4 years ago I have written an article with a provocative title “People don’t change” (link below), and now the time has come to update my stance on this subject.
I really enjoy writing second parts to my original pieces. This allows me to follow up on my previous thought with the additional wisdom I collected on my journey. To track my own progress, witness the transformation and the deepening of understanding that inevitably comes with time. Not just in theory, but more than anything, in practice. And not always limited to my experience , but also based on the observations of my circle. Both inner and outer. Particularly with this subject, the observation of other people is especially important, and here is why:
There seem to be two completely opposite ideology camps in relation to this topic. One of the camps has an empowering narrative , the other one less so. But what is truly fascinating is that despite the fact that they are so very polarised, significant amounts of people believe in either one or the other. I suppose this tendency for the polarising ideologies is somehow part of human nature, we see it playing out frequently in the society. Yet in this case it feels different, as well as a lot more interesting to me, as it isn’t about politics or different life philosophies , it’s about the psychological make up of a human being.
For me only one of those narratives makes sense, because I live and breathe transformation. “People don’t change” to me sounds a lot more ridiculous than let’s say “the Earth is flat”. To be fair, these days you can probably find plausible evidence online for both of those statements, yet this doesn’t make them any less bizarre. Of course, I can’t speak for all people , there is no such thing as putting 8 billion people in a box, no matter the label. But in my reality, people not only change, they are intentionally working on their transformations. By whatever method appeals to them; whether by reading books, reflecting on their patterns in therapy or alone , meditating; even by simply acknowledging the need to heal their childhood wounds. More than that, they see all of those things as absolutely necessary ingredients in living meaningful lives. After all, if it is true that an individual cannot change, the society is doomed.
Generally speaking, people willingly accept and believe in the physical evolution, aka Darwin’s theory, yet are less inclined to acknowledge that there is something else happening evolutionary speaking. More subtle, yet in my opinion a lot more powerful. I think the key difference between these two kinds of evolution, is the fact that the former happens without our conscious awareness, intelligence of our bodies is doing the work of adapting and transforming the organism. The latter however requires a conscious decision in order for it to happen, this is why we have a free will; we can choose to either transform our personalities, or to remain the same. This is the beauty of it, and very likely one of the main reasons why the opinions in this matter are so very divided. The choice can really go either way. Some schools of thought don’t even believe in free will, and advocate the determinism instead. As in everything being predetermined and people not having any say in the matter, also known as fate. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. It is not either or, it is nuanced. While certain things are indeed predetermined, others are not. There is a certain degree of freedom in our choices, but we are indeed limited by things such as the ancestral influences, early life conditioning, limiting beliefs and patterns picked up from our environments etc. Not that it is impossible to shift all of the above, but this is where the conscious transformation enters the picture. Or not. Furthermore, it isn’t simply the case of - if I choose to evolve, I can do or be anything I want. The options will surely expand, but it is a gradual process, and is hardly linear. There are still limitations in this human experience, but with more self-awareness , we get more choice in the matter. A good analogy is a menu we are given in a restaurant, at first consisting of just couple of dishes, but as a result of inner work, gradually increasing the items on the list. With an occasional regression back to a lesser amount. Two steps forward, one step back kinda thing.
I believe one of the reasons this kind of transformation is not as popular as the external changes, is precisely the nature of it. It is more abstract so to speak, less linear and less measurable. And our society has been dominant in the left brain, scientific thinking for some time now. Don’t get me wrong, science is a great tool we have at our disposal, but it doesn’t answer life’s deeper questions. It mainly deals with the visible world, world that can be perceived by one’s senses: seen, touched, measured, weighed etc. You can observe the physical growth of a plant, animal and a human. The internal shifts of the psyche aren’t as obvious. External observation alone simply cannot access the inner alchemy , this is when one must look within. Perhaps the fact that our whole culture has been reduced to the materialistic view of the reality, is one of the reasons that the value of other kinds of evolving wasn’t as popular. Until now.
Having said all of the above, I do admit that change is far from easy and I am far from being honest with myself when I believe that I am committed to it daily. The truth is, we are all subjects to inertia , and falling back into less than useful habits when we feel good. And then there are the distractions, addictions and other “perks” of modern lifestyle. What I noticed in the recent years however, is that if I don’t intentionally change things in my life, they will be changed regardless, and in the extremely uncomfortable ways.
This brings me to another important point; over the years I realised that there is also a trauma informed lens when it comes to all of this. Yes to change and transformation as an overall trajectory of one’s life, yes to getting out of one’s comfort zone and expanding , however there is a caveat. This is only possible when one is feeling relatively safe, aka regulated on a nervous system level. And I don’t mean slight anxiety/worrying which is natural before we get out of our comfort zone and try new things. Certain level of fear is to be expected and worked with. However, if one is in a chronically dysregulated nervous system state, the system doesn’t have any capacity or space for change, it needs to get to the safety first. It is probably hard to understand what kind of states I am referring to, unless one has been through them, but for the folk with a significant amount of unprocessed trauma/survival stress in their physiology- it can be retraumatising if they push forward before they are ready. Mind over matter does not work at all times, when the nervous system is chronically dysregulated, there is simply no capacity for change, as the survival is prioritised. We do it when we feel calm enough, and when it is possible to tolerate the inevitable distress that comes with getting out of one’s comfort zone without getting totally overwhelmed, and as result becoming more hopeless that the change is even possible.
The image below is sort of mirroring this, a delicate butterfly (the universal symbol of transformation), sits on a visibly weary trainer, perhaps of a person who was rushing around doing various tasks, unable to stop and appreciate the present moment. If the butterfly lands on a person, anyone with some degree of awareness would stop in order to witness this beauty. And they would by default become more gentle, more present and more careful with this elegant creature in front of them. It feels too sacred to just bulldoze ones way around it. I believe our inner worlds are the same, and we need to approach them with kindness , patience and love.
Which brings me to another important point to address , the need to approach this work with the right intention. I think for a lot of us, it is oftentimes coming from a place of shame and feeling not good enough. Ironically, with this attitude it is a lot harder to arrive to a sustainable level of transformation. It is not done for the right reasons so to speak. To me change is intimately linked with healing, and a big part of the healing process is developing self-compassion. Any decent therapy modality is based on this understanding, it is fundamental , as without developing a loving relationship with ourselves, we won’t get very far. If anything, simply by acquiring a healthy level of self-love, we will be transformed in the most beautiful ways by default. 🦋
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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