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As a species, we have no choice but to adapt to changing circumstances to survive. The theory of evolution asserts that adaptability is one of our greatest assets. Though we have a great capacity to handle change and adapt to difficulties, we tend to not want to. Many people are risk-averse and like to stick to those things that they already know. It is only when forced to adapt that we do, and many of us kick and scream along the way.
Even though we can adapt to change, why do so many of us choose not to? Why do we stay in bad situations, or continue bad habits when we intuitively know that they serve no purpose? What exactly is the fear of the unknown and how does it influence us to make decisions in our lives? Here is what the experts say-
Examples of a Fear of Change
When an opportunity for change comes about, many people find themselves feeling depressed, tired, stressed, anxious, and in pain. These feelings serve as a buffer to prevent us from handling a risk. We can focus on these discomforting feelings and then not do what needs to be done to get through the change itself. Examples of risk-averse choices include-
· Staying in a toxic relationship
· Staying in a dead-end job
· Avoiding counseling when depressed
· Refusing to try new activities/foods/experiences
· Using negative coping skills even after learning positive coping skills
· Refusing to move when the opportunity arises
Why Do We Fear Change?
It doesn’t make any sense. Why would we rather stay in a bad relationship, a dead-end job, or eat the same foods every day when something much better may be around the corner? The reason we fear change is complex, centers around our aversion to unknown outcomes. Our brains are created to enjoy what we know, what we have learned, and what we have seen.
When we see or experience something familiar, our brain rewards us with a spark of dopamine. When we see something familiar, we feel safe. We find it difficult to move on to the next experience once something is no longer working for us. As miserable as we may be, we think at least we can handle it.
There is evidence to suggest just how pervasive this mentality is. For example, many individuals who grew up in dysfunctional families tend to seek out relationships with dysfunctional people later in life. Though there may have been opportunities to date or befriend those who are mentally healthy, positive, and motivated, we tend to seek out the familiar. Therefore, even though we know that dysfunction is unhealthy because of our past experiences with it, we continue to seek out what we know.
Why is it Bad to Avoid Change?
Some risk aversion is beneficial to our safety. We don’t want to take up every risk that comes along our path or we wouldn’t have any stability in our lives. There are good elements to our lives that don’t need to be changed. The goal is to find those elements that aren’t serving us and learn how to discard them while learning coping skills to handle the fear that goes along with that.
Avoiding good change is “what-if” based. It’s looking at a situation and anticipating the worst-case-scenario. For example, if we stay in a dead-end job, we might tell ourselves, “Well at least I’m getting paid. I need to pay my rent. There’s so much uncertainty right now. What if nobody else will hire me?” None of these thoughts are reality-based but future-based.
The goal is to find those things we want to change and then create a methodical plan to address them. If you aren’t happy with your career, it isn’t a good idea to just quit without having a plan. Start going to interviews, look around, and set goals for yourself. When you are ready to quit, you’ll be prepared for the brand-new opportunity waiting for you. The change won’t be as anxiety producing as it would be if you were unprepared.
Extreme Fear of Change
Everyone is afraid of change to one extent or another. But when it’s so pervasive that it interferes with one’s ability to function, to form relationships, or stay safe, then it is no longer an option. There are certain changes that we must make if we need to survive. If you feel frightened of any change or risk, you may be suffering from anxiety or depression. Please consult with a mental health professional to find coping skills that help confront risk and change in your life.
Do you struggle with change or confrontation? If so, please contact Straight Talk counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. one of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.