Vijay Nagaswami

The Shrinking Universe: I am like this only

Every now and again, when a couple visits my office, they fight during the session. This can be very useful for the therapeutic process, for, a lot can be learned about a couple's relationship from the way they fight. However, what is perhaps more interesting is what precisely they fight about. And funnily enough, they seem, at least in my presence, to fight about pretty much the same thing: ‘don't try to change me'. I cannot tell you how often I have heard the statement, “This is me! Take me or leave me”, the implication being that one of the partners resents the expectation that he or she should change to suit the other partner's requirements. It's quite extraordinary how resistant we are to change, even if we have a sneaking suspicion that the expected change may actually be one for the better.

Every time we say, ‘This is me and I refuse to change for you or anyone else', we are actually unaware that we are going against one of the most fundamental principles of personal growth and development, according to which, if we are to grow, we must change. And since all of us are growing, we are indeed, whether we are conscious of it or not, changing. Every relationship that we engage in whether with a spouse, a boss, a friend, a subordinate, a teacher and, sometimes even chance encounters, changes us a tad. What we were yesterday is not the same as what we are today or what we will be tomorrow. Change is inevitable, inexorable and even desirable. For, if we stop changing, we stop growing, we stop learning.

Despite the myriad of ways in which ‘learning' can be described, perhaps the most serviceable, though not necessarily most elegant, definition is that ‘learning is a relatively permanent change in behaviour brought about by experience'. Put differently, every time you undergo any experience, you learn something from this. And when you've learned it well enough, your behaviour changes appropriately. It may change for the worse, or for the better. But change it does. Which is why resisting change is so meaningless and futile.

Different results

The same experience may change two people in quite different ways for two key reasons. One is the inherent capacity to handle and process change. Some people adapt to change very easily and, as a result, their learning is much faster (not because they are more intelligent as is commonly believed), while others need several similar experiences before they accept its inevitability and learn from it. The second is the nature of the experiences an individual has had in the past. As a rule of thumb, the more the negative experiences or the less nurturing the emotional environment the person grew up in, the greater the resistance to change. This doesn't mean that such persons will never change. In fact, they always do. They just kick and scream a bit more. They have no choice but to change, even if their behaviour takes a longer time to reflect this change.

Not an easy option

So, why this resistance? Simply because change is perceived to be a highly stressful process. And this is true. It is stressful, even if the change takes us in a positive and desirable direction. Good things in life rarely come easily and we have to work a bit to get them. Resistance is usually directly proportional to the quantum of effort one has to make to adapt to new situations we are faced with. But resistance also involves a great deal of effort, for, one has to counter with equal, if not more strength, whatever effort is being placed on us to change. Whether it's acquiring new skills to keep pace with the demands of the working environment, or trying to figure out what our spouse is asking of us, or coming to terms with our children's expectations of us, change requires effort. If we accept the fact that effort is a way of life, then we can start looking for ways to make things easier for ourselves by finding solutions that require less effort. And when we realise that resisting change actually doubles the effort we have to make, since aside of the effort of resistance, we need to make the effort to eventually adapt to the inevitable change, then we'd perhaps understand how inefficient we are being and choose the easier way out — accepting the new reality and going with the flow.

The other difficulty with change comes from the arousal of our rebellious instincts when someone else wants us to change. And when it's our spouse making the demand, our feathers become even more ruffled, for, we feel that marriage is about being loved for who you are and not for who your spouse wants you to become. I do agree that mutual acceptance on an as-is-where-is basis is vital to a successful relationship, but if we configure our relationships well and see our partners, family members and friends as allies rather than adversaries, then we'll be in position to filter out those expectations that come from their irrational spaces and our lives may become less stressful. As a bonus, we won't have to remain like ‘this only'. We can comfortably take a stab at being like ‘that also'.

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Printable version | May 26, 2022 4:44:57 pm |