You’re at a crossroads. One way brings greater freedom, inner peace, more fulfilment. But at a price. You may need to assert your needs, say no more often, disappoint others to be more of who you can be.
The other way keeps things calm, steers away from conflict. But also at a price. By keeping the waters calm, you might end up sacrificing your deeper needs. The waters can become stagnant and you lose your sense of aliveness.
Looks like a lose lose scenario, doesn’t it? Whatever you do, there is a cost attached to it.
Why is change so difficult? That simple question belies a whole depth of complexity.
Behavioural science tells us that habits need multiple and sustained attempts to be changed. That can feel daunting.
Neuroscience tells us that we have brain plasticity and that it is possible to ‘change the programme’ and to create new ways of thinking and being. That can offer hope.
Even if we understand a lot about the mechanics of change, it’s not surprising that change is difficult for many people. Faced with the unknown, it may feel easier to stay with the familiar.
Take, for example, the job or relationship that way heavy on you: the consequence of changing or leaving them can seem overwhelming and fraught with unknown consequences.
At the start of this piece, I highlighted the impact of change or not changing. Both have a cost attached. But the cost of not changing has perhaps the biggest negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. The cost of not changing can be depression, bottled up anger that seeps out in passive aggression or anxiety. It can also lead to ill health and problematic physical symptoms.
They won’t like me anymore
One of the things I hear most often in the counselling room is, ‘If I change, she / he / they won’t like me anymore.’ The fear is that in embracing change you start to alienate others who are heavily invested in you staying the same.
Thinking about change, what’s underneath that tension between the need to please and the need to be different?
A lot can have to do with your sense of self and how attached you are to a particular view of yourself in the world. The chances are that when growing up, you had to be a certain way to feel loved, approved, accepted by those close to you.
In that experience, the part of you that needs to be seen in this positive light feels terrified that if you aren’t this way, you’ll stop feeling loved or wanted. The fear of the rejection becomes a massive roadblock to being different.
My guess is that another part of you is deeply unhappy at having to maintain this front of pleasing and accommodating others.
This is the core of the inner conflict of change. An immense fear of letting go of the self image, fighting against a deep desire to be free of those constraints.
The goal of counselling is to really give voice to these different parts and their conflict and to discover what each needs to move forwards safely. Without that, sustainable change is very difficult.
This week’s Lifeline: 5 questions to ask if you feel stuck
So here are some questions you can ask yourself when you feel stuck between a desire to please at almost any cost and a pull to be different:
- When you try to please others, whose approval are you really seeking?
- When you think about change, what are your deepest fears?
- What do you gain from pleasing others?
- And what do you miss out on?
- If you really allowed yourself to speak of what you truly long for, what would you say?
Starting with these questions, you can begin to explore how much your current way of being serves you and how much it limits you.
With that exploration you can start to get a wider perspective on what’s holding you back along with your deeper fears.
And the answer is…?
So that starting point, will people still like me if I change? Of course, there’s no guarantee of how others respond to change. Sometimes they support it, sometimes they are hugely invested in keeping you the same as you are.
But really, the question isn’t so much will others like me, but can you accept that the price of being truer to yourself, may be that you can’t please everyone all of the time.
If you connect with that idea, you might find yourself still wary of change, but freer to make it.
If you’re afraid of what you might lose if you change
I offer counselling and psychotherapy in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott to help you work through your needs and blocks. Why not get in touch for a first appointment to see how a safe space might help you move forwards?