Sometimes people come to therapy because they want to change something about themselves. They want to stop or cut down on drinking, make healthier relationship choices, or respond differently to difficult emotions. They begin therapy clear in their goals, highly motivated, but often still have difficulty making the changes they desire. When they respond to themselves with disappointment, frustration or anger, I often remind them that change is hard, and encourage them to respond to their struggle with compassion.
So Why Is Change So Difficult?
Human beings crave routine and consistency, and change--an inherent, necessary part of life on Earth--breaks our routine and sense of continuity, thereby creating discomfort. It's often only when the discomfort of our behavior is greater than the discomfort of change that we're able to feel motivated for change.
But even with that motivation, change is still hard.
Sometimes our behaviors have become a habit. Habits can be difficult to break, simply because we're used to the routine of them. But more often, change is difficult because the unwanted behaviors actually provide us something positive--whether we realize it or not. This is what therapists call "resistance".
Maybe you'd like to cut down on your drinking. There is probably another part of you that doesn't want to cut down. That likes drinking. Maybe this part finds drinking enjoyable, socially pleasurable. There might be a part that believes that alcohol is a protector against feeling anxiety, and is concerned that if you cut down on drinking, you'll be faced with overwhelming emotions. You're probably not even aware of this part. Maybe you grew up with a parent that drank a little too much, and there's a part of you that wraps up alcohol with love and loyalty for that parent. This part might worry that if you give up alcohol you might in some way be betraying your family by being not-like them. Even though you aren't even aware of this part, it's there. And it's probably strong. And so even though the part that wants to change feels strongly about its decision, is aware of the negative consequences of the drinking, without support, it's likely that those other parts will win the struggle.
How to Support Successful Change
The most important way to create lasting change is to get the support you need. Find a therapist that can offer you a safe space to explore all of your feelings about the changes you want to make.
Explore the parts of you that want the change. What is the rationale? What are the consequences of no change? What are the potential consequences of change?
Explore the parts of you that may resist change. What do they need in order to feel more secure during the change process?
Understand the role of habit and routine and strategize for success. For example, if you're making changes in the types of intimate relationships you engage in, consider taking time off from a relationship. If you're trying to stop emotionally eating, you might make a food list and stick to it at the food store, avoid driving by alluring food stops, and plan an alternative feel-good activity during the times that you would typically emotionally eat.
Explore how you're feeling during the change process. If you've met your goal, how does that feel? If you haven't, have you learned anything that can help you next time?
Most importantly, remember that change is a process. It's not a yes or no, pass or fail, black or white. It's not linear--point A to point B. Change is a yes, no, maybe so, up, down, all around, steps forward, steps back, steps forward, kind of process.
Treat yourself with Compassion!
Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can offer you the support you need to make the changes you are longing for. Call today for a free 15 minute phone consultation to see how I can help!