I am sitting in a hostel in Brussels, Belgium at this moment – taking some down time to rest before heading out for the evening. I’ve been away from home now for four weeks and I can definitely testify that leaving one’s comfort zone for extended periods of time facilitates much internal transformation. Next week, I’ll write more specifically about that.
Today, I’m reflecting on a conversation I recently had with my travel companion about the process of change. When we decide to renovate some major area of our lives, what does that look like from the inside? Going to a counselor is usually reserved for more significant repairs, so this question would certainly pertain to current or future clients. I answered from my own personal experience though. One of the core values of Phenix Counseling is that I cannot take anyone where I have not personally gone (in terms of the process of facing our own shadow selves).
So for me, it begins with awareness. Recognizing not only the problem, but also (usually with the help of another), how I am contributing to the problem. What is it about me exactly that is facilitating the pattern and how did I come to be that way? I need this insight in order to have productive conversations with myself and that is pretty much the meat and potatoes of the change process for me. Let me break it down:
- When I figure out the past experiences that led to my current way of approaching things and what meanings I made of those past experiences, I can choose a new perspective that will give me the motivation and logic to take a different path in the here and now.
- Looking at the question of – how did I come to be this way…why am I behaving dysfunctionally – helps me understand myself enough to figure out what need I’m trying to meet. I have to brainstorm ways to meet that need in a healthier way if I am to have any hope of success. I turn these ideas into practical plans: what will do instead, when and how will I make that happen?
- Then….the rubber meets the road. Real life sets in and change comes down to tiny moments of decision we face in the everyday. Here’s where that constant conversation with self comes in. It’s a messy process and it took me a little while to try and explain it. At first, I catch myself “after the fact”. I resort to my old ways but at least I realize it soon after. Then…I start to catch myself during the process. I remember when I decided to relate to my husband differently, there were times when words from my old perspective would be coming out of my mouth but in my head I would be thinking, “you need to stop talking”. Yet somehow…the word vomit continued and I was faced with cleaning up the mess afterward. Then comes the ability to choose my new strategies before I mess it up. This begins to happen more often than not until I solidify my new way of being.
Of course, it never happens in this linear fashion – I circle around and through these stages in no particular order until I establish some sort of stability. Oh how I wish it was like the one-way journey of the caterpillar to the butterfly! All of this has to happen within the context (cocoon) of others who can help me analyze and assess my thoughts and behaviors throughout the process and with folks who have the patience and ego strength to be on the receiving end of my changes. I am blessed to have that kind of environment and often, I find the greatest work in therapy is helping my clients build such a support system before they can tackle the things they need to change within themselves.
I hope this little window into my world helps those who struggle to become who they are meant to be. Our journeys are unique – others would describe their process differently but I believe the commonalities are the mess and the time it takes to cross the desert of transformation – it’s always longer than we planned. Wherever you are in that trip, be encouraged and don’t skimp on the task of ensuring you have solid travel partners!