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December 12, 2017
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community living

About change

By Deborah Chandler, Ph.D

We crave change. The media feeds us promises of being slimmer, younger, happier, richer, if only we buy this product, follow that program. Through many trials we have learned that change does not come easily. What blocks us from changing? What helps us to change?

Psychologically, blocks to change are unconscious conflicts that keep us ambivalent about attaining our goal. Part of us wants to be more loving, and part of us fears the potential abandonment and pain that comes from reaching out for love. We move toward and away from the goal in a painful dance of hope and disappointment. Today’s diet dies at night when the emptiness overtakes us and the momentary gratification of ice cream wins.

We attain powerful insights. Yes, we felt empty as a child; yes, we need more validation, yet these insights do not yield change. There is a next step after insight called “working through.” Working through can be thought of as re-wiring the brain to accommodate our insights. Each bundle of neurons needs to change to put an insight into action. This is the methodical process of how we change, taking time, patience and guidance.

There are psychotherapies that help with the working-through process, in particular a psychodynamic therapy that ties the past and present together. Think of a conduit that begins in our earliest days, that travels to the present. The challenges and traumas of those early days travel through this conduit, influencing how we experience our selves today. It is when these past feelings are brought to conscious awareness that we can heal from the old pain and cease to react as our child-self.

As children, we are small, vulnerable and dependent. Our child-self has no protective armor. The power of the adults is absolute, god-like. When the adult is displeased, our child-self feels the disappointment to our core. If the displeasure is persistent, the disappointment becomes a learned disapproval of our self. We assume, “I am bad and deserve to feel this pain.”

In response to this environmental negativity, we create a false self, a facade to hide behind. We learn how to act pleasingly and to avoid actions that are inflammatory and dangerous. From early in our lives, we have acute unconscious awareness of what attracts attention. Our survival depends upon being tuned-in and responsive to that which gets us nurturing and security. We learn to be quiet, cute, manly, care-taking, accepting of food and toys instead of love and validation.

As adults when we try to make changes, these negative messages from the past travel to now and sabotage our efforts. We hold on to our false self, our safe self, even when we feel trapped and depleted. We struggle to take back the power from our parents and to be authentic. Usually we don’t succeed. The power and authority of the parents remain dominatnt in our psychological makeup, even into old age.

To change we need to exert determined efforts to transcend these psychological origins, to see and accept our parents for the flawed individuals they are, to love them as they are, and to love our selves as we are. When we sit with our therapist and allow our selves to free associate to the past, we open the door to the conduit; the experiences of the past reveal themselves. With the force of the original, raw emotion, we relive the old pain today. We begin to know that we were helpless and not able to protect our selves from the anger and negative actions of the adults. We no longer assume we deserve to feel bad about our selves.

For our true self to develop, we have to renounce our childhood adaptations, while simultaneously developing our authentic self. This true self is not in hiding; it is a potential to be realized. The path from false to true challenges our concept of who we are and what we need to survive. When we reveal the emptiness and deadness of the false self, we feel grief-stricken and hopeless. Our false self has been our identity. Only with time, patience, and guidance do we evolve into our authentic self. In time the true self fearlessly steps forward: spontaneous, authentic and alive in the moment. Change is not easy; change is the great path to self-realization. I am.

[Deborah Chandler, who has a practice in South Fallsburg, will be one of the bloggers on our new website. The website went online on a beta basis on November 1, and Chandler’s blog, “The Art of Being,” can be found this month can be found at www.riverreporteronline.com, and starting next month at www.riverreporter.com.]