Let’s start with the premise that change is usually unsettling. The human brain is generally not programmed to thrive on risk, so habits and learned ways of thinking can be a source of comfort in our daily lives.
The wise American philosopher William James stated that;
‘A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices’
This was written at the turn of the 19th century but could easily stand today as a shining observation of the overloaded list of social and political dilemmas in this strangely unsettling autumn of 2019.
It’s rare in my counselling room for world or national events to be a focus. Clients come for a variety of reasons, usually needing a safe space to reflect on the issues that affect their own personal situations. Seldom do outside forces seem important enough to invade their personal session time.
During these last weeks, fear and external conflicts have caused disruption to so many of them and has now become a subject in itself that has impacted the lives of most of us in some way.
Theoretically, we may try to understand that change is a crucial component of growth and evolution, but we also need to trust those who appear to be in control.
Without certainty, rumour, speculation and assumptions will thrive and leave us feeling understandably threatened.
It is inevitable that, at some point, we shall all experience change in our everyday existence.
Births, deaths, divorce, redundancy and separation are among the huge life events that mean major re-evaluation and adjustment, and these are often the presenting problems that bring clients to therapy.
All change will bring loss – even the most joyful shifts in our lives. Some of the more difficult personal events will feel shocking and unexpected, leading to anger and disorientation.
The current situation in the UK is now bringing up emotions described as nameless dread, fear and helplessness leading to real anxiety around the future, as clients contemplate their own experiences and then make links with the wider social and political situation that has overshadowed us all in recent months and left many feeling dispossessed and scared – both for themselves and those they care about.
This kind of enforced change can shift perspectives for us all and will alter our emotional landscape.
In our personal lives, tumultuous situations such as bereavement, health issues and job losses are always going to bring grief and fear. But compounded with the tenuous social and political situation, many of us are feeling the chill of uncertainty and a range of complex apprehensions.
Therapy can’t change what’s happening in the moment, but talking feelings through with an impartial, empathetic listener in a place of comfort and safety can be extremely helpful for clients.
Adjustment to the altered state of our lives is a process that is helped by self-care and kindness.
Sometimes feelings of helplessness and frustration are exacerbated by the way they revive emotions that were experienced much earlier in our lives, bringing anxieties into sharp focus and making current responses even more vivid and upsetting.
Acceptance of a new state doesn’t mean forgetting what went before, but needs the ability to leave behind what we knew as normal and find a shift to our new normal.
Which again brings me – reluctantly – to the present state of our country. We all share this huge void of uncertainty even though we may be looking at it from different viewpoints.
Change can be exciting if it forces us to grow and look at things from a new and different viewpoint. It can teach us to be flexible and can challenge long-held beliefs leading to creativity and can help us develop new strengths leading to a boost in our self-esteem and strengthening our resilience.
As humans we need to accept that society has to develop and evolve. But change that feels forced upon us all and seems to benefit only some at the expense of many, can feel unjust and leads to the anger that comes from experiencing unfairness and the imposition of ideas that may conflict sharply with our own beliefs.
As the clocks go back leaving summer behind, let’s hope the autumn of 2019 is not remembered as a dark and gloomy place, but the start of a new opportunity for some beginnings of hope and reconnection.
We can’t change the past, so rather than regret what may have been lost, the way to feel more in control is to look at whatever we now can do to repair those past hurts and let’s now give an optimistic nod to the future.
As the great Sam Cooke wrote;
There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come,
Oh yes it will.