Thursday, 14 April 2011

Change 2

Why is Change sometimes so difficult and how can we help ourselves to cope with change?

Whether or not change is difficult is dependent upon the meaning of that change to us.  If change occurs suddenly and catastrophically, such as being involved in a serious accident and subsequently disabled; or suffering the loss of a loved one and becoming orphaned or widowed; or suffering sudden attack and being injured; or being caught in a natural disaster and losing one's home and possibly one's family; then those changes mean that life will never be the same again.

The suddenness of the change and the impact of the change upon one's daily life are predispositions of change being difficult.  This explains why winners of the Lottery often find it difficult to cope with the change in their lives even though, on the face of it, such change might seem to be positive rather than negative.

There is always some adaptation to be made when change occurs.  Even longed-for events such as going to university, or a wedding, or getting a job, or buying a house, require adjustment to the strangeness of the new state and status.  The gains are accompanied always by some losses.

It would be too simple to say that one way of handling change is to try to minimise the losses and to maximise the gains.  This is because some losses are so huge that it is insulting to suggest that they can be minimised.  In these cases the acceptance of, and adaptation to the change and the loss, is greatly helped by having a good social network.  Friends and family who are prepared to remain in more frequent and more regular contact for at least two years are a blessing at times of bereavement, life threatening illness, traumatic accident and disablement.  Someone to talk to outside the situation, such as a doctor, counsellor, or priest, who will remain non-judgemental and confidential, is helpful in giving the opportunity to express those things that friends and family might find distressing or hurtful.

A philosophy that allows for change is helpful in both sudden and dramatic change and in the normal changes of life.  W. Somerset Maugham wrote in "The Razor's Edge" (1943):

"Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.  If change is the essence of our existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy."

So what can we do to help ourselves to cope with any kind of change?

1. Cultivate friendships that last and that are mutually supportive.  Parents, encourage your children from an early age to take part in a range of activities with a range of different groups of friends and to stay in touch with these friends.

2. Cultivate a stoic acceptance of occasional difficulty and disappointment.  Change is often harder when we expected it to be easy.  At the same time don't assume that you can cope with several changes at once.  The effect of many small and continuous changes can be as powerful as one devastating change.

3. Understand that the psychological impact of change and transition involves some challenge to one's self esteem.  It is necessary therefore to remind oneself that one is capable of handling the change and that one is not uniquely stupid or crazy or a fraud.

4. Recognize another way in which one's perceptions can become flawed, as in: "Why me?"  "I don't deserve this."  "I can't bear this." "If only ...."  Good friends are able to point out gently that loss and disappointment are not uniquely personal to you, that sometimes "bearing it" is all there is to do and that a thousand "If only”s will not change the situation and will keep you from facing reality.

5. Where possible prepare for coming change by gathering information, training and experience, and by making contact with people already in that situation. When change also involves moving to a new area, make contact with with groups involved in the activities you enjoy, such as sport, singing or playing a musical instrument, painting, photography or dramatic art.  Remember that you were once the new person at your old group and you managed fine.

6. Change is easier to cope with the more other things remain the same. If one is in unfamiliar surroundings one can have familiar objects around (these work as transitional objects, like a child's security blanket).  One can maintain familiar routines and activities and keep contact with familiar people.  Even the same voices on the radio are a comfort at times of change.

7. Recognize the things you can control and get to work on them.  Recognize the things that are out of your control and withdraw your energy from worrying about them.

8. Be gentle with yourself as you would be with a friend.  Be honest with yourself, as you would be with a friend, if you are in danger of becoming self-indulgent or of thinking that everything is about you.  Accept yourself and your limitations and just keep on trying to do the best you can and to be the best person you can be.

9. Remember that not all change need be permanent.  Sometimes it is a good idea to have a "taster" experience before committing oneself to something life-changing.

10. Cultivate joy in the things around you, such as a beautiful sunset, a child's laughter, a bird's song, a butterfly's wing, a line of poetry, the smooth curve of a bowl, the colour of a flower, the scent of linen dried in the sun, the taste of a strawberry, the sound of a loved one's footsteps.  These things will sustain you at times of change, even when their poignancy brings tears.

So be of good courage, expect and accept change as the Stoics did, and at the same time let us do what we can to help ourselves and others to maintain our balance as we face "the ever-whirling wheel of Change" (Edmund Spenser).