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).


  1. I agree with all you have said, June, and think that the tips you give are very sound.When facing huge life changes it is so important to recognise those things one can't control and not waste energy on panicking about what else MIGHT happen in the future.In other words, live only a minute,an hour or a day at a time,only tackling the problems that arise AS they arise.Those feared and too-quickly-crossed bridges often don't appear.I think that coping well with change is also something that comes with practice.e.g - some people thrive on moving house frequently tho it is said to be the 3rd most stressful experience for most of us.

  2. Hi Judith,
    Thank you for your comment.
    I agree that some people thrive on situations that most of us find stressful. Maybe I could have put "Know yourself" as one of the strategies for coping with change.
    On the other hand, the situations on which we thrive probably come more under the category of "No change" rather than "Change".
    Interesting point. Keep them coming, please.

  3. A friend- age50 -has written only today(!) to tell me that she has decided to change her 1st name. Quite a radical move as our names are so much a part of our identity. She has found people's different reactions & what it has thrown up about their relationships very interesting; "Issues of authority, a sense that they own my name in some way, and some unwillingness to accept that I am changing and growing when it would be far more comfortable for them if I were to stay the same." An interesting example in view of this discussion.

  4. That certainly demonstrates the ripple effect of change. Thanks Judith.

    Some readers have asked me about the meaning of "entiposis". It is a Greek word meaning "impression". I chose it for two reasons: because David Hume uses 'impressions' when writing about the 'Self' and because I am writing my own impressions here.

    Next I shall write about Cicero. I hope that you will join the conversation with your own impressions.

  5. June, your point 9, that not all change need be permanent is interesting.

    Change was forced on me by the death of my partner, shortly after retirement & in the middle of an intended change for a quite different future for us.

    The choice then between pursuing which change: the future we'd planned, or being less adventurous – or taking time-out.

  6. June

    I do think this blog is interesting and have been talking about it to my cousin - and she has been telling me about a Lent course that she has been on, in Shaftesbury. The five-week course was based on the book "Chocolat" by Joanne Harris,  and was studied as:

    1st week Giving up - Prelude to change
    2nd week Giving out - Power of the gift
    3rd week Getting wise - Possibility of change
    4th week Getting real - Power of acceptance
    5th week Growing up - Process of change

    This does seem to follow your blog!


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