Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Little Change Can Make a Big Difference.

"When you have faults, do not be afraid to abandon them." So spoke Confucius, whom we quote on our web site home page (, since we are in the business of helping people change bad habits, bad behavior, bad attitude, bad self-image, etc., into good.

Those familiar with Freud's life know that he had some deep seated issues, himself. When Carl Jung asked him why he didn't use his knowledge of human behavior to seek professional help, Freud said that, in order to protect his reputation, he could not let anyone know of his shortcomings. Self-help is a good thing, but sometimes we need an objective eye and a trained hand to help with transformation, which is why every good therapist has a good therapist (and yes, I am one and yes, I do).

Q: Why do we, as humans, have an innate resistance to change? A: Because it moves us out of our comfort zone. Even positive change does that, which explains why we sometimes relapse following efforts toward self-improvement. Women who have been abused will remain in or return to a harmful relationship. Even badly abused children cry to go back to their abusive parent(s). I have seen a child scarred by cigarette burns on his arms, terrified of leaving the mother who was responsible.

When we settle into a place it feels like home, and often we believe what is happening there is happening everywhere, in all homes. It becomes our norm. It allows us to relax, as opposed to putting forth effort to adapt to a new environment, either physical or emotional. This truth does not apply to humans only. I recently witnessed my horse traumatized by a move from one boarding facility to another. Horses are herding animals. Brandi has become alpha mare in every pasture she has shared, even sustaining bite marks as evidence of her struggle to reach the top. It is a psychological need she has, and it runs deep in her. By nature she is very social. Being isolated from other horses causes her great discomfort. Now she has one pasture mate, and they are duking it out. I put my money on Brandi.

An attorney I worked for more than 30 years ago was starting his own practice because the law firm where he had previously worked basically said to him, "You don't herd well." By choice or perhaps by nature he did not fit in there, or anywhere. He needed to be on his own. He and I worked well together because I could relate. I don't herd well either. Years later I tried working for a large firm where I was, to mix metaphors, a duck out of water. I stayed longer than I should have, considering I hated the games being played all around me, and as for the game players, well, I didn't like them, didn't want to be like them, but I did want them to like me. I wanted to be accepted into the herd. But of course that didn't happen (generally speaking) because to them I was a duck To myself I was simply a horse of a different color, and while they were all racing to be first across the finish line, I just wanted (and needed) to run free. Wouldn't you know this discourse would bring me back to horses? :-)

My spirit in that environment was suffocating day by day, yet I kept returning to where I believed I needed to be at that point in my life. Why? Because I made the mistake I see so many others making in the workplace -- I associated success with stress. I suppose, like Brandi, I accepted bite marks as a natural part of the process. Eventually I built upon my degree in psychology to become a therapist, and relocated to a place in life where I feel safe and valued. It isn't about making money, it's about making change possible, palatable, and even profitable for those brave enough to face it head on.

Have I settled in? Become complacent? Not only no, but hell no! I step out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, but never so far out that I can't get back. I am constantly adapting and re adapting to change, sometimes comfortably, sometimes not. Sometimes it isn't a step I take voluntarily, it is life jerking me across the line I've drawn for myself in the sand. Another Chinese proverb is that the only thing in life of which we can be certain is change.

While Brandi is gradually familiarizing herself with her new home, I am the one constant in her life. I reassure her that she is safe. This is why I visit her daily, though I'll begin to spread my visits our more over time as she adapts.

I believe what we need to remember as humans with (theoretically) superior intelligence is that, ironically, the one constant in our life is change, and although we by nature may be resistant, if we stop and think about it wouldn't life be absolutely boring if every tomorrow was just like today? Learn to recognize changes large and small. Pay attention. If you're not noticing change, you're not watching closely enough. Some change is good, some is bad, at least at the onset. Again to draw from the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, in all good there is bad and in all bad there is good, you simply have to see beneath the surface to know how to respond.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Our psychological safety depends upon our ability to work with Life (capital L intended), not against it. Life equals Change (capital C intended).

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