Feeling unfulfilled because of a fear of change
Change is a bit of a buzz word in the counselling world. Most people seek counselling because there is an issue in their life that they need to address, and this often means changing something to overcome it. If change was that easy though, few of us would have any problems at all! So, what holds us back from doing something different? What stops us from making a change that could mean we start to live better, more fulfilling lives?
It could be your job, your relationship, your living situation, your health… there are so many aspects to our lives that can cause us to feel unhappy, frustrated or unfulfilled. We often remain feeling these negative emotions because doing something different seems too hard and can make us feel anxious and frightened.
Doing something outside of our comfort zone is scary because it comes with risk. For instance, if we were to quit our job, we may panic about whether we could find another job, whether we could continue to pay bills and whether we would be good enough in a different role. Another big one is whether to remain in a relationship. If we were to end a relationship, we may be fearful about being single, not finding another partner, how it would impact on children, or whether we would regret leaving the relationship. These are all risks that many of us just aren’t willing to take.
One of the most difficult parts of change is when it links to our identity. For example, if you used to be someone who would go out partying a lot but no longer wants to and instead, wants to stay in more and take better care of themselves, it can feel paralysing to try to change into this different person, when those around you perceive you as the life and soul of the party. You can feel trapped in an identity that is no longer who you want to be just to meet others’ expectations. This can make people feel incredibly unhappy as they are not being their real self.
So, to avoid the discomfort and fear of change, we carry on as usual and continue feeling unfulfilled. The trouble is that often, the longer the decision to keep things the same goes on, the worse we feel and that can start negatively impacting on other areas of our lives. For example, if we are living with someone who is making us unhappy, we may start being unproductive in work and start withdrawing from things we would usually like to do.
A fear of change is not at all uncommon. As humans, we like predictability and are creatures of habit. It’s much easier to know what’s coming and to stay in our comfort zones. There are certainly people out there who love to embrace the thrills of life and have no problem whatsoever mixing it up and changing significant parts of their lives. But for a lot of people, change is really scary. It is particularly common in people who have been brought up with a worldview that the world is a dangerous and unpredictable place and so not taking any risks whatsoever will keep us safe, whether we are unhappy or not. The problem with this approach is it stops us from living our lives and from doing what we really want to do.
Contemplating change is the starting point. You have realised there is something in your life that you can’t deal with any longer, so you start to think about making a change. Then come the anxious feelings, which either scare you into carrying on as usual (remaining unhappy) or cause you to start doing self-defeating behaviours to try to deal with the discomfort. Drinking alcohol, withdrawing from others, becoming obsessive about something such as exercising, cleaning, eating etc. are all behaviours that can act as coping mechanisms. Although unhealthy, these coping mechanisms are showing a person is trying to manoeuvre out of the discomfort they are feeling when thinking about changing. A healthier way to deal with this discomfort is to recognise it, accept it, avoid the destructive behaviours you would usually turn to and tolerate the discomfort by being curious about it. Talking it through with someone can be really helpful during this process.
It’s worth remembering that change rarely happens overnight and the same goes for how we feel. It’s not always the case that we can just make a decision and it flips a switch in our heads that suddenly makes everything wonderful. It is possible but making a change for the better doesn’t always meet our expectations straight away. It takes time to start seeing and feeling a positive difference. Also, a change doesn’t have to be dramatic (although it is the dramatic ones that cause the most fear). Small changes can make big differences too.
You don’t have to remain stuck in life. How you live your life is ultimately your choice. Yes, change is scary, but not changing and living a life where you are never truly happy is probably the most frightening thing of all.