My interest in change long predates my becoming a professional change agent.
A series of traumatic events in my childhood—twice abducted and sexually abused, father dying in plane crash, mother being killed in car crash—sensitized me to how uncontrollable external events can change everything in the external world…and in the internal world.
Change is Inevitable
Very early, I learned that nothing is certain and nothing is permanent. I also got some heavy-duty lessons on rising to the occasion and moving on. I had to learn to take charge of my own happiness and attitude.
I think I learned as a child that change was inevitable, although some years went by before I understood the inevitability of change as a principle of the human life cycle.
Change is Unpredictable
Change is, not only inevitable, but also unpredictable. One change, big or small, ripples out through the world. Get married, for example, and the effects ripple through all your relationships. Some people will become closer; others will disappear.
Will a new insight about something stay isolated? No, that change too will ripple through all your thought patterns, much of it unconsciously. Everything changes.
Fear of Success Produces Resistance to Change
Why do people resist change, even though change is inevitable? “Please, just stay the way you are,” translates into “I’m afraid of what will become of us if you change.”
Your making a deliberate change, like going back to college, could have all sorts of outcomes that will ripple through your life. College is an institutional change agent, and if it succeeds, you will be different. Period!
And therein lies the fear of change. If you succeed at college, will you lose friends or gain friends. Will your relationship strengthen, or fail? Will you earn more income, or will it all have been a waste? The outcomes of success are, by their very nature, unknowable and that can be scary. In fact, the fear of success is a major roadblock to deliberate action.
Change is Irreversible
To compound the scariness of change, once you make a change, there is no going back. You can’t uneducate yourself. There’s no pill to remove a new insight from your psyche. And you have no control over how the original change will continue to ripple through your community. The reformed alcoholic can drink again, but he knows too much to ever be a happy drunk again.
Personal Change is Invisible
Besides the inevitability, the unpredictability and the irreversibility of change, and the fear of success that sometimes keeps you resisting change, there is one more factor to confound things: personal change can be invisible to others and even to yourself.
When an alcoholic cleans up, those around him can’t tell if the change is a temporary expedient or a real change that is rippling through his life. It is easy to assume that since he looks the same, probably nothing has really changed. It takes some intentional non-judgment to observe and get to know the new him and to avoid looking at him through the lens of the old.
Often, when a man was abusive during his alcoholic days, his wife cannot shed the lens of the old, believes nothing has changed and leaves him.
I invite you to reflect on times in your life you have resisted change, times you have welcomed it and times you have vigorously pursued it.
Dr. Neill Neill is a registered psychologist in Qualicum Beach. He helps capable people who feel stuck… trauma, relationships, addictions.