“I hate transitions,” mumbled my client Sally, who had originally come in because she wanted change—lots of change. Work, relationships—none of it was working for her. Now she was whole-heartedly resisting the very change she had so enthusiastically sought!
This is not that unusual for me to see in my office. People usually come to therapy because they want change, but then they resist the very change they are seeking! Why is this? I don’t know if there is a right answer, but perhaps most humans just don’t like change. Maybe when it really comes down to it, we are most comfortable with things as they are; even if they are a bit dysfunctional, at least they’re familiar. In this way things stay predictable, and perhaps this gives us a feeling of control in an otherwise seemingly chaotic and random Universe. Or perhaps the pre- and peri-natal psychologists are right: Our first big transition from the womb to the world is so often traumatic that we become wired to resist change. Some part of our unconscious remembers how awful that transition was, from safe comfortable womb to cold, harsh hospital room with bright lights that blinded our sensitive eyes. We are then forever programmed to hang onto the familiar because we believe change hurts.
Take my client Sally, for instance. She was going through a huge transition and hating it. Laid off from her job because of downsizing and her relationship on the brink of break up, she was not happy. She was forgetting that she had hated her job and there were lots of things not working for her in her romantic relationship.
“Perhaps now you have a chance to realign your life closer to what has true value and meaning for you,” I reminded her gently. “But what about my paycheck? And where am I going to live if I break up with Rick?” she wailed.
She was understandably scared. I stayed with Sally right where she was: in her fear. Validating her fear and concerns seemed to free up something for her. Her breathing became more even and she relaxed a bit. Her fear started to shift incrementally into excitement, and this grew as we began to consider her options. It reminded me of what Carl Rogers said: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
When I think of transitions and change, I think of water. Water amazes me because it can take so many different forms: ice, steam, condensation, rain, snow, rivers, lakes, ponds, etc.; and yet at its core it is still H2O. Perhaps water can teach us a thing or two about handling change. That even when we are frozen in fear, a bit of sun, warmth, and heat from the presence of another who sees us and who cares can start to melt that ice and allow some flow. If change is pretty much the only constant thing in the Universe, learning how to flow better with it seems essential.
After all, “If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.” ~Author Unknown
So here’s to celebrating change in this season of transition. Happy Fall!
Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFT