Why change is so hard

Have you set upon a path of change only to be hit by a series of road blocks and set backs? If yes, you’re not alone. Scott Peck plainly stated in his classic book The Road Less Travelled, “life is difficult” and so it is. And ironically, we often encounter our greatest moments of difficulty and pain when we set about to make a big change or embark on transformation. Quite often the will to change is precipitated by the catalyst of overwhelming pain and suffering that breaks through our defences of denial in a way that brings honest expression that life cannot continue like this and we must change or else! So here is the paradox, pain and suffering most usually set us upon the path towards change, and yet that path is often way more fraught with challenge than we ever anticipated. What’s a growth-seeking guy or girl to do??
So here’s the thing, if you are going to stay true to your desire for growth and change you need to be willing to engage intentionally with your pain. However, it’s often a different kind of pain to the pain that set you upon this transformation path in the first place. The pain that lets us know without a shadow of doubt we need to change can be the pain of one failed romance too many, bills we can’t pay, relationships that refuse to mend, bad habits that finally catch up with us and bite us in the proverbial. The pain of change and growth is quite a bit different. It is the struggle to be disciplined, feeling feelings that we have long suppressed with numbing activities such as booze, over working, over loving or over spending (you get the picture).
The awareness that suffering and woundedness as key elements of the change and transformation process were first offered to me through my own life levelling experiences and consequent therapy. As I continued to work through my own pain, suffering, wounds and vulnerabilities I discovered that over time the differences between these two types of pain was quite significant. I’ve come to label them as ‘good pain vs bad pain’. Good pain was taking me somewhere. Somewhere better. Somewhere different and ultimately life-giving. Bad pain takes us away from people, places and goals we want to achieve. It is this understanding that has enabled me as a counsellor to be willing to stand with my clients as they explore the things that frighten them and wound them and to normalise with them the existence of suffering in life and how important pain can be to help us grow as human beings. Additionally, I have been able to support clients in recognising the sometimes contradictions of life and tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty in order to become more whole as a person.
In this sense transformation is about shaking off the false self of avoidance, grandiosity, self-sufficiency and protectiveness and surrendering to something bigger than ourselves so that the true self can emerge. The true self can be understood as ‘original innocence’ or the self that you were created to be; authentic, the state you were born in untainted by society, trauma and stuff-ups. The false self can also be thought of as an ‘adapted self’, the self that has been constructed in order to deal with the pain of life so that we can fit in with and be accepted by others. The transformation process seeks to move through the protective layers of the false self and engage with our inner world, our true soul so that we can actually become more of who we truly are.
I know from my own experiences of pain and suffering, that while therapy greatly assisted and was pivotal in my recovery, what really enabled change was being in community with those who loved me deeply and could see me as whole and complete, beyond my circumstances. Herman (1997) has identified the role of community in the healing and transformation journey as significant to the healing process. In order to form a healthy sense of self, we must have a loving connection with people who can be trusted. Herman also refers to the power of community as maintaining the belief in a meaningful world whilst going through the often tumultuous and often chaotic process of change. So if you are bravely embarking on the most exciting and terrifying journey of your life by seeking to grow, change and become your true self, place yourself in a group, community, church, AA or some kind of support group that can help stabilise you in the process. It could be one of the best decisions that you ever make to help you stay the course and get to where you want to go, home to your true self.
Cloud, H. & Townsend, J. (2004) How people grow: what the Bible reveals about personal growth, Strand Publishing, Sydney
Herman, J. (1997) Trauma and recovery: the aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror, Basic Books, New York.

Peck, S. M. (1980) The road less travelled: a new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth, Rider Books, London.

Posted on 04 July 2016

Marcia Watts

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