We often wish that we could change some part of our personality, some habit, or some particular behavior. We would like to change careers, locations, or lifestyles. Yet, despite our wishes, we don’t change. We stay the same year after year. Similarly, people enter psychotherapy saying that they wish to change; yet despite their efforts, they do not change.
Resistance to change is an existential given; it is integral to the human experience. Each time we come against a wall beyond which lies the unknown, we resist. It is at this point of resistance that growth can occur. Human beings have an equally strong impetus to grow, to explore, to evolve. And we have choice. Our dilemma is whether to stay the same in the familiar comfort where life is predictable or push through the resistance and experience the unknown with all of its uncertainty and potential danger.
Our early experiences in life will influence how we deal with resistance to change. Some people will embrace change and push through their resistance, while others will retreat from change. People will often resist change even when their current circumstances are painful. People who have lived in captivity for extended periods, e.g., prisoners, will often resist being released. The prison becomes a womb, it is predictable.
The biblical story of the Genesis speaks to a similar issue. Adam and Eve and in the Garden of Eden where everything is provided; it is safe, secure, and familiar. Despite God’s warning they bite of the tree of knowledge thereby making a decision to leave the familiar and enter the unknown filled with uncertainty where they have to make it on their own.
Then there is the story of Exodus. The Israelites are enslaved by the Pharaoh. Despite their slavery they are secure and provided for. Each day is predictable. Moses offers them the opportunity to follow him and cross the desert to find an unknown place where they will be free. Many followed him. Many remained behind. And many started out with him and returned to their secure position as slaves to the Pharaoh. Each person had to confront his or her own resistance to change. Some chose the familiar, while others chose the unknown.
In the movie, The Truman Show, the main character is born into a television studio sound stage that comprises his universe. It is a complete town, filled with people (actors) who participate in his life and watch him grow up…along with millions of television viewers who tune in to watch Truman’s life in his town. Everything is provided Truman. It is an idyllic life. Everything is predictable. Paradise. Then he discovers the truth about his life and his town. He realizes that there is a world outside of the television studio. With considerable effort, and in spite of the obstacles placed before him by the director and producers, he makes it to the outer boundary. He has to made a decision; will he remain in Paradise where his every need is provided or will he go through the door and face the larger, unknown world. He chooses the latter. He confronts the resistance barrier and, like Adam and Eve, he chooses to leave Paradise.
The movie, entitled “The Legend of 1900” depicts the story of a child born on a transoceanic cruise liner. He was abandoned to his father who subsequently dies in an accident. The crew of the ship raises him. He is given the name 1900 to commemorate the year of his birth. The child takes a liking to the piano. Self-taught, he becomes a virtuoso pianist entertaining guests year after year into his adulthood. He composes beautiful music. However, he does not leave the ship. The ship becomes his universe. There he is the master of his world. He knows the ship and is comfortable with the crew and the guests. He talks about someday leaving the ship. The crew encourages him. One day he meets a young passenger, falls in love, and vows to leave the ship. He gets as far as the gangplank, waves goodbye to the crew all of whom are looking over the port side of the ship waving. Then, hat in hand, he returns to the ship without stepping onto to shore. He spends the remainder of his life on the ship and even dies on the ship as the ship is intentionally destroyed because it is no longer seaworthy. 1900 comes up against his resistance barrier and retreats.
Human growth comes with change. Having the courage to face the unknown, cope with the unfamiliar, and learn to contain one’s anxiety, is the challenge we all face.
What do you do when you face the unknown? How do you handle your resistance to change? Do you retreat from the wall, climb over or plow through? Are you a Truman or a 1900?
[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica - Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a fan on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating "like" on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]