Change is a wily beast; it’s beautiful and terrifying. It’s hard to wrestle down, despite the number of self-help programs out there that try to convince you that it’s a simple, 1-2-3 step process.
If I were absolutely forced to put the process of transformation into short, pithy sentences, it would be something like this:
- Get incredibly present to the reality of what it is that you do, think, and believe. (This alone is the hardest step for most people (and me!), because we have defenses in place to avoid seeing what is hardest to face).
- Be gentle with what comes up. It might feel tender and hard to reconcile.
- Acceptance, surrender, acceptance, and surrender–in that order, and then repeated as necessary.
The Exact Same Lies
And throughout that process? Don’t believe the LIES.
When you listen to people for a living, it will not be long before you’ll see that the EXACT. SAME. LIES. penetrate everyone’s process of trying to change.
The “content” is not important. I could be talking with someone who is reeling from her husband’s affair or someone who is trying to get a business off the ground, and the content might change, but the lies don’t change.
The wording varies slightly, but they are always–always!–the same.
As you’re reading these, you have to imagine that a small, scared, wounded part of the Self that is terrified of change, terrified of giving up the defense that it has used to navigate the world, is speaking.
“I just don’t see how it’s possible for me to be different;” or “That’s just the way that I am,” or “But I’ve always been this way.”
The lie: It’s not really possible to change.
When someone says that they want to change, but then they argue against taking action, it doesn’t leave much room for anything to change, does it?
“Well, come on! Anyone would [react that way, do what I did, etc.] I’m only human!”
The lie: I really don’t need to change the behavior that I’ve already identified as needing to change.
That’s defending a behavior pattern by invisible majority, the “everyone else is doing it” defense. But imagine a few ridiculous scenarios, to really get the point home:
“Everyone” has credit card debt, after all–so you should, too? “Everyone” cares about their appearance, after all–so you should go to extremes in dieting? “Everyone” loses their temper sometimes, after all–so it’s okay to scream at your partner?
When you’re trying to change something, bringing in “Everyone” to justify behavior…keeps that change from happening. Maybe “everyone” would deal with a disappointing e-course launch by not posting on their blog for six months–but “everyone” is not you, and if you know that hiding out isn’t the powerful choice, don’t justify it.
Note: It’s not how you deal with something; it’s whether or not that choice honors your highest self.
“If I started doing it, I’d always have to do it, and I don’t know that I always want to do that, so I just shouldn’t take any action at all,” or “You can’t expect me to be perfect!”
The lie: I haven’t been accountable or consistent in the past, and I don’t see how I’m going to be that in the future, and anyone who asks me to be accountable or consistent is a jerk who’s trying to make me change! How dare they!
The defense in this case is to wildly exaggerate and thus make oneself a victim, like anyone asking for accountability or consistency is just soooo unreasonable, that they expect per-FEC-tion, and how can they have such high standards?
It’s an attempt to deflect: if the other person is the asshole expecting perfection (even though they are probably, just like you and me, reasonable people who really aren’t demanding perfection), then the attention is not put on you changing.
Note: “You expect me to be perfect!” is a typical response if you ask your partner to change patterns of behavior that are hurting the relationship. Don’t fall for it. See the scared person who’s afraid of change when you hear that remark.
“Well, it’s not like I’m as bad as I was” or “It’s not as if I’m like [that other person who’s so much worse],” or “Well, I have made SOME changes, haven’t I?”
The lie: Someone or something else is worse than me, so the attention should go over there, and since I’ve made some changes, you shouldn’t expect me to be fully accountable.
This lie is all about trying to get away with not really changing–just kinda-sorta changing. Note: This one easily segues into the “You can’t expect me to be perfect” defense.
“I would have changed, but I had [listing off of circumstances that were hectic, chaotic, unexpected].”
The lie: It’s harder for me than it is for everyone else. I need you to believe that about me, too, because if you understood how it’s harder for me than it is for everyone else, you wouldn’t ask me to change.
This comes up around kids, illness, jobs, partners, and on and on.
I would never, and don’t suggest now, a lack of compassion for those weeks when things are hectic, the kids are sick, you are sick, your dog is sick, etc.
I would suggest that there are a great, great many people in the world who keep themselves from reaching their true potential by citing the hectic, chaotic, everyday and utterly ordinary circumstances of life and living as the reasons why they couldn’t live the lives they wanted to live.
Right after having made strides in a positive direction, or at the first sign of difficulty: “I don’t know that this is such a good idea,” or “Maybe things weren’t so bad the way they were” or “I just don’t need this stress and hassle,” or “I shouldn’t have to go to so much work for this person/this dream.”
The lie: Because this feels scary, it’s time to give up, so I’m going to romanticize the past or justify giving up work by saying it’s not good for me to be challenged in this way.
No. It’s time to start practicing courage and quit believing the lie that there will ever, in your life, be a time when there is zero fear involved in living a fully alive, engaged, connected life. It’s time to rise to the challenge. It’s time to stand up, and define who you are by your willingness to rise.
And, of course, sometimes none of this expresses in actual words. Sometimes it shows up as emotional disconnection, rampant anxiety, insomnia, irritation.
The Tearful U-Turn
The biggest lie/defense of all? After really confronting the fact that change is needed and necessary:
Going into a deep shame spiral about how you’re an awful person and just screwed it all up six ways from Sunday and you don’t even deserve to breathe air or eat dirt and this pattern has been going on for your whole life and you don’t know how it will ever change and there’s probably no hope and it all feels hopeless and you’re tired of struggling with this issue and…
So–yes–Big Feelings, all coming up at once. Shame. Core wounds. All of that.
And sometimes? Behind the tears and self-recrimination is this one unfortunate defense, a manipulation against change:
“I’m going to beat myself up and show you how terrible I feel, so that you’ll get off of my back about change.”
We’ve probably all met this person, or been this person, at some point in our lives: When someone really won’t let us wiggle out of being accountable about our patterns, when someone really maintains a steadfast commitment to healthy boundaries and integrity, people pull out the big guns.
Transparency: I’ve done this. The biggest, most difficult, most core issue wound of my life played itself out in my relationship with my partner, and if he absolutely backed me into a corner and said he wasn’t going to put up with it because it wasn’t healthy for me or him or the relationship, I’d bawl and beat myself up.
The feelings? Totally real. But if I was going to be 100% in integrity, and truly honest? A little-itty-bitty-teensy-weensy shameful part of me wanted his sympathy for my suffering–and a free pass on not needing to change.
Once you’re clear on your patterns and what you want to change, the process of change has begun. That’s the good news.
The bad news–or more accurately, the challenging news–is that if you want to find liberation from habitual patterns that aren’t serving you, you’ve got to be steadfast in not believing the lies.
The big challenge is that those lies have been circulating for so many years that they feel like the truth.
For the big core issues, you’ve literally got to question everything–every conception of “truth” that you ever adopted. You’ve got to hold it up to the light, examine it from different angles, and ask yourself (very important!) how that “truth” feels in your body (never discount the somatic response; the body does not lie).
In fact, it might even be a good practice to decide that nothing is your “truth” until it has been examined and considered to see what feels real.
There are very “good” reasons why we do what we do–even when those patterns are destructive. The alcoholic has a million excellent reasons for why they need that drink. The mother who hits her children–yes, as terrible as this may sound–has an entire belief system at work that truly thinks that hitting her children is the thing she MUST do in that moment.
Is it “right”? No. I’m saying that we all have our reasons and we all believe certain lies in certain moments that cause us to act the way that we do.
No one is immune from that, and as long as the lies are at work–it’s just about impossible to change.