Major change, negative change like the death of a loved one, a divorce, losing a job – those are hard and painful – but they also make sense to us. Why is positive change so bafflingly difficult? Sometimes the most challenging changes are transitions toward some new understanding about ourselves, something hard-won, healthy and affirming. Think about moving into a new house, starting graduate school, or having your authentic voice in a close relationship.
Our internal stories, brain networks, emotional responses and relationship patterns have a particular balance – homeostasis. The balancing of these elements is going on all the time, though we’re largely unaware of it. On a deep internal and personal level it makes us feel familiar, intact, like we know who we are when the balance stays the same. Anything that shifts the balance, positively or negatively, is foreign, threatening, not-us. So positive change, especially change that is close to our core beliefs of who we are – like deep growth in therapy – can sometimes surprise us with anxiety, anger, and somatic complaints. We may respond from a desire for safety and wonder if therapy is really helping.
No matter how much we know, it can be a surprise to feel that push-back, or realize we’ve fallen into our groove again, our default balance about who we are, how the world works and whether we can trust. The antidote to the pain of change is to notice what we’re experiencing with kindness and gentle containment of our distress, knowing that even this change is temporary, a transition to the next step, the next awareness.
Change = transition. The constant change around us, positive and negative, can lead us to feel ungrounded, unknown, fearful, resistant, angry. Our efforts to find balance can include internal stories about unfairness or blame, or feelings of disappointment and confusion. It’s a bumpy ride this growing and changing, but we can become more resilient and comfortable when we accept the inherent challenges and inevitability of transitions. Life and people do not remain static. Each of us, in our own way is trying to find a familiar balance, even as we are moment-by-moment leaving it behind.
Karen Lenzi is in the Therapist Group at Maria Droste Counseling Center and is undergoing her own transition – continuing her work at Maria Droste and opening a new office in Lakewood, CO.