can continue to move forward.
Step 4: Allowing – this stage of the process is a wee bit different from the previous stage of Tolerance. We will still allow ourselves to remember the time before the change began, and wistfully acknowledge how great things were. But these thoughts have now become memories. They are consciously a part of what we see as our past. We recognize that we are living in a different “now” and we are “sort of okay” (even grudgingly, because we have to be) with this new present state. We have made a quiet peace with the change and invited it into our current reality, at this point. This is where we have shifted and have started to actively choose to embrace and allow the change (even if we don’t want to admit it) instead of just using resistance to fight against it.
Step 5: Friendship – as the last step in the change process, we fully replace our partnership with resistance with an amiable connection to and acceptance of the newness. We see the value in what the resistance process gave us (our growth, our resilience, our strength). But we decide we no longer need that connection to our inner self in the same way. We focus instead on the silver-linings of what the change process gave us (or continues to give us). We start to look at our new abilities, our courage and our confidence through the lens of what we have adapted to (not what we have lost). And we can rise to a whole new level of being, as a result.
One last thing to remember: “Acceptance of change means we are freer – to be our more authentic selves, to respond to what our life needs, and to engage with meaning and purpose at ever more profound levels. At the beginning of the journey, it might seem that to accept the change means the end of things. But this is not true. Acceptance is not the end. It is the beginning” (of what comes next). (adapted from Mental Health Academy article, May 23, 2023)
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