I am sometimes reminded in my work as a psychotherapist of the urgency to ‘fix’ worries about change without exploring past experiences of change and what change represents to us all. I remind clients that the past is often our present until we come to an understanding and acceptance of our past. Acceptance does not mean that we are pleased with past experiences and changes but more that we learn to tolerate these experiences. Therapy allows us to talk about and ‘unpack’ past experiences so we have acceptance, thus creating a space to move forward. This is always gentle and client led work, whereby the client allows the therapist into their past and present inner world. This paper examines the significance of change and personal growth in childhood and into adulthood and how therapy can resolve past experiences and build a bridge to recovery. This process is approached with a curiosity as to what may need to be resolved to fully move forward in life and live in the present.
Attachment theory explores relationships between individuals. Bowlby was one of the first theorists to suggest that our feelings may be linked to our early relationships. When we feel securely attached to others we can relate more easily and express our feelings and understand our feelings both with them and in other relationships. Feelings of anxiety and wanting to avoid situations or certain people in our lives may be due to feeling unsure about people and events and lead to an avoidance in our relationships and towards change. If we feel an ambivalent attachment style to others we may be quite unsure of our feelings towards others and changes. These are all attachment patterns that we may repeat in our relationships until we realise why we react in this way. Patterns may be repeated again and again over one’s lifetime until we become more aware of our reactions to events and our role in understanding, accepting, healing and moving forward. As mentioned, we learn how to be and how to relate from our early life experiences and our subsequent experiences. Therapy supports us to understand our relationships with others and it also supports how we relate to changes in our lives. In adulthood understanding why we may react to certain situations may be related to our attachment style and coping mechanisms. Are we comfortable talking about feelings? Who do we seek comfort from and who do we avoid comfort from? What may we avoid addressing and what are triggers of upset or confusion for us? Who do we feel most comfortable around and what relationships lead to feelings of ambivalence or anxiety? What changes have we had in our lives and how have these changes impacted us? These wonderings may be approached with a gentle curiosity and a non-judgemental attitude towards ourselves. There are many theories on change and a lot of suggestions about how we must ‘manage’ or ‘embrace’ change but what if change and transitions have been difficult for you? What if change has been imposed on you or presents unwanted feelings? What if the unknown is hard to enter into?
Erikson was a psychologist who developed psychosocial stages that highlight changes which encompass our entire life span. These changes span from early infancy to childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, maturity and old age and all these stages encompass significant change. Psychotherapy recognises these life changes and also recognises that there are many more changes we encounter and transitioning through the many changes in life can take time. How we feel about change may be based on our supports, our relationships and our past and present experiences. According to Erikson, if one or more of these life stages were not resolved, these may create feelings of being stuck or unable to move forward in later life. Therapy can create a bridge to gently enter into the unknown and learn acceptance. It is not necessary to know any theory when considering therapy. The psychotherapist holds this responsibility. Perhaps the earlier theory and questions have presented some questions to you that may warrant exploration in a safe and therapeutic space? To hold a curiosity about why you may feel a certain way has already begun the process of change for you. You may notice that change may be hard for you and entering into therapy is another change, yet working with the therapist in the safe space of the therapy room may help to resolve and truly embrace change. For the client what is required is to hold an openness to exploration and build trust in the therapist to work with these unconscious processes. It is this therapist’s belief that the positive relationship between the therapist and client is characterised by a nurturing space to foster growth and recovery. Neuroplasticity is a more recent concept which may be key to developing new ways of coping and adapting to change by developing more self-awareness and one way of achieving this is in therapy. When clients explore life experiences and changes which they may have had, they build on these neural connections and learn new habits and coping mechanisms.
If these feelings of change resonate with you perhaps therapy may be beneficial in unlocking the past and moving forward into the present. Therapy may be helpful in exploring our reactions to life events as we all have the capacity to change how we understand and deal with change. If you are considering a change, experiencing a change or transitioning from a change you are already creating space in your life for something new to emerge. Change may be embraced and you can move forward to achieve your goals.