Change can be the most wonderful experience of your life: meeting the man of your dreams, becoming a mum, landing your new job. But it can also be the most terrifying and worst thing to ever happen to you: losing a loved one, being made redundant, divorce.
The vast majority of us are afraid of change – it’s just that some of us cover up that fear better than others. So why the hell does change terrify us so much?
We are creatures of habit. We like things to be just so and to remain that way. It feels safe. We know what to expect. It’s all under control.
When change happens it throws all of that into a tailspin.
First of all let’s address the two different types of change:
1) When change happens to you
This is the hardest and scariest type of change. The one we spend our life trying to avoid.
This kind of change is out of our control – someone else is pulling the strings here.
What kind of change am I talking about here?
- When you get called into your boss’s office to be told you’re being let go
- That phone call from the hospital informing you “we did everything we could” when a loved one dies
- Discovering that revealing text on your partner’s phone, finding out about his affair and being faced with his request for a divorce
These are just three examples of change that happens to you. You have no say in the matter and the situation is not yours to control. There are many others along these lines but these are the main ones – death, divorce and losing a job.
Anyone who has gone through any of these will tell you they’re pretty much hell on earth, so totally understandable to be feared.
If you have ever experienced any change along these lines I don’t need to describe to you the sick feeling in your stomach, the tears, the anger, the asking “why?”.
What does that change mean? How will you cope (emotionally, financially, practically)? What does it mean for your kids? What should you do next?
It is certain that when unexpected change comes along it throws up a myriad of questions.
I remember one of the scariest moments of change I had like this. I was 25 and living with my boyfriend of 3 years. We’d recently bought a house together and things seemed to be going well between the two of us. Or so I thought. As suddenly I was thrown into the breakdown of our relationship as he left me for his colleague.
Cue the sick feeling in my stomach. The disbelief. Yet the belief at the same time.
That change threw up so many emotions:
- Shame – what would people think about the fact he left me for another woman? Would they be all pointing their finger at me?
- Sadness – at the relationship coming to an end.
- Fear – so many fears. Fear of how I would survive financially as my salary was very low at the time. Fear of ever finding someone who would love me. Fear of meeting someone and never being able to trust again.
As with every change time is a great healer.
Our break-up dragged on for 5 long, horrific months so when we finally split up and told people I was relieved. I was ready to move on.
I stopped feeling shame. He’d fallen in love with someone else. Who he was no doubt better suited to.
I got to remembering the happy times and being pleased I’d had them.
I put a plan in place so I would be ok financially.
I gave myself a right talking to: I was 25, there was someone out there for me. Someone who would love me for me. And I would be able to trust that new person.
It wasn’t easy. Change never is easy.
But it made me into a much better person. More than that, it turned me into a much happier person.
If my ex had not left me I would not have been out in a bar in Nice on a Saturday night, chatting to a very nice man. I wouldn’t have given him my phone number when he asked for it. I wouldn’t have met up with him again the following week. I wouldn’t have kissed him. I wouldn’t have talked to him for hours on end and clicked with him, like no one before. I would not have walked down the aisle and said “I do” to that man from the bar 20 months later. And I wouldn’t have ended up married to the very right person for me.
That change was scary as hell. But I absolutely dread to think what would have happened if it hadn’t taken place.
When you’re in the middle of change it feels like hell on earth. Like you’ll never get out of it alive. As if life will never be good / happy / the same again.
But you’d be amazed at what us humans can cope with.
Now what about the other type of change…
2) When you make a conscious change
- You applied for a new job, and got it.
- You’re in a new relationship and totally loved up.
- You’ve moved to your dream house.
Why on earth would you be afraid of these positive changes that you made a conscious decision to bring about?
Because you’re only human and you’re likely to have the following conversation going through your head:
“What if they realise I’m not up to the job and I get fired and then have no job?”
“What if he finds out what I’m really like and dumps me and I’m all alone?”
“What if we have horrible neighbours, or the school is shit or the house actually has rising damp and needs to be destroyed and then we left our old house – which was fine – for nothing?”
We struggle to be happy sometimes, and expect something bad to come and bite us on the bum.
What can we do about our fear of change?
First of all acknowledging it will take you a long way. Realise you are afraid of change. Admit it. Accept it. Know and acknowledge you are not alone and that being afraid of change makes you human.
Let’s start with the easier of the two: the change that you bring about yourself.
Your new job, new relationship, new home.
Take a blank sheet of paper and write down all the absolute worst things that could happen in this new world.
- Maybe they’ll realise you’re not up to the job and you get fired.
- Perhaps your new man will realise you fart in your sleep and will leave you.
- Or maybe you move in next to the neighbours from hell and have to leave the dream house.
What does it feel like if any of these come true? When you write it down on a piece of paper, does it look as scary as it felt in your head? Most of the time that takes some of the fear away, as we realise that we can actually handle it if we had to.
If you’re still feeling too wobbly about it all, draw up your Plan B. What would you do if any of these things happened? Do you have another job you could go to? You know you’ll find another man if this one isn’t “the one”. And who said you could only have one dream house?
By doing these exercises you take the fear out of that type of change.
What about the change that is inflicted on you?
I’m a control freak and I don’t like it when someone else is pulling the strings. But something happened over a decade ago which has had a profound effect on me.
I was at a women’s business networking group and there was a speaker talking about NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). And something she said has stayed with me ever since:
“You can change your actions and reactions to other people, but you can never change somebody else’s actions or the way they are.”
You have absolute control over your life, but you cannot – no matter how much you try to – change other people’s actions or the way they are.
If your partner wants to end the relationship, work on how you’re going to handle that, rather than trying to convince him it’s the wrong decision.
If your boss tells you it’s time to let you go, by all means ask how you could have avoided it or what you could have done better / differently. But know that the next step is all about you and what you choose to do.
You decide on what happens in your life, no one else – they just have bit parts in the blockbuster you are staring in.
If your husband decides to have an affair and run off with his secretary you decide if you want to ever get into another relationship. You decide if you want to run off on a round the world trip to deal with it. You decide if you’d like to change careers and homes now you’re free from the shackles of that relationship.
When I was in my 20s I worked in an office where we’d all been delivered some fairly shocking news, and everyone had to learn to deal with the change in their own way. One of the company’s directors bought everyone a copy of a book which I found incredibly helpful for dealing with that change: Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson is a must-read if you struggle with change.
My 2 key take-aways for dealing with change and the fear of change
- Everyone is afraid of change. You are not alone.
- YOU decide. Even if this change happened to you. It’s you at the wheel and no one else.
If you’re struggling with change and your fears surrounding change then grab my FREE video guide to decision-making and facing your fears here.
And remember, YOU decide. Now and always.
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