Change plays a key role in the therapeutic process. That’s usually what people are coming to therapy for, right? When someone walks into my office for individual or or couples counseling, we talk about what we will be working on in therapy together. In these conversations, desired changes and areas for growth are defined and we embark on a collaborative journey towards making those defined changes a reality. In my work as a therapist, I consistently see that change is difficult and sometimes scary. I often witness people feeling very stuck in the change process. Why is this?
When you make the decision to make a change in your life, sometimes that means you’re deciding to let go of a coping mechanism you have relied on in your life for a very long time. Making a change may involve losing a relationship or giving something up entirely. You may be faced with uncomfortable emotions that you would much prefer to avoid or distract yourself from. The bottom line is that when you make the decision to change, you’re likely going to lose something. When we lose something, we experience grief.
Grief is deeply complex, and everyone experiences grief in their own way. Part of what makes grief so complicated is that you can experience it even when you want to make changes! A duality can exist in grief. You can want to move on from a relationship or stop using a substance and still feel grief as you let go of the comfort of those things. You can recognize that the way you are functioning in your relationship is unhealthy and ineffective and still crave the comfort of leaning on old ways of functioning. There is familiarity in what we know. Stepping into a new way of functioning in your life and relationship may feel like walking through a maze blindfolded.
If you find yourself struggling to make a change, try reflecting on these questions with yourself, with your partner, and/or in session with your therapist:
- What will I lose when I make the change(s) I want to make?
- What is comforting about staying the same?
- What fear will I have to face when I embark on this journey of change?
- What would grieving my old ways look like?
- What are the emotions that I avoid feeling to maintain my own sense of comfort?
- What is keeping me from changing/keeping me stuck?
- Do I want to change for myself or am I trying to change for another person?
Making change happen is hard and scary, but it is also possible. We are constantly growing and evolving, and this is a normal part of human development! Perhaps addressing the loss and grief that is deeply connected to making a change can help you to take the next step forward. Learning to sit with and honor your grief can open space for a new way of interacting with yourself, your partner, and with the world around you.