Change? No Thanks!

Reasons People Don’t Change and How to Free Yourself to Grow

Group of paper planes in one direction and with one individual pointing in the different way as a concept for personal change.

WikiHow will teach you how to change in four steps. If you’d rather read a book, Joel Osteen can tell you how to live your best life now. Joyce Meyer, Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Oprah – the list of speakers and authors is long – all have great ideas about how you can improve your life and be a better, happier person. With the fount of self-improvement resources readily available, we should have the most self-actualized society in history. Despite the existence of expedient growth advice, many people complain and wish for something different, all the while demonstrating a fierce reluctance to change. They seem to prefer to continue their unhelpful or unhealthy patterns, even though they don’t like their current situation.

Change of any kind is hard; it’s simple but not easy. If we can understand why it’s so difficult, then we can address these barriers and free ourselves to grow. In my practice, I commonly see three important reasons why people don’t change: self-righteousness, fear of feelings, and the desire to maintain the status quo.

The View Looks Good from My High Horse

Recently at Kroger, an elderly woman aggressively waggled her finger at me, caustically declaring the shame I should feel. Hold up. What?! Was she mad because I checked out the tarragon plant out front? Did she hate my FSU t-shirt? I was very confused, and she eagerly clarified as to why I was a terrible human. She declared that I had parked in a handicapped spot (I hadn’t). She scolded me that I should learn to respect my elders (I couldn’t have been nicer. Also, I wasn’t parked in a handicapped spot). Even after I went outside to verify my parking appropriateness, (my car was still in a regular parking space), she grumbled more contempt and huffily stormed off. She did not admit she was wrong, and she clearly was not going to change her mind about me. Stunned, I did what any therapist would do: I psychoanalyzed her.

Kroger lady’s problem was that she was committed to her stance of superiority and couldn’t admit her error. She was self-righteous, a blamer who operated from a stance that said, “I’m good, and you’re bad.” In a way, this position probably felt good; she got to believe that she’s better than other people. And, because others are bad, they are the ones that need to change, not her. Since she believed that she was innocent, she therefore wouldn’t have to own her need to grow. Kroger lady is not alone. Many people choose self-righteousness over humility even though, as a result, they’ll likely feel miserable and depressed. Sometimes unhappiness feels less bad than humble pie tastes.

I’d Rather Eat Worms than Feel Stuff!

I had a client that called it “The V-Word.” Vulnerability was so squeamishly uncomfortable that he didn’t even want to say the full word out loud. Feelings like fear, pain, abandonment, hurt, and sorrow were not his friends. He had exiled his vulnerable feelings, locked them away deep in no-man’s land, hoping never to hear from them again. Uninterested in looking into this sequestered container in his psyche, he preferred pretending the feelings weren’t there. That’s how a lot of us are! Usually, we are terrified of opening that so-called box because we know that’s where the scary, difficult, and confusing feelings live; it might hurt! It’s not the pain of a minor boo-boo, either. It registers more on the scale of having your fingernails pulled out one by one.

Often, people choose to continue living in Misery Town because they know the names of the streets; it’s a familiar place that they know how to navigate.

Unsurprisingly, we pain-avoidant humans would often rather not disturb the distressing stuff. Like many of my clients, we fear that if we feel any of those emotions, they will take over our lives, render us non-functional, or even make us lose our minds. Lifelong institutionalization is never anyone’s preference. Here’s the good news: in the context of therapy, when you feel the vulnerable feelings that you have diligently kept out of sight, it’s never as bad as you’re afraid it will be. Doing so will actually heal you, and you’ll find that your worst fears don’t come true.

I’d Like One Order of the Status Quo, Please

Growing up in a small, mountain suburb in East Tennessee, I experienced a community that was proud and protective of the atmosphere and character of our mountain home. A recent proposal to bring an additional grocery store to town sparked a loud, community-wide debate about change. The residents against the development wanted to protect unique aspects of the town and maintain property values. They argued that change would be disruptive and require adjustment, potentially instigating a ripple of increasingly negative consequences. Opponents of the development didn’t want change because they prefer the status quo; they know what to expect, and they accept the inconveniences of mountain living.

In my work, I often encounter people like the mountain residents. They resist change because they prefer familiarity, even if the current situation is suboptimal or even dysfunctional. Often, people choose to continue living in Misery Town because they know the names of the streets; it’s a familiar place that they know how to navigate. It doesn’t matter that it’s miserable because it’s familiar. Change is a crisis, a point at which one must take decisive action, but new patterns of relating, processing painful emotions, or re-developing one’s identity introduce an unknown way of life.

The unknown can be frightening, so we simply may avoid the risk. Continuing to do the same thing is easier because at least we know what to expect and how to manage life, even if we don’t like it. We prefer to keep the status quo rather than face a crisis that we fear will result in a ripple of increasingly negative consequences.

Is Fear Holding You Back? Watershed Counseling Can Help

Are any of these reasons you haven’t pursued change? Think about what keeps you stuck. Growth requires potentially difficult change, which is why so many of us don’t want to do it. We think only of the bad “what ifs,” dismissing all of the good that could be. Fear keeps us safe by stopping us from hoping for or expecting good, the good “what ifs.” If we anticipate bad, then we won’t get as hurt if things go south.

Fear motivates us to stay the same, but it is love that can motivate us to strive for, and achieve, something different and better. Love of God, from God, from others, and from yourself creates a safety net that makes it easier to venture into the unknown so that you may find goodness and a better life and relationships. You have the power to influence your future. If you choose not to change, I get it. It’s really hard and involves feeling uncomfortable stuff. However, you don’t have to figure it out on your own; I’ll help you. Remember, working through things in the context of therapy helps and heals. I know because I’ve experienced it with many people. Allow yourself the freedom to grow, take a risk, and enjoy the good that comes with change. Make an appointment with me today by contacting us.