Why do we struggle with change?
It is often said that the only constant is change but why do so many people struggle with it so much?
As humans, we’re naturally drawn towards consistency. We feel safer with patterns. From an evolutionary perspective, if things stayed the same it meant we knew where we were getting our next meal from and that the locations we knew well were relatively safe. A change meant the risk of going hungry or potential danger.
This may be why there is a tendency for people to focus on avoiding losses, even at the cost of gaining something in the future. Many people stay in jobs or relationships they hate or dislike as there is a risk that the new situation could be worse. Change may be seen as a sign of impending threat if in the past it was associated with bad things happening, such as a traumatic or chaotic childhood. There becomes an expectation that when something unexpected happens it brings bad things along with it.
However change can also bring benefits, freedom and happiness, but it’s often hard to see this, especially if the benefits are uncertain and unclear. It’s far more tempting to stick with the ‘concrete’, with what’s known about a current situation, even if it isn't great, rather than risk being in a new situation that could turn out worse. This concern is based on the assumption that we are a solid unchanging thing rather than something fluid. Life is a river not a rock. Those ‘concrete’ items are not actually so solid. Relationships, jobs and friendships are not isolated things that are unaffected by life. They need maintenance, they move, grow, change and develop.
A test of this is the response most people would give if they were asked if they wanted everything to be exactly the same in 10 years time. Many people would feel stuck in a rut and would hope things had improved or changed in some way. However, if you don’t know what something better would look like there can be a tendency to stick with what you know right now.
Part of worrying about change is being concerned that you don’t have the resources to cope, or the change will be bigger than you can handle. However, if you look back on your life you will see many occasions where an unexpected change occurred, and you still made it to today. If you’re able to build more trust in yourself and your own resilience, then change will feel less of a problem as you have more faith in your ability to manage whatever may happen
Another benefit of accepting change is a greater enjoyment of what you have right now. Being fully aware and accepting that a positive experience or situation is limited, that it can and will end, enables you to experience it more fully now. It’s harder to delay the enjoyment to some later day because you know that perhaps there won’t be the opportunity in the future.
If you find change difficult, a counsellor can help you explore how you deal with change and the patterns you may be stuck in. You will be supported to develop and improve your own resources for dealing with change and to see that although change does bring uncertainty, it brings opportunity too.
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About Chris Mounsher
Chris Mounsher is a BACP registered humanistic counsellor working in private practice in Brighton. He offers both long term and short term counselling and has particular experience working with anxiety, addiction, depression, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties.