Resistance to change is an instinctual and purposeful aspect of the human psyche. Our personal identities are defined and our intellectual and emotional energies are conserved by a psychic barrier that surrounds habitual thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. It protects our relationships and values – and is the bedrock of cultural identification. Most of the time resistance to change serves us well because it provides the settled and predictable environment needed for life. However, normal human growth and development demands that we also have the ability to step outside of ourselves and view the world from completely new perspectives. We must balance the conservative instinct with occasional departures from our treasured convictions.
The first step in personal growth and development occurs when we recognize feelings of frustration that are consistently engendered by a particular situation. Something is just not working for us. This frustration may revolve around relationships, activities, or goals. We are stymied and can’t get what we want. Our first instinct in situations like this is to try and change them. For example, if I think my boss is a jerk and I hate my job my first thought may be, “I need a new job.” If my girlfriend leaves me feeling empty it may be time to start looking around. If I just can’t seem to lose those 15 pounds then, “I’m just going to go buy bigger pants.”
But what happens if my next boss is also a jerk, or the next girlfriend also leaves me wanting, or if those new pants start to feel tight after just a few months? The painful truth is that, sooner or later, we all must be able to recognize and admit our own roles in intractable problems. This is not easy because, as mentioned above, we all have an instinctual aversion to change. Admitting that we are part of the problem implies that we going to have to change something about ourselves if we want to be part of the solution.
Change makes us vulnerable. It’s awkward and sometimes embarrassing because we’re trying to do something we have not yet mastered. It draws energy away from other parts of our lives and can leave us tired and unsure of ourselves. Therefore, fundamental change in personality is generally a last resort that often requires the particular situation getting so bad that it turns into a crisis. Our hand is now forced and we have nothing left to do except examine ourselves to see if, and how, we can adapt. Like a snake shedding its skin in order to grow we must shed our usual thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. And like the snake that hides while its new skin is hardening we must find refuge in an environment that makes us feel safe and supported while going through the travails of trial and error.
That safety is found in deep and enduring relationships with people who have our best interests at heart and are able to talk us through hurt, disappointment, and self-doubts. But we might not have a person like this in our lives, or if we do, we do not take advantage of the connection. Attaching to someone during the process of change and adaptation is absolutely essential if we are going to be able to access our essential natures and change something deep. It provides the emotional and psychic space to address the frustration over what’s not working for us. It allows us to see a crisis as an opportunity for change rather than one more example of how things just don’t work for us.
The opportunity of a crisis is usually brief and can easily be missed if we allow ourselves to fall back into old habits. Challenge yourself to find somebody to connect with the next time things start to fall apart for you. Look deeply into yourself, talk things over with your confidant, and tap into the courage needed to do things differently.