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The Circle of Change: You End Up Where You Started (Kind Of)

Change happens in an instant, in a certain sense. But then again, it can take years for a change to really become a part of who you are.

I think of change as taking me around a circle. When the change is fully integrated, I’m the same person again, but different.

It’s as if I’m traveling around a clock face. I start at 6 and move clockwise through all the numbers until I end up back at 6. When I’m halfway around, at 12, my thoughts, feelings and behavior are very different than when I started out.

High noon is where the poop hits the fan; I’m in the thick of the change.

But when I eventually come around to 6 again, things look pretty similar to when I started out. At least on the outside.

This cries out for an example, don’t you think?

From Serenity to Savagery

Before I understood feminism, I was an anti-feminist. My position was that we women had the right to vote, and what more was there to ask for? People who called themselves feminists just seemed angry to me. I couldn’t identify.

When men whistled at me on the street back then, I either ignored them or smiled, depending on my mood. I wasn’t consciously aware of anything problematic about their behavior, even though I would steel myself when walking past a construction site.

That was my 6 o’clock self, pre-change. What a difference a half-day makes…

Once I started educating myself about feminism — what it meant and didn’t mean, where it came from and why it was important — I got angry.

In my Angry Feminist phase, which lasted a couple of years as I recall, I moved away from nonchalance and into a fierce concern about unearned privilege, gender and power.

I would actively respond to unwanted male attention with angry contempt during this phase. I was mad as hell, and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.

I became, as Joe Friday from Dragnet might say, a “known feminist.” I marched on Washington. I carried a NOW card and a roll of stickers that said, “This insults women.” If you knew anything about me, you knew I was a feminist.

That was me at 12 o’clock — the polar opposite of the pre-change 6 o’clock me. Where I’d been ignorant and easy-going even though I was sometimes uncomfortable, I was now educated, activated and taking control of my own psychological comfort.

But after a while, a funny thing happened.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

After a couple of years of this, something changed…

I kept the feminism, but lost the anger.

I had the information, but no longer the impulsiveness.

I still hated the sin, but not the sinners.

There was no more need to fight every battle, or to see ignorance as willful, evil, or inexcusable.

I knew I’d gone all the way around the clock face and returned to 6 o’clock when a man whistled at me one day and I smiled at him in response. We shared a nice moment. He seemed like a good guy.

Back here post-change at 6 o’clock again, my behavior generally looks about the same as it did pre-change. Or possibly worse, from a feminist point of view.

Despite the fact that I now like to refer to my female friends from college as “gals” (generally a feminist no-no), I don’t do it in ignorance.

It’s hard to describe, but let’s just say there’s a depth to my thinking about these things that wasn’t there before. I was exposed to feminist thinking, and it changed me permanently; I can’t unlearn those thoughts and ideas that opened my eyes for the first time.

I’m glad I became a feminist. As I said in the beginning, post-change I’m the same person, but different.

Maybe it’s not merely a circle, but a spiral of change. An aerial view shows me at exactly the same point where I started: 6 o’clock. From another angle, though, there’s been a shift.

Nowadays if something insults either men or women as a group, I’ll generally speak up about it. But nobody who met me after the age of 35 would think to label me a feminist — angry or otherwise.

I can think of at least a half-dozen other examples where there seems to be a circle of change, where you head out in a direction that goes a little backwards and away from where you are, pass through a polar opposite set of behaviors and end up back where you started, but wiser.

Have you experienced this in your life, or is it just me?

Photo courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "The Circle of Change: You End Up Where You Started (Kind Of)"

  • mary
    October 19, 2013 - 10:59 am Reply

    I like your metaphor and I think it holds together. However, I am now 66 and I am still growing, changing, adapting, moving forward, (sometimes backwards) but moving nonetheless. I am almost finished with my PhD (next Spring) a long held goal that has been a long and arduous journey- the hardest thing I have ever undertaken. I think changing takes place all life long – I think if it does not, we begin to die, become complacent, and fail to see the other person’s point of view. I think you will experience another circle around your clock! You have a lot of living still to do and it ensures change of all kinds! Thanks for your thoughts about change!

    Mary

    • Tina Gilbertson
      October 19, 2013 - 6:31 pm Reply

      Mary, congratulations on almost being done with your PhD! That is a long haul that most of us will never experience, so good for you for sticking it out.

      Thank you for making the important point about continuous change throughout life. I couldn’t agree more. That does argue for a spiral, where we go around and around, but really we’re going up and up the whole time.

      Or maybe there are hundreds of different circles we traverse, many at the same time, but also serially, along various lines of development … Who knows?

      I’m also reminded that the ultimate circle of change we travel is with our physical bodies. It’s been pointed out by others before me that males and females are the most alike at the beginning, and again at the end, of life. And of course, the poor eyesight, physical weakness, lack of fine motor skills, etc. that we start out with tend to return if we reach a ripe enough age.

      Many thanks for sharing your wisdom, and all the best with the remainder of your program.

      • mary hudgins
        October 20, 2013 - 12:00 am Reply

        Thank you! I agree with everything you say here, too!
        Mary

  • bookishheather
    November 6, 2013 - 3:52 pm Reply

    Just ran across an appropriate quote:
    “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see
    the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the
    people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you
    started is not the same as never leaving.”
    — Terry Pratchett, “A Hat Full of Sky”

    • Tina Gilbertson
      November 6, 2013 - 4:04 pm Reply

      What a fantastic quote — so a propos. Many thanks for sharing it, Bookishheather; it captures the essence of the post perfectly. 🙂

  • cynthia
    November 16, 2013 - 11:26 am Reply

    I’m so glad I found your site Tina, and, you! Awesome wisdom on a great blog.
    Cynthia

    • Tina Gilbertson
      November 16, 2013 - 12:59 pm Reply

      Wow, thank you for the generous thumbs-up, Cynthia! Thanks for visiting, and come back soon.

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