It's Obvious When Others Need to Change, But Hard Changing Ourselves

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It’s hard to change. When you’re suffering, it’s often hard to imagine that making a change yourself will improve things. Holding on to old unhealthy thought patterns, even the ones that don’t work, can feel somehow safer than changing. A known way of thinking or coping is less scary than a new way.

Consider these examples:

- A young woman told me she suffers from anxiety and depression due to the burden of carrying around her family’s secrets. But she says she still can’t tell those secrets. Not ever. She believes this because of her parents’ and grandparents’ shame, even though all the guilty parties died decades ago.
Letting go of the secrets would make her feel better, but it’s too scary to stop believing the things her parents taught her.

- A retired mother has 2 daughters who don’t speak to her. They say she is materialistic and only tries to buy their love, but fails to connect in a real way. She respects their distance, but sends them expensive gifts on holidays.
Listening to her children and changing the material focus of gift giving would improve their relationship, but it feels frightening to try a new way of showing love. What if it doesn’t work?

- A young man hides from the world and insists he is unable to try to live a normal life, even though he hasn’t pushed outside his comfort zone for years and cannot know what his capacity for growth is truly.
Trying something new might open a door to a new life, but he worries it would feel overwhelming or make things worse.

- A middle aged father blames his ex-wife for their failed marriage. He speaks poorly of her to their children and feels justified in doing so, even though his divorce decree forbids it. The children are pulling away from their dad because of his remarks about their mother, but he assumes his ex is “turning the kids against” him.
He could become closer to the kids by staying off the topic of their mother, but he imagines that if he doesn’t blame the mother, then he’ll be the one getting blamed.

It’s often painfully obvious when looking from the outside that someone needs to change. Yet we may not observe it in ourselves. Seeing your own unhealthy thoughts and behaviors is terrifying. Giving up your way of thinking can feel threatening, as strange as that may sound. What if you change and things get worse?

Admitting fault and accepting that you need to change are hard things to do. Yet sometimes, taking responsibility is the only only way out.

Ask yourself this: What makes it so hard for people like the examples above to change? What makes it so hard for you?

Posted on December 3, 2018 .