Happy New Year!
Have you taken a moment yet to ponder your personal successes and shortcomings over this past year? Have you quietly said to yourself: "This year will be different. I'm not going to make the same mistakes. Perhaps it's time to change my bad habits."
Ahhh... that's right, it's New Year's resolution time. I still can't fit into my old size-32 jeans, which was one of my resolutions last year. But I'll be dammed if I don't make the effort again in 2011. And you know what? That's okay. Resolutions are made to be broken. Now this isn't a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. But the reason we usually make a resolution is because we want to change some particular behavior. It's not always gonna happen the first time you try - or the second - or even the third.
I don't treat extreme mental disorders. Most of my clients have mild to moderate problems. And most of them (if not all) come to therapy because they want to break a negative pattern of behavior they keep repeating. For example, compulsively loving someone that doesn't love them back. Or staying in careers that make them sad and unfulfilled. Or wondering why they keep sabotaging their successes when goals are almost attained.
Freud would say that perhaps we are recreating the same feelings, conflicts and relationship styles that we experienced in childhood. Others might think that we're masochists and want to avoid pleasure. Or is it simply an addiction? Are we addicted to negative behaviors that we just have to repeat?
If you believe how we were raised as children directly influences how we value ourselves, how we navigate through life and how happy we are as adults, then you agree with the majority of the professional research in this area.
(Note to self: Make sure I tell my kids that they are good, lovable, worthwhile and important. That, though life is full of challenges, it can still be an exciting and fun place to be in.)
So what do we do, then, if our parents weren't well-versed in their abilities to shape us into positive, healthy, risk-taking individuals? If we were conditioned to be who we are today, then what's the point? Do we give up trying to change? Are we forever a prisoner of our past?
Welcome to our comfort zone. It's what we call home. It's why we only brush with Colgate rather than Crest (blegh!). It's why we vote the way we do. It's the type of friends we keep, the foods we eat, the spouses we choose, the neighborhoods we pick to live in. We're simply creatures of habit. And when we step outside these comfort zones, anxiety comes knocking. Who wants that kind of stress, right? I know I don't.
Years ago, I worked with a teenage foster child who was finally succeeding in school, getting good grades and had hopes of going to college. She had a great support system with her foster family, social workers, therapist, etc.
Her biological family (who were uneducated, had very little means, and were proud of their working class heritage) became rejecting and critical when they saw their daughter breaking the mold. Her straying from her family's comfort zone was a huge slap in the face. A "fork in the road" was materializing for this young woman. She had an important decision to make.
Sadly, when this child returned home, college no longer entered the picture. Stepping away from her family's embrace was too much to bear. The risk of loss was too great. She went back to being who she was expected to be... so that she could be loved.
When we face change and look to escape our comfort zone, it can be scary. We need to be prepared and surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to stay on track. We need to understand what it is that scares us when we step over that line. Who are we letting down by changing? Whose voices are playing in our heads that tell us not to do it? But, perhaps most importantly, we need to separate ourselves from the influences of those who can't tolerate our growth.
My resolution this year is to stretch and grow (not in the waist, please, please!). Take on new challenges and continue to redefine my passions. What are yours? How are you going to find the help to step out of your comfort zone?
If you're not happy with what you are getting from life, then stop doing what you're doing. Don't wait for the world to give you value. You need to create your own value first, then send it out to the world for others to enjoy and benefit from.