For many years I have known that I wanted to operate my own practice as a psychotherapist. I knew it would be a big change, but I have an undergraduate degree in business and years of experience in the field. I felt confident that I could manage the business side of the practice. Fortunately, the practice has gone well and I give thanks each and every day. But, even being as mentally and emotionally prepared as I was in starting the practice and with the support of my partner, there have been moments during which the changes have felt overwhelming. It has been a powerful and humbling reminder of the courage and trust the patients I serve possess when they choose to make changes in their lives without really knowing the depth of change they may have to make.
We prefer the known and frequently choose to avoid making changes, large or small, in our lives until we are “forced” to do so by our circumstances. And even when we know it is coming, we may do everything in our power to avoid it, delay it, or deny it until it is upon us. Our temper may explode in a rail against what we know is coming as if our tantrum can stop the change. We are creatures of habit and we like predictability, even if we know it is unhealthy and even occasionally unsafe for ourselves and our children.
Three of the most challenging and difficult experiences to deal with in our lives are moving our households, changing jobs or schools, and our parents’ divorce. They are among the most difficult because they require us to make significant changes in our lives leaving us feeling unsettled and anxious as we enter the unknown. Sometimes we must grieve our losses of a job, partner or home. And, it is not uncommon for us to face consequences associated with the choices that brought us to this change. Difficult feelings may surface and challenge our ability to cope and go on.
Children and teenagers depend upon the stability of their parents and caregivers to help them effectively manage their own feelings in the face of change. They look to parents for clues about how to manage difficult feelings, to seek comfort and reassurance, and they rely upon them for safety, security, and consistency. But, when parents are emotionally compromised and unavailable due to the change that is occurring, who is available to help the children? This turns out to be a double whammy for the child. Not only does the original change need to be dealt with, but a parent who goes emotionally and/or physically AWOL and is absent to the child delivers a crushing blow to their feelings of safety and security.
Change does not always need to feel so overwhelming and intimidating. What can make it so, is our tendency to refuse to see the signs along the way until they become obvious and the change is upon us. We tend to ignore our primary warning signs – our feelings. Our feelings are always present even when we deny them, ignore them or push them away. But, we don’t listen. And not only do we not listen to them, we don’t express them. We don’t speak about how we feel.
For the guys out there, we often don’t listen to our partners when they want to tell us how they feel. And, then we’re surprised when our partners say they don’t want to be with us anymore after years of their efforts to tell us what was happening.
Unfortunately, we talk more than we listen. We judge more than we empathize. And we ignore our own and each other’s feelings until they cannot be ignored anymore and change is thrust upon us either by us initiating the change or being the recipient of the change. Our lives must adapt to the changing conditions of our world where the demand for equality and fairness is present in our homes, work places, communities and societies. If we feel fear or become reactive when the demands for equal treatment are made of us by our children, partner, employee, neighbor or group, then we have only our own beliefs to examine, because we are not different from each other. We only come in different packages with our unique ways of expressing our desires for acceptance, love and the chance to live. If we talk less and listen more to ourselves, and by that I mean our feelings, we will be much more in tune with our lives, our partner’s life, and our children’s lives. We will move and act more harmoniously in our lives at home, work, community and society. It is up to us. Change, please.