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How many times have you thought, or heard, someone say, “I hate change.” Change seems to be one of those words, like confrontation, that makes us shiver. Somehow it seems to have a negative connotation, like it’s a bad thing. It’s something to be avoided. It’s something to fear.
So often we judge our fear of change and call ourselves names, by saying things such as, “I’m such a baby.” Or “What a wimp.” Judging our fear of change will tend to cement the fear into place as opposed to helping us tune in to that fear and discover what is at the core to help us to work through this fear.
What is it About Change that is So Uncomfortable?
As creatures of habit many of us love routine and predictability. Most of us find comfort in the familiar and resist changing our status quo. We must explore just what it is about change that makes us feel uncomfortable in order to begin the process of working through our fear and discover what spurs our anxiety at the very thought of a new approach.
Is your Fear of Change Rooted in your Childhood or Adolescence?
As a child, adolescent, or young adult, if we lived in the same place for a long period of time and were not exposed to much change, then change as an adult is unfamiliar and may feel uncomfortable. The thought of change may provoke anxiety.
If we experienced frequent change in our youth, and were not emotionally prepared by our parents to learn how to adjust to the new experience, then as an adult we may crave the need to stay in one place, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or relationship-wise.
- We might have heard messages like… “Don’t do that, you might get hurt.”
- Perhaps we had a helicopter Mom, or Dad, who hovered when we were exploring outside the family box of friends, games or activities.
- We may have lived in a rigid and confining household.
- Or our household was so chaotic, and inconsistent, that as an adult we crave “stability”. Even if what we are doing is not fulfilling and making us happy.
Is Fear, or Anxiety, the Primary Reason that Change Feels so Uncomfortable?
If we identify fear or anxiety as the root cause, then it’s important to know this, and honor these feelings. To connect with that part of ourselves, and look deep inside, so we can explore the origins. To begin to explore what that part of us has to teach us before we move forward to make changes.
Is it the Fear of the Unknown, the Unfamiliar, or of What Might Happen?
- What if I make a mistake?
- Is it that we believe that the enemy we know is better than the one we don’t and we have a fear of the unknown?
Often when we think of change, we consider the possible negative consequences of it, as opposed to the possible positive consequences.
Tony Khuon, founder of Agile Lifestyle, featured in Evolutionary Psychology.
Your rational brain understands that if you continue to do what you’re doing today, there’s no reason to think things will get better. But we’re not purely rational creatures.
We may resist a change even if the place we are at is not in our highest good. When we talk about change, we’re not only speaking of monumental changes like:
- Leaving a job, even when it’s dissatisfying.
- Ending a relationship that’s no longer working, or that’s abusive.
- Moving out of state.
We are also talking about the kind of changes that may positively enhance and expand our life.
Is it Time for a Change?
- If life feels routine, boring, or stuck, and things that we do seem methodical.
- If we tend to, for example, only wear muted colors for fear that anything bolder might say something different about us. Maybe we can start with a new color, such as adding royal blue over beige.
- If we find that every time we go to a certain restaurant we order the same entrée, perhaps we can try something different. We may love it as much as, or even more, than the one normally ordered. Or perhaps try a new restaurant altogether.
- If the majority of our lives are family focused and task oriented, and yet we really crave, or long for, friendships outside of our usual group. Maybe experiment a little bit by joining a new group.
These are small ways of experimenting with little incremental changes to prepare for dealing with bigger changes in life.
I Was Scared Out of My Wits
Almost 20 years ago while I was in a solo practice, I was offered the possibility to purchase Nassau Guidance & Counseling. I remember feeling scared out of my mind. Although my initial emotional response was to stay in my safe, comfortable, private practice, I decided to process my fears and anxiety around this opportunity.
As I moved through my fears, however, I began to look at the possibilities of owning my own psychotherapy business. I began to open up to the new possibilities. I began to think about finding amazing, skilled therapists to bring into my business and then matching clients who sought us out with these incredible people and having a larger impact. This opportunity, this change, could enable me to extend my reach beyond my current clients.
Venturing into the Unknown
I allowed myself to see beyond what was uncomfortable, and scary, and familiar and decided to venture into the unknown. Thus, I began to feel really excited about the possibilities. Did my fear completely dissipate? Hell, no. There was much more to work through, yet, I did not want my fear of change to stand in the way of something potentially wonderful.
What is Natural Anxiety, or Fear, Related to the Possibility of Change vs. the Out of Proportion Emotional Intense Response to Change?
It’s completely natural to feel unsettled in response to a change, and not totally in control. Any possibility of change naturally creates some anxiety or fear, however an out of proportion emotional response can be unhealthy and inhibit our emotional growth.
That is when we might notice with the out of proportion emotional response to change:
- Our heart pounding.
- Our bodies becoming ridged.
- We start to envision catastrophic end results of making a change.
- We feel resistance in our bodies.
- We may develop obsessive thinking.
- Fatigue overwhelms us.
Steps to Slowly Becoming More Comfortable with Change
We can diminish the emotional response to change by desensitization, which is by making little changes to find ways to become more comfortable with change. Starting with a small change, as opposed to a big one, increases the likely hood of success. Often, making it emotionally easier to consider another change.
In order to focus on the big picture, start off small.
- Notice and tune in with how it feels emotionally and physically to complete, or even consider, a change.
- Examine the consequences of altering your status quo and the desired change. If there are more positive than negative possibilities, then the fear may be unwarranted
- Consider past times you’ve handled change successfully. Realize even if you do fail, that it isn’t fatal.
- Then do it. Try a small change.
- Afterwards notice how that feels once you’ve done it.
- With repetition, you may become more comfortable with exploring new things.
This method allows you to slowly change tiny things for the purpose of becoming more comfortable with change. So if down the road there is a larger change considered, then there is more experience with it. This process allows us to expand and enrich our lives with some change, so life feels more fulfilling.
These Little Changes Give Us Something to Look Forward to
If you struggle with making beneficial changes in your life, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance & Counseling on Long Island can help.
Our licensed therapists have helped many people find methods to embrace the positive possibilities that can accompany change.