When we are unhappy with our circumstances, we often speak enthusiastically of the importance of change. Realizing that this entails giving up unresolved Needs, we try to have change on the one hand without doing anything different on the other. Therein lies the essence of conflict in the process of change: The Adult (wanting change) runs into the tenacity of the Child (needing nothing to be different). The tension between these two states generates both the motivation for and the resistance to growth.
Emotional growth unquestionably requires courage. Think of how incredibly brave were medieval sailors imbued with Cosmas Indicopleustes’ idea that the earth is flat, yet they were willing to risk sailing beyond the horizon into the abyss. I therefore liken change to falling off the edge of a cliff. It does not take a long time. But our attempt to keep the land of the past in sight impedes our voyage in the present. The courage to grow includes both getting to, and through, zero by breaking free of old bonds and continuing to move in increasingly positive ways, even when we lose sight of home port.
In a recent television program about the animated 3-D film Coraline, its writer and director, Henry Selick, said that when he was young, he thought bravery meant doing things without having any fear. Now, as an adult, he realizes that bravery is all about being afraid but going ahead and doing what has to be done anyway. If all of us who want to change and anxiously stare at the void—the zero we have to traverse—remember that bravery means going ahead and doing what we have to do in spite of our fear, we can embrace our anxiety knowing that without fear there is no challenge, and without challenge there is no change.
Salvador Minuchin, a pioneer in the field of family therapy, in a presentation to a group of therapists offhandedly commented that he had been married to seven women. The audience gasped. He quickly added that perhaps he should explain. In his multiple decades of marriage, he could recognize the stages of growth his wife had gone through and the metamorphoses she had undergone: from the young bride, to a young wife, to a mother, and so forth. He felt most fortunate to have been able to grow with her, he said, otherwise they could have found themselves growing apart. Though such an outcome would have been sad and unfortunate, the consolation would have been the emphasis they put on growing, not on apart. Now that takes courage.
Excerpt from Breaking Free: How Chains From Childhood Keep Us From What We Want