Change is a Four-Letter Word
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 22, 2019
We are threatened by the need to adapt; but successful maneuvering through the complex demands of an ever-moving world requires a flexing and adaptable approach. We must change, sacrificing some of our specialness for a happier and better existence.
How dare you suggest I need to change! Over the decades, words fall in and out of vogue. “Change” has taken a beating over the last three decades with the self-esteem movement. Children are pounded with ego boosting phrases to build self-confidence and strengthen self-image. We coddle their sensitivities with affirmational reminders, “you are wonderful, just the way you are.” Yet, sometimes, just the way we are isn’t helpful in obtaining our goals. As a child ventures into the real world, the work of assimilation begins. If they fail to adapt, life can overwhelm.
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It’s not that we should dismantle the barriers that protect. We need healthy boundaries to maintain an integrity of self. The problem arises when those boundaries become impenetrable fortresses, demanding others to conform to our rigid expectations. Relationships struggle under these unbending rules, blind to the social realities of interaction. To survive, the young adult must challenge the childhood scripts of their wonderfulness; if they don’t, they are destined to a life of frustrations.
The problem arises when those boundaries become impenetrable fortresses, demanding others to conform to our rigid expectations.
The anxiety of change is not new to the human psyche. Humans have always been challenged to create balance between the security of sameness and courageous adventures. Yet, even in the relative predictableness of stagnation, we complain. We want the benefits of growth while fearfully wrapping ourselves in security. We want the promotion without the perspiration. We want rights respected while ignoring the rights of others. We want to live on a fantasy island populated by adoring others committed to fulfilling our needs of specialness.
We are a curious species with conflicting needs. Often our expected resolution to the conflict is for external adjustments made by others, instead of the preferred method of internal adjustments. But assimilating is scary, our specialness is swallowed up, lost in the swamp of others. Whether at work, home or on the freeway, we must understand the necessity of assimilation; we can expect the world to change and be angry when it doesn’t or we can adapt. The world continues to spin; no matter how fast we run, night will eventually overtake us.
Alfred Adler wrote, “This feeling of inferiority and insecurity is always present in the human consciousness. It is a constant stimulus to the discovery of better ways of adapting to life on earth.” (2010). Unintentionally, we trick our youngsters into disguising these motivating feelings, placating the discomfort with deceptions. However, when fables of a subservient world are taught, the discomforting emotions of inferiority and insecurity will fail to motivate productive adaptation. Feelings misunderstood signal that something is wrong with the world—and the world better change.
Daniel Siegal explains that the emotional arousals (something akin to Alfred Adler’s feelings of inferiority and insecurity) must be regulated to bring more balance into our lives. He suggests that the emotions are regulated through adapting to the environment. “The outcome of healthy regulation is to coordinate and balance our functions so that we are adapting to our ever-changing environment.” (2015. Location 1027).
The world is a complex system. There are more moving parts in nature than our finite minds can calculate. Each individual is constrained by the unpredictable complexity of the larger system. Healthy adaptation requires moving into the complexity. Psychological dysfunction is when the we move away from complexity, attempting to force the greatness of the whole into the limited mental scripts from childhood—I’m wonderful.
“Most people have a tendency, when having to make adaptations or changes, to assimilate reality into their existing structure, and so avoid those aspects which cannot be assimilated.” (Greenhalgh, 1994). We can’t completely abandon our existing structure. Often the scripts set in childhood were adaptive. Our adult challenge is to grow, moving towards complexity, adjusting existing mental structures to better fit into the complex reality of the present rather than trying to fit new experience into outdated manuscripts from our past. We must turn the page, write a new narrative, find a better ending.
Change—or if we prefer, adapting—is a constant process of fitting into the world. As we adapt to others, they adapt to us, we respond to their adaptation and they respond to our adaptation of their adaptation, and so on. Yes, it would be simpler if others simply adapted and we could remain selfishly constant. These imbalances should be left to the narcissistic ego maniacs that we want not nothing to do with. We can claim some consistency by discovering and holding to a few valuable pieces and relationships that give purpose and direction. Here, we can relish in security.
We’re not terrible; we can still tout wonderfulness, if we wish. We just should claim wonderfulness at our willingness to change. We still are perfect just the way we are—perfect in the way we utilize social astuteness to assess and adjust. We know to take our foot off the gas to allow others to merge, we balance wants and needs with the wants and needs of a partner, and we courageously move towards the complexity of this big beautiful planet. We change.
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Adler, A. (2010). Understanding Human Nature. Martino Fine Books; Translation edition
Greenhalgh, P. (1994). Emotional Growth and Learning. Routledge.
Siegal, D. J. (2015). The Developing Mind, Second Edition: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. The Guilford Press; Second edition