steve graybar phd
     
 

PERSONAL CHANGE

It’s been said, while change is inevitable, growth is optional. I view change as the tug of war between the parts of us that crave it and those parts of us that fear it. Insight and understanding, awareness and recognition can come to us quickly and provide powerful motivation to change. Yet, despite a flash of insight or a burst of awareness, real, substantial and enduring change is often a slower, more deliberate and difficult process. In myself and in my work with clients, I have found that change is resisted and familiarity defended. A friend and colleague Ken Cloke observed, “…even the most destructive patterns, dysfunctional relationships, damaging ruts and painful routines often seem safer than doing something different. That there is comfort in what is known. Every pattern repeats itself and therein is predictable, measurable, reliable, and is in some way reassuring. Change means altering the pattern and risking making things even worse.” I think Ken is right.

As I look back on my life, on those times when I needed to make a change, the comfort and familiarity of the known had a strong hold on me. It often kept me with people and in places that were clearly unhealthy or unhelpful. In fact, some of the loneliest moments of my life have been when I returned to a place or a person who had not changed and I was confronted with how much I had. The greatest risk in not resolving our conflicts, untangling our problems or confronting our fears is that we will adapt to them and accommodate them. By adapting to and accommodating our difficulties we gradually, and often unconsciously, learn to expect little or nothing from our relationships, our jobs, our lives or ourselves.

So change is not easy. And I’d like to make a case that it shouldn’t be. If we were to change easily or often who would we be? How would we know ourselves, recognize our problems or even know what mattered? How would we know our loved ones or for that matter who we loved or why we loved them? As such, we should, as Michael Mahoney (2003) has suggested, honor and respect the slow, conservative and ultimately self-protective process of personal change. There seems to be both a biological and psychological wisdom to the slow and deliberate processes of deep and meaningful change. In fact, we have names for people who change too easily, too quickly or too often. We call them fickle, impulsive, hypocritical, or childish. We, as human beings, are incredibly resilient and amazingly adaptive. Our resilience allows us to hang in and hang on through long winter nights. Yet, our resilience can also leave us reluctant, even resistant to change, even when change is needed.

Psychotherapy, (individual, couples or family therapy), should help us recognize and respond to the winds of change. But more than that, psychotherapy should help transform change into an opportunity to learn, grow, and become stronger, wiser and more confident. Carl Jung once wrote that maturation is, “…nothing more than becoming more and more of who you are and less and less of who you are not.” There is no better definition of change. Because change demands that you become who you really are and let go of whom you thought you were or felt you should be.

Describing painful and confusing situations as opportunities may sound odd (even hurtful) to someone dealing with death, divorce, illness, loss of a job or any one of a number of truly difficult circumstances. But within each of these situations and each of these losses there is hope. Hope for a different way of being. A different way of thinking, feeling and seeing one’s self and one’s life. In twenty years of practicing psychotherapy it has been my privilege to address these and many other concerns with my clients. I have been nothing less than awed by the courage clients have shown in the wake of such pain and suffering. For those individuals, couples, or families who have had the willingness to become more and more of who they were, who embraced change, who did so with a mix determination and patience, more often than not, they found meaning in the changes they faced and needed to make. The end result was often personal growth, greater self-awareness, stronger relationships, and a deeper appreciation for what truly matters in life. Let me be clear. I have never (offered) or provided “personal growth,” wisdom, or life’s meaning to any of my clients. But I have traveled alongside many courageous people who have accomplished some extraordinary things. I have been privileged to be a witness to, and a partner in, much hard work, as well as significant and meaningful change.

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