How often do you make changes in your life? Do you embrace or resist change? And if you were experiencing anxiety, depression or some other condition that was making you unhappy, how easy would you find it to try new ways of overcoming your situation? This article looks at the psychology behind change in order to understand why some individuals seek help whilst others continue doing what they have always done.
Do you Resist change?
If you are being completely honest with yourself of course you would answer yes to this question. We all resist change at some point and often this will be for a very good reason. But what about the individual who continues following the same path even when this path at best makes little lasting difference to an uncomfortable situation, and at its worse is destructive. For example, think about someone you know who yoyo diets and always goes back to the same diet programme justifying this because ‘well, it worked for me last time….’. One has to question that if this programme worked then why are you still overweight? And then there are those who talk a lot about the problems in their lives and how unhappy these make them, but do nothing except what they have always done. Think about the following statement and if you need to re-read it until you fully understand it then do so:
‘Always do what you have always done, and you will always get what you have always got’
If what you always get is positive and you are happy with life then great, if not then perhaps it’s time to change!
So why do so many people become ‘stuck’ in a cycle of behaviour that makes little impact on the problem? In other words, why resist change?
Resistance to change
The organisation ‘Changing Minds’ defines ‘Resistance to change’ as ‘the action taken by individuals and groups when they perceive a change that is occurring as a threat to them. This led me to question how bad someone would need to feel in order that the threat of change was perceived as less scary than the danger of continuing with the current behaviour. According to Rick (2011) in order to make a change the individual will have to reach crisis point. Now this made sense as many of the clients I see have reached a point in their lives where they fear for their health. For example, I have seen clients who have been told that they are at severe risk of developing diabetes unless they changed their lifestyle (the crisis being the threat of diabetes/perceived threat to life). Others have been told that if they don’t stop drinking their livers will pack up (a health crisis). I have also seen clients faced with the crisis of losing loved ones if they didn’t overcome their irrational jealousy; of being unable to have medical tests unless they overcame their needle phobia; and the risk of missing out on their child’s life unless they overcame their depression/agoraphobia, and countless other issues. But a crisis isn’t something that happens just like that.
The stages leading to change
Prior to crisis individuals typically experience denial, anger, confusion and depression, the crisis only occurs when the current behaviour starts to threaten the existence of the organism. Whilst this theory makes sense, there are many who still don’t make changes even though they appear to be experiencing a crisis – for example, one individual may be told that if they continue smoking they will die and this is enough to make them change, whilst for another this news simply doesn’t have the same impact. As such, there are many people who leave it too late. One explanation of this is that what is a crisis to one person simply isn’t to another (but that’s a whole other article!). So, what other explanations of resistance to change are there?
Why do people resist change?
It was Terence Watts’ explanation which helped me to understand why so many individuals continue to resist change. Watts explains that the part of the brain we call the subconscious mind is concerned with our security. In other words, its job is to keep us safe and alive. Security to the subconscious mind isn’t necessarily something that feels good or is even good for us, but rather something that feels familiar. A term he uses is ‘Destructive Security’ which means that the subconscious part of the brain perceives an unhealthy behaviour, such as binge eating, smoking, fighting etc as a necessary behaviour in order to survive because it has always responded in the way it does to the particular stimulus (e.g. cigarettes, food, confrontation) and the organism has survived. When an individual seeks to change this pattern the resistance they experience is the subconscious force that seeks to avoid change, and for any of you who have unsuccessfully attempted to change a particular behaviour you will recognise that this resistance can be very strong.
How to overcome this resistance?
I hope that in writing this article I can provide an understanding of why change can feel uncomfortable to many of us and, in providing that understanding, make it easier to accept the process of change rather than staying with a familiar, but destructive way of being. If you are ready to make those changes then try something different! There are many therapies that can help you to overcome that subconscious resistance to change. Call SFS Therapy on (01793) 677817 or email firstname.lastname@example.org now to find out how.