Why change can be so scary?
“There is nothing permanent, except change”, Heraclitus
Change: a six-letter word that can enclose and raise so many different feelings and meanings in each of us.
For some change may imply new thrilling experiences when they can test themselves, explore unknown territories and create better ways of living. On the contrary for others change may be a mandatory and unavoidable step, at times not wanted and burdened with suffering, but possible to deal with. Moreover, for other people change is really scary and may imply the total breakdown of what is “well known” and bring them in a terrific spot of unknown and uncertainty. In these cases, tightly grasping to the past may be a solution.
Why is change so important?
As Heraclitus quoted back in 400 A.C., change is probably the only permanent thing in life.
Darwin explained this concept very well in his Evolutionary Theory: change allows organisms to better adapt themselves to their environments. Moreover, the better the organism is able to adapt, the higher the likelihood of survival.
If change is natural, why can it be so scary?
Change can refer to thousands of different situations with extremely different features. Obviously the potential scariness of a change will depend on many characteristics, such as how much it was expected, wanted and foreseen, if positive or negative consequences will result from it (their extent and how definitive they are), the amount of secondary changes that it may imply, how much we feel able to deal with it, etc.
Try to think about some of the following important changes that can happen in a lifetime and try to relate them to the aforementioned features: finishing school and starting to work, a marriage or a divorce, a betrayal, changing job, changing city, becoming a mother, the loss of a loved one, going into retirement … the list is potentially infinite.
Each of these changes may assume different meanings to each of us depending on our personal history, current lifestyle, our goals and our intimate beliefs. But a common denominator is that our self-esteem will influence how we will manage these changes: the more we feel that we are able to cope with the related changes and difficulties, the less scary the change will be.
And what if we feel that we are not strong enough, independent enough or lovable enough to succeed in getting through an important change?
In these cases change can be faced in different ways.
Someone could go through it with an intense pain, anxiety or sadness managed with its own specific coping mechanisms. For example someone could find relief by increasing their control over everyday life, or by being extremely dependent on the partner/parents/friend.
On the contrary other people may be so scared about a potential change that he/she may try to stay ahead in the game and work hard to avoid it in the first place.
Instead other people may react to change misrepresenting it, not taking into account its consequences, minimising it or pretending it’s not happening. But denial and keeping our eyes closed will not eventually change things; on the contrary this solution may disconnect you from reality, that sooner or later will intensely materialise.
Usually our typical pattern of reaction to new information is consolidated in the attachment relationship with our parents; but with clinical work it can be changed.
If you recognise yourself in having issues at adapting and accepting important changes in your life, you may try to think about the dynamics written above.
What is scaring you? What are the feared consequences? What are your intimate beliefs about yourself dealing with this change?
Sometimes it may be hard to go through this alone by ourselves. Psychotherapy can help you realise what is preventing you to adapt to how your life is turning out. Moreover, it can help you achieve more flexibility and strengthen your self-esteem.
Being aware of what is happening is, as a matter of fact, the first step to change.
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About Ilaria Tedeschi
Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist in Marylebone, London, with several years of experience working with depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational problems.