Friday, October 24, 2014

The Destructive Power of Change

When I was getting my teaching certificate, an Education professor told me that in order for students to learn, they had to go from a place of discomfort to comfort.

Think about that for a moment.

Most of us are perfectly content to stay right where we are, thank you very much. We want to believe what we believe, think what we think and stay where we are. Changing our thoughts and minds is upsetting. If we’ve believed that the earth is flat and someone comes along and says it’s round, we’re bound to be confused. Our worldview has literally been disrupted.

Now we are uncomfortable and agitated. We need to right ourselves again. Perhaps we go to Google and see if we can confirm what we already believed, or discover more evidence for this new information. Or we need to talk about it. Process it. And once we’ve read enough, researched enough, and/or talked to enough people and processed our feelings about this new information, we either accept or reject it. We either learn something new or stay where we are. But in order to learn, we have to go through this discomfort.

It’s what I did in my classroom with my students. An English teacher challenges you about what you read. An English teacher asks questions, teases out thoughts and responses, pushes you to consider something you may not have seen or challenges your interpretation. This can be a jarring experience. Students can rebel, argue or just be plain confused. But no matter where the students wind up, a good teacher is disruptive. A good teacher will challenge the students and make them uncomfortable.

In order to learn, we must change. We must go from a state of discomfort (confusion, fear, pain) to a place of comfort (understanding, acceptance, enlightenment). I’d even go so far as to say that change is not only difficult, it's ugly.

Consider the butterfly. We talk about the caterpillar transforming into the beautiful butterfly. But what about the process of metamorphosis itself? Isn’t it ugly? Isn’t it disturbing? Just look at the word “pupa.” That is one ugly word. Consider the process of shedding one’s cocoon or skin. Molting? It’s the stuff of horror films. Whether it be humanoids encased in jellied eggs in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Jeff Goldblum’s face erupting into greasy insect skin in The Fly, metamorphosis is one ugly process.

It makes sense. In order to change from one thing into another, the prior self must be destroyed. Yes it is replaced with something far more beautiful and evolved, but the process of change itself can be violent and unpleasant.

I think it’s the main reason people avoid therapy. To change your inner self, to undergo the metamorphosis of the psyche requires addressing the ugly stuff that’s buried within that nice cocoon you’ve built. You’ve got to rip it apart. Chew your way out from within. Destroy everything you’ve known in order to be reborn.

Change is hard. We say those three little words as if it makes it easier. As though it’s easily summed up. Heck, I’ve used that phrase myself to help cope with it. For instance I’ve recently changed jobs. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be this hard. Yes, it is good for me. Yes, I was stagnating after staying in the same place for seven years. But damn, it’s really hard! I wake up from anxiety dreams where everyone at a meeting speaks a foreign language or speaks so softly I can’t hear them. I grind my teeth at night and my jaw aches. It’s only my second week at the new gig, so it’s not the end of the world.

But I didn’t expect it to be quite this hard.

I’m also in therapy and I’m working on a memoir with a writing coach. Those are acts of transformation. And they are harder than I thought they would be. Facing the truth about what I’ve been through and who I've become is incredibly difficult. We bury our pain for a reason. And I’m one to pull my finger away from anger as though I’ve touched something hot.

But you can’t look at where you’ve been and what you’ve become—and not have to cope with whatever it is you were hiding from in the first place. In my case it's anger. I don't like to be angry and I don't like conflict. I'd rather shove it all deep within my belly and not deal with it. If you're familiar with that strategy of dealing with trauma, you'll know that it's not particularly effective. When you bury all the hurt and anger of being abused and neglected as a child, that sort of pain festers. You haven't eliminated it at all. Instead, you've let it metastasize within you and it will consume you. It will make you sick. If you root it out and deal with it in the light of day, no matter how painful that process, you've at least got a shot at healing. At transforming even.

And all of this is ugly. It is destructive. And it makes it difficult to write here. It makes it difficult to cope with the aftermath of writing about my eating disorder on the Huffington Post. When all you have ever done is work to hide such things, it is indeed difficult to reveal them.

It’s ugly.

It’s destructive.

And yet I want to fly.


  1. You're already on the launch pad.

  2. Change is hard and there you are, doing it. Embracing it and chewing out of the cocoon. Lately I've found myself surprised when stuff ISN'T harder than I expected. Just about everything in my life over the past two years has felt much harder than I thought it would be. But then lovely, lovely time saves the day. It passes and slowly everything falls back into place. One area settles and I can move on to disrupt another.

    I know all the growth stuff is important, but I sure hope work gets easier for you soon.

    1. Me too! And thanks for writing about all the change you've been through. It's been inspirational.

  3. That's it right there. The change that can freeze me, but I feel it when I need it. It takes work, and I've thought lately... maybe not everyone is like me? Maybe not everyone enters timidly... it's just occurring to me how very different I am. (I love it when you write)

  4. Great post, Mandy! Change is hard. Luckily there is no timetable. You are doing exactly what you need to do and succeeding. I call women like you - women who face their stories - spiritual warriors. I'm proud to know you.

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Mandy. I'm about to get uncomfortable and it's definitely a little scary

  6. I am so glad you want to fly, Mandy. Your writing gives me wings, too. But it doesn't really matter if it does or it doesn't. You write because you must.

    I am also so pleased that you recognize that you are, simply, a butterfly. You are beautiful and also full of change and discomfort. You squeeze yourself into that chrysalis and break out of it, repeatedly. But you are not a duck or a fish or a turtle.

    You are a writer. Thank you so much for being brave and for teaching me to be braver, too.

    1. Wow that's a damn nice thing to say. Thanks for the encouragement. Sometimes I think I'm talking to myself. Thank you so much for telling me that this resonates with you. <3

  7. I've never learned anything meaningful or important from a positive situation. The pain and difficulty of change is always equal to the breakthrough and the learning on the other side. The worst part of it is now that I know it, I can only shake my head and work through it when things are ugly...sometimes I still cry or whine or stomp my feet anyway, all the time knowing that the lesson will be worth it. We're growing up. Ick.
    ps. Miss your blogs.

    1. Agree. It's the tough stuff that learns us. Dammit.

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