Why change scares us and why it shouldn’t


Haven’t most of us at some point in our lives tried to make a change; one that is positive, constructive and enriching – and yet have come up against our own resistance and self-defeating behaviours?
Some change is forced on us and we understand resisting it, even though it may be unavoidable in the end. But how about the change we tell ourselves we really, truly want? Why do we resist that kind too, in spite of sincere intentions and being highly motivated?
Psychologist Robert Johnson tells this story in one of his books: A very excitable young man preparing to be a therapist himself, meets his supervising therapist after about six months of analysis, exclaiming, “Toni, it is too terrible!” Toni asks, “What? is there bad news?” to which the student replies, “Just leave me alone; it is too awful.” Then he wails: “My neurosis is gone and how am I going to live now?”
We may laugh at this, but it just starkly illustrates how abandoning one’s old way of adaptation is very bad news – even if it is replaced by something far better.
Let’s first understand that resistance is a normal psychological reaction to change; and can even be a self-protection mechanism. So, if resistance to change is a common experience, why does it feel so frightening and uncomfortable?
Sometimes our fears are linked to our own vagueness about the desired change. For more clarity, you can ask yourself these four questions – and it’s even better if you write down your responses: What will happen if I do change? What will happen if I don’t change? What won’t happen if I change? What won’t happen if I don’t change?
We also need to pay more attention to how our brain works. Innately wired to protect us, it responds to repeated stimuli by forming a ‘neurological pathway’, a pathway of the known. Each time this neural pathway is reinforced, it becomes bigger and stronger; used to a fixed, specific response. When you attempt to change this with new behaviours, or the ‘unknown’ – the brain can at first signal fear.
This fear is largely about uncertainty. Outcomes cannot be guaranteed. We do not know exactly what a particular change will bring about, and because we fear not knowing this, we will resist change for as long as we possibly can. Also, there may be people around who tell us we can’t do it. Or worse, we tell ourselves we won’t really do it, will give up, don’t deserve better.
Marguerite Theophil