When we come to counselling or psychotherapy we are usually looking for something in our lives to change. We talk things through and gradually new possibilities for being in the world come to light. However, for some of us, something is holding us back from making those changes. Could it be that our response to change itself is preventing us from experimenting with more fulfilling ways of being in our own skin and relating to others?
The Meaning of Change
We all have a unique relationship with the concept of change. Growing up, we will have observed how the people around us dealt with it and maybe we will have been encouraged to either take risks or exercise caution. Also, over the years, our own experiences of change will shape how we view it and what it means to us on a personal level. For some of us, change might be welcomed or at least times of transition viewed as necessary stages to a better life. For others, the thought of change may fill us with despair or anxiety.
Common problematic experiences of change include:
- significant change or changes associated mainly with loss (e.g. bereavement, parents separating, a partner leaving)
- repeated change, especially at key points in our lives (e.g. house moves that disrupted schooling and friendships)
- not enough change – so change itself is experienced as alien and to be avoided
- change imposed by others that had a major impact on our lives and about which we were not sufficiently informed and/or consulted
- change associated with overwhelming anxiety
Our experience with change in the past – and especially in our formative years as children and young adults – may lead to unhelpful rules for living such as ‘I must avoid change at all costs’. These restrictive assumptions can leave us stuck in old patterns of relating to the world that hold us back from making potentially beneficial changes to our lives. For example, we might be able to see that allowing certain others a little closer to us might deepen our relationships with them and alleviate feelings of isolation, but our fear of change gets in the way of taking the necessary steps to put this in place.
The Mechanics of Transition – From Unfamiliar to Familiar
Any change usually involves a period of transition characterised by uncertainty, anxiety and a degree of discomfort. Adjusting from a car with manual transmission to automatic is a simple example of the process of making the unfamiliar, familiar. We are still driving a car (a series of movements that we may have practised over and over for many years) it is just that there are some actions we now have to stop doing and some new ones to learn too. Even though we know we don’t have to shift gears any more, it seems to take a little while for our conditioned brain to catch up. Off we go down the road with our left arm occasionally flapping for the gear stick and our left foot primed to press an imaginary clutch pedal. Eventually, though, the new pattern of driving becomes familiar – our hand and foot stop waving about – and all is well.
However, this period of adjustment can feel very uncomfortable, even daunting for some of us and we might feel deskilled or judged by others as incompetent. Maybe we would prefer to stay with the familiar way of being rather than go through this awkward phase of learning something new.
How Can Counselling Or Psychotherapy Help?
Counselling or psychotherapy can provide a safe and non-judgemental setting in which we can actively consider what the concept of change means to us as an individual. Often, we may already be aware that we have a tendency to avoid risk in certain situations. Examining our relationship with change and questioning its usefulness may be enough to prompt us to begin experimenting with new, more fulfilling ways of seeing ourselves and responding to others. At the same time, the therapeutic relationship provides support as we learn to tolerate some of the losses associated with change and to bear the awkwardness of uncertainty as we turn the unfamiliar into a new familiar way of being in the world.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove, Sussex.
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