As the days get shorter and Fall is a few weeks away, the change in seasons always signifies a new year - at least for me. I'm forever on an academic calendar. In the Fall the leaves change, students start a new school year, and for many the lazy days of summer must (unfortunately) come to an end. I know this change is difficult for me! Which got me thinking....
Change is hard.
Why is change so difficult? Change means leaving a comfortable place and acclimating to a new one, even if we want the change (which was pointed out to me by a wise therapist). In therapy, a goal is often helping someone change an area of their life that they are unhappy with. But....one of the hardest things about therapy is going through psychic change in order to make that happen.
"Katherine, you totally lost me."
Ok, take for example the struggles of dating, something many people discuss in therapy. A patient comes into therapy deeply unsatisfied with their romantic life. They seem to find potential partners that are not willing to commit to an exclusive relationship. It's completely frustrating and disheartening. As the patient and I explore the ecstasy and agony of dating, I try to help them discover how they have found them self in this position over and over again. While I cannot vouch for the people this person is dating, I can vouch that this person may be missing some verbal or non-verbal communication that otherwise could be protective. It's puzzling when someone says, "I want to be in a committed, long term relationship," then comes and reports that they went out with someone (again) who's said, "Look, I'm not looking for anything serious, let's just have fun. " Why this happens is complex and individualized. One of the things I help patients understand is how they can be the catalyst of change. I have to help this person, well, change! It may be either an old belief system ("Well, he/she might change their mind..."), their self-image ("I'm not that great anyways..."), or a way of approaching how they make choices ("It's fun for now, so I'll just see how it goes..."). In this example, the old ways are familiar and perhaps even comfortable but can be self-sabotaging. Changing requires doing something new, uncomfortable and unpredictable. Perhaps even vulnerable! Yet ultimately more satisfying! It can be scary! But how else will your life change if...well...you don't?
The struggle with change also happens when our lives change the way we want it to! Life transitions such as graduations from college/professional school, engagements, marriages, new jobs, job promotions, births are generally considered "happy" change. Coping with the unexpected feelings after one goes through a major life change can be rattling. Often patients say, "I know I shouldn't feel this way, I wanted this!"
For example, newly wedded couples (and you all thought it ends once you find your spouse - it's just begun!) have to negotiate how to build a family and life together. New priorities come with marriage. It's hard saying no to a night out with single friends because you are hosting the in-laws from the other side of the country. It can make one feel extremely vulnerable to be more open with their feelings, communicating differently with their spouse in order to make a relationship work. You can be ecstatic that you just had your first child and completely envious of your childless single friends who can live spontaneously. You are entitled to all your feelings! When I work with someone going through a life transition, we explore the why behind the feelings and how they are perhaps going through psychic growing pains. And all of this stems from change!
People may come into therapy to either change how life is going or to cope with how life unexpectedly went. To leave a place that is familiar is courageous and getting the right support while navigating the uncharted territory is a sign of strength. It isn't easy, but navigating change and growing out of an old, unhelpful place is what makes life that much better; don't you want to get what you desire in life? If you acknowledge all your feelings, you might stop feeling so guilty about a feeling you didn't know you were going to have (say that 10 times fast!). All of this can lead to being more satisfied with life, who doesn't want that?
Next week.... ?