Family drama in the face of change
There is often a lot of family drama that unfolds when one person in the family decides that something needs to change. Many of us humans like things to stay the same, especially when it comes to family. We find comfort in the “familiar”, even if it is unpleasant. When someone wants to change things, the more primitive parts of our brain send out danger signals and we take evasive action. We each have our own unique evasion strategies that are basic variations on fight, or flight – hence the family drama. There may be arguments (fight), or an increase in avoidance behaviour (flight). It is important to understand that family members feel genuinely threatened.
Why is change so threatening? At the simplest level, being asked to change automatically implies that something wasn’t good enough. “I want to change something” from one family member gets translated into “I must not be good enough” for the other family member. Change stirs up our fears about inadequacy, unloveableness, and unmet expectations, whether they are our own or someone else’s. These doubts are inside all of us and nobody likes to have them stirred up.
We also know that change involves loss. In gaining something, it is inevitable that something else is lost. It never seems quite fair, but that’s how it works. So why take a chance on giving up what you have for something new that might not be as good? Add to that the risk of stirring up a “fight” response, or experiencing the loneliness created by a loved one’s flight response – it is a wonder that anyone ever has the courage to change at all.
But surely, the ability to make a change is within our fundamental human rights? When one person is no longer willing or able to tolerate a situation, there must be a way that they can say, “I want things to change” without the threat of the whole household falling into chaos. Fortunately, there are some tried and true methods. Owning your feelings is a courageous key step that is often missed in favour of the ever-popular strategy of blaming your feelings on someone else. And having compassion and understanding instead of judgment for the other family members is another key step. Let’s face it – we all are familiar with judgment and blame. However, when we voice our feelings without blame, and take into account the fact that our feelings are going to create anxiety in the other family members we have started on the road to making things better for the family. It won’t feel “familiar” or good in the beginning, but the pay-off is huge when we persist.
As with all things in the inter-personal realm, none of this is particularly easy. But as we move through the stages of our lives as human beings, we need to continue to grow, because if we don’t, we will stagnate. Annoying habits become worse, comfort zones become narrower, coping mechanisms no longer work, and our world becomes smaller and more constrained. Asking for change is about supporting our family to grow – it is a huge act of love that requires courage, compassion, and persistence.
Liz van Ryn, M.Sc. RP is a Family Therapist practicing just west of Creemore. You can find her information at www.creeksidetherapy.ca.