It’s nowhere near the end of the summer but already I’ve begun to notice my awareness of the progression of the year towards the shorter days. ‘Oh no’, you say, we’ve not even had our summer staycation yet ! Of course, there’s no real evidence of that seasonal change as yet, (it’s still light here till very late in the evening), but my internal alert to the often joked Scottish phrase “the nights are fair drawing in” began just after the summer solstice and wasn’t a welcome guest. Contrary to my belief that I should enjoy the present moment, I’ve caught a whiff of the darkening days gloom as we pass the mid-year mark.
The challenges of readjustment to changing external contexts often features in a client session. Change …..whether desired, resented, manufactured, unexpected, progressive , dramatic, foreseen, tragic, longed-for, feared, demanded….. and the characteristics list goes on, is rarely just ‘simple change’. So often, the readjustment required of us seems inconvenient, distressing or costly. It brings with it the spectres of self-doubt, anticipation of disaster and lost enthusiasm for the new.
Of course, there are the occasions of readjustment emerging from joyful, successful, sought-after or surprisingly welcome change …. but these don’t feature too much in the narratives of therapy. The sometimes useful question of ‘ so has anything changed for the better ?’ is more often met with incredulous silence or an exasperated sigh, than an eager recitation of shifts, readjustments made and movement forward achieved.
In Transactional Analysis, readjustments to implicit beliefs and the ways we play these out and respond to them in our relationships is a central aspect of the therapeutic process. ‘Script’, built and maintained over the years, is formed of the self’s core narratives, and much attention will likely be paid to eliciting these, and through the therapy confronting, re-evaluating, and revising the hold these may have on the client. Hopefully, the process of discovery and co-created understanding leads to the client getting greater insight and energy for the changes they wish to bring about or the awareness they wish to implement in their life.
None of this is necessarily as straight-forward as that last line implies ! The process of radical change to our self-perception, with knock on repercussions in many aspects of our internal life and external relations, can be profoundly threatening, destabilising, and strongly defended against by the door-keepers of our regulating psyche. ‘Script’ can keep us seemingly ‘safe’ … but it is often safety at a price.
I recall one situation, some years back, where an acquaintance was so shaken-up by the potential revision of his Script belief that he had ‘to obey at all costs those in authority over him’, that he chose instead to retire early rather than live and work in a job situation that caused him such internal conflict. The ‘erroneous’ Script belief was so powerful that although it had been brought into conscious thought and its validity reviewed, nevertheless it’s powerful influence remained. The readjustment to a life where his response to authority could be conditional ( on reasonableness and a modified mutual respect), was not conceivable. I was surprised, probably disappointed that he chose what felt to me like a ‘passive response’, and it was only much later that I came to understand the cost of readjustment for him was simply too much of a threat to his settled sense of self.
Time and circumstance inevitably change us and our sense of who we are. A lot of that self has been constructed through the ongoing validation and recognition of others, as well as the internal processes of self-discovery and confirmation over time, and through our responses to life’s demands. Acceptance of the given-ness of change, the acknowledgement that we are no longer as self-assured as we once were, or as ‘strong’, ‘beautiful’, ‘able’, ‘right’….. as we thought we were, can be a profoundly unsettling experience. Our task of readjustment may be fought against, as we struggle to find that self-compassion, gentle kindness and a new curiosity for the ‘self’ that has to come and, with a bit of luck, will be welcomed.