Why does getting better suck so bad?!
Why is it that doing something that we know will be good for us is so hard to do and can feel so terrible?
It is the same reason people often tap in and out of therapy, change is hard and here is why…
The first part of change is DISTRESS. We become aware there is a need for change through negative feedback from our bodies (we get tired, sore, anxious, depressed, lethargic, sick etc)
Imagine that you are standing in the kitchen and your hand is on the stove, on a hot element. It hurts. It burns.
You look around and everyone else seems to be ok with it
You may even ask someone what they think and they just tell you it is fine or to just carry on as if it is not a big deal
Because we are such a social species and we don’t want to get rejected by our tribe, we stop feeling like it is a choice to take our hand off the stove
So we go to Plan B, finding ways to tolerate having our hand on the burning stove
We problem solve our situation by distracting ourselves from actually being present in our own life, because being present hurts
What and how we distract ourselves with varies from person to person, but some of the common ones are we detach, we distract with food, work, sex, drugs, alcohol, Netflix, Youtube, taking on other people’s drama or taking a one-up position and telling people how to run their lives through unsolicited advice and then feeling insulted or rejected when they don’t take it
Some of us distract through getting stuck thinking about the past, about the future, going into other people’s heads and making assumptions about what other people think or feel about us, getting stuck in our own head, rationalizing, justifying and intellectualizing our own and other people’s behaviors, or we may become indecisive, beat ourselves up emotionally using self doubt, poor self care, ruminating and judging every behavior or we physically manifest our stress through stomach aches, getting foggy, confused, migraines, pain etc
The longer we distract ourselves, the worse our lives usually get
Understandably, the pain we feel when our hand has been on the stove for a minute is quite different from the damage that is done if it has been on the stove for weeks, months or years
So not surprisingly, when we finally have enough, we finally get to the point where we want to do something about it, we decide to change, we need to decide HOW we are going to change
The next part of change is DECIDING ON A DIRECTION.
In order to do that, we have to actually tap back into our bodies, our experience, in order to notice what makes us feel stronger or weaker, that is what guides us to decide on a direction.
The problem is that when we finally tap back in, our hand is badly burned. It really hurts. A lot.
And when we decide to change we or our friends, or our therapist ask- what is going on for you?
The answer is that it hurts. A lot! So most of us decide that if getting better hurts so much, we will pass, better to stay with the devil you know.
Most people tap in and out of therapy or attempts at self help or change in one aspect of their lives or another (work, relationships, family dynamics, self care) many, many times before they actually STICK with it long enough that they get to the point that they finally say oh my gosh! I have to take my hand off the stove!
Complicating things further, while we are trying to change, get better, we are usually still surrounded with the same people who taught us (some intentionally and most unintentionally) that we don’t deserve to take our hand off the stove, making it even harder to make the required changes- even when we KNOW exactly what we need to do
So change for most people, gets emotionally equated to running the risk of being rejected from our tribes, our communities, by our friends and/ or families. No wonder it is no small ask of ourselves to “just do what I know I need to do!”- if only it were that easy
Before we can actually take consistent action towards change, we usually have to learn to hold our own sense of safety and worth, so we can give ourselves permission to take the risk of rejection and/ or failure, knowing we can still be solid, even if we end up alone and searching for our new tribe because we took our hand off the stove, because we didn’t like it and we learned WE MATTER!
So the short answer is that change sucks because it requires that we ACKNOWLEDGE and ACCEPT the truth of our actual situation, not the story we wish it was, or how others see it.
Then we need to FEEL the grief, the pain, the anger and disappointment that things did not turn out differently.
This makes room for connecting to what makes us feel stronger vs weaker moving forward, so we can notice and give ourselves permission to act on moving in a healthier direction moving forward.