Resistance to Change Can Be Overcome
“Change causes stress.”
Seems like everyone is on board with this concept. When I’m running a workshop or speaking to families, and I ask, “Does change cause stress?” I always get a resounding, “Yes!”
“What about those new experiences that we perceive as positive things?” I ask. “That’s change, too. But where’s the stress?”
From this exchange, the audience starts to recognize one of the truths we operate by here at Family Recovery Resource Experts. It’s not the change that causes us the stress; it’s our reaction to the change. When changes are perceived as good, we are elated. Relieved. Energized. When they’re perceived as bad, we’re depressed, anxious and scared. The operative word is “perceived.” It’s our perception that causes our reaction, and it’s our reaction that causes stress.
Why is change difficult?
In my former career as a trainer in the human potential development field, we used something called “The Change Cycle.”
This says that there are two ways to perceive any change in our lives.
- One is to feel threatened by the change, which leads us to resist the change. This resistance comes out as behavior(s) that are unproductive and stressful, causing stress and pain for others in our lives as well. We become stuck in this cycle. We are committed to the behaviors that help us resist the change.
- The other reaction to change, when our initial perception is that it is a positive thing, is to sense opportunity. When this happens it drives us to become creative with our lives in order to support and enhance that change. We then become committed to the behaviors to maintain the new status quo.
Either of these becomes a cycle that self perpetuates. It’s gets complicated when an individual senses a threat in what is actually an opportunity for them to improve their lives. Or when they sense an opportunity with something that could be ultimately ineffective in areas such as health, safety, security, self-expression or relationships.
Changing health behaviors
In this field, we are loaded with clients who feel threatened by and resist a particular change that everyone else sees as beneficial or necessary. Often times, the resistant individual themselves even say they need to change! We are asking them to go against their sum total of experience—and it’s stressful as hell.
So the question is, how do we move from resistance to creativity? How do we help someone move from feeling threatened to seeking opportunity?
The answer is a four-letter word: risk.
What’s at risk for the individual to make a change? Status quo. Or stated more directly, ego. Asking a human being to go against their sum total of experience is a tall task.
Here are some examples of resistance we see a lot in our practice:
- A man who was taught to solve his own problems, never be vulnerable and don’t show emotion—except for anger—is suddenly told the opposite. “You need help. You can’t fix this. Become vulnerable and honest about your emotions.” Phew! Talk about uncomfortable!
- A woman who has been taught it’s her mission to take care of others, look nice, be demure and always smile is suddenly asked to behave to the contrary. “Practice self-care first. Find your voice. It doesn’t matter what others think of you.” Wow.
And if the client is really good at resisting, many get the label “non-compliant” and are asked to leave treatment or cease therapy!
There is hope for individuals resisting change that is necessary for their well-being or even survival. Whether it’s recovery from substance abuse, disordered eating or other processes, people can move from threat to opportunity and from resistance to creativity. But it involves two very important behavioral health approaches that we specialize in here at Family Recovery Resource Experts: a trauma informed lens, and a systemic approach.