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How We Change

Coins in hand

Some change comes easy… but psychological change doesn’t.

I’ve been thinking about some personal changes I’d like to make, and it’s reminding me of why change is so hard.

A good friend recently pointed out some things about my behavior that I could have sworn were really about her. That is, I thought she was judging my actions through a lens clouded by her own psychological “stuff.”

In the end, after a lengthy discussion, I had to admit she was right: It was not her stuff, but my stuff she was observing. Go figure!

I saw our conversation as an opportunity to begin changing the way I related to her. And not only to her, but to other people, too.

In a nutshell, I want to be less guarded, and more flexible and communicative, in all my relationships. I want to take my defenses down and allow my tender underbelly to be exposed in situations where it’s appropriate and safe to do so.

If I’ve chosen my friends well, I won’t sustain any mortal injuries by doffing my shields — maybe some cuts and bruises, but nothing life-threatening.

Still, removing my psychological armor is a tall order. Those smooth, shiny defenses have been there a very long time … so long that they’ve deceived me into thinking they are me.

Fortunately change, while hard, is pretty simple in principle. The instructions can be summed up in one sentence: Take a risk.

Nike’s slogan, “Just do it,” also strikes me as good advice for making change happen. But it tends to raise the question, “How?”

In my field, which encompasses healing, personal growth and achievement, there’s no such thing as change without risk. Here’s a specific example, before we get back to my stuff…

How to be more confident

Want more confidence? You can get it by truly believing in yourself.

How do you build that belief in yourself? By doing something that impresses you.

How do you impress yourself? By doing something you wanted to do, but didn’t think you could.

How do you do something you didn’t think you could do? By taking the RISK of trying.

For my change goal, the big risk is showing my vulnerability and trusting that the people I’ve surrounded myself with will welcome the chance to meet a more wobbly, awkward version of me.

My confidence is a real part of who I am. But so are my needs and my fears. Allowing them all to be visible will, I hope, make me more well-rounded and easy to be with.

Even though I know that my people are good people, there’s a part of me that “knows” they’ll eat me alive if I show weakness. That latter part may be irrational, but it’s powerful, too. The risk comes down to a question of trust. Both in myself and in others. No choice there but to take a leap of faith and see what happens.

No blog post, article, book, class or teacher can create change for you or me. We can gather information till the cows not only come home but do the vacuuming and make dinner; we won’t change until we’re willing to take a risk.

There is no “How?” when it comes to taking risks for personal growth. There’s nowhere to turn, nothing to hide behind, no more information to gather. There’s only one way to take a risk, and that is to leap into the air and trust that a net will appear beneath you.

Publishing this post feels a little risky to me, and whatever small step toward change you choose to take this week will probably feel risky to you, too. We’re in this together. We have been all along.

This is how we change. Not alone, but together.

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 "How We Change"

  • Rosie
    June 2, 2012 - 9:38 am Reply

    Tina, this sums up my last five and a half years in therapy. Taking risks and trying to make changes where vulnerability is involved, is beyond hard. But having someone (therapist or a friend) who will stand by you no matter how difficult the risk is, makes taking the baby steps just a little bit easier. And learning how to treat yourself as you treat others…….non judging……is where I get stuck. But those are the voices of my past that I haven’t quite learned to ignore yet. I can see some changes in myself, and others have seen them too, but it is a long a difficult process that is still ongoing. My psychological armor is very strong and very tall. Thanks for the very thought provoking article.

  • Jody
    June 2, 2012 - 9:50 am Reply

    I recently read that 80% of our issues are caused by 20% of the people in our lives (or even higher ratios of 95/5 or 90/10, which is definitely my situation). I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to eliminate this stress / person from my life and am nearly ready to make the move (as politely as possible, of course). Since it’s a professional situation, it’s a big risk, but I’m confident it’ll clear my psyche to allow more of the good stuff in!

    Thanks for this great post!

  • multnoma
    June 2, 2012 - 10:18 am Reply

    taking the risk that this will be seen as a quibble:
    ‘trusting that there will be a net’ implies that one needs some reassurance, even if only illusory, that it will all be ok.
    The biggest change (and most rewarding) I ever made in my life came when I couldn’t stand the way things were in my life, when the pain of the familiar trumped the anxiety of the unknown. At that moment I did not care whether there was a fire, I just was not going to stay in the frying pan any longer.

  • Tina Gilbertson
    June 2, 2012 - 6:08 pm Reply

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments! It’s nice when you take a risk and get a thumbs-up (instead of, say, a broken collar bone).
    Multnoma’s comment took me right back to all the muddling I did over the “trust that a net will be there” part when I was writing this post. If I were to write it again, I’d probably just put a period after “leap into the air.” The leaping’s the important thing, and sometimes it’s the only thing.
    Thank you so much, Jody and Rosie, for sharing your thoughts and experiences here.
    It’s a privilege to hear from all of you.

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