Have you ever wondered why you feel so open to change yet believe that others resist it? Most likely, many of us assume that we never resist change. Yet I believe that we are often blind to our own defenses against it. As the year ends and a new one begins, I find myself in a contemplative mood! I wonder about my own blind spots. Last month Katrin Muff discussed the importance of learning to listen to herself – her body & intuition- in her own personal journey of change. She talked about the need to free herself from the restrictions that held her in place rather than enabling her to grow and change. This month I will discuss my own change challenges and what I am learning from the journey.
Personal readiness for change is not an either/or proposition – either we are ready, or we are not. Readiness occurs in stages. The first stage is to become aware that we need to change. Many of us may secretly (or perhaps openly in some cases) see ourselves as infallible. We might take pride in our past successes and believe that they resulted from our own impeccable knowledge, skill and perhaps personality. Since what we have done in the past has worked for us, or so we think, we don’t question the path we have taken until we hit a roadblock, or we realize that the path we are on isn’t really taking us where we want to go.
I recall like it was yesterday a conversation that I had with a friend many years ago when I was faced with a difficult personal challenge involving the breakdown of a significant relationship. I described to my friend how I was trying to understand the other person’s point of view and was doing my best to accommodate to avoid losing the relationship altogether. My friend looked me in the eye and said, “Why don’t you try something different this time.” These words were so simple yet very powerful.
Upon more discussion with my friend coupled with a heavy dose of self-reflection, I realized that I had been following a script that had guided my behavior under similar circumstances for a long time. This script included something like the following: my role in life was to preserve the feelings of others by listening to them, understanding them and adapting my behavior to meet their needs to the best of my ability. While I wasn’t completely aware of this script, I believed, with some evidence, that I was very good at maintaining relationships. Up to this point, I had not considered the full impact of my behaviors nor had I contemplated that I might find a better way of handling interpersonal challenges.
When my friend told me to “consider doing things differently this time,” I entertained the possibility that alternate, and perhaps superior paths might be available to me.
I began to question my assumptions about my role in relationships and to take a deeper look at what I had given up and how I had shortchanged others by following this script. I recalled the resentment that I often experienced as I sublimated my own needs to avoid conflict or to preserve the status quo in my relationships. And interestingly, these relationships often disintegrated over time anyway. Perhaps this was because others sensed my resentment. Or maybe my behavior ensured that my relationships were superficial and thus not very rewarding since I did not share my feelings and needs with the other. Or possibly the relationships fell by the wayside over time because of my own fatigue and anger from always accommodating. I began to see that my behaviors could be viewed as a sign of my own self-righteousness and could be experienced as demeaning to others. I realized that I needed to change.
Once we recognize the need for personal change, we can begin to contemplate what it means for us. However, we may still be ambivalent and, therefore not yet prepared to act. We can get stuck in this stage. While we may become aware of our own personal limitations and how our behaviors block change, we may still lack the motivation to act differently. As I thought about “doing something different this time,” I grew anxious and afraid. I began to ask myself whether changing my accommodating behavior was too risky. Over time, and with help, I was able to understand better where the anxiety was coming from and how it kept me from changing and growing. I also began to realize what I was missing in relationships because of my own self-limiting behavior. Slowly I became more open to change. And I did “do something different this time.” I will always be grateful for this simple advice that led to my growth.
While I understand the need for it, I have found that changing is difficult. The old scripts are deeply embedded. And I still question whether the risks are worth the rewards. Nevertheless, I have come to terms with change as a process rather than an event. Personal change requires deep self-awareness, courage, and perseverance. Change and growth will never be easy. Yet, I believe that my life can become more purposeful and my relationships more mutually satisfying as I allow my script to change. My own New Year’s resolution is to continue down the path of personal change. I believe that my relationships, and indeed my life, will be richer as a result of my continuing with this journey.
Happy New Year to all. And may 2019 bring each of us the humility to seek self-awareness and the courage to grow.