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Recent Letter to the ElderWisdomCircle™

SELF-IMPROVEMENT: Help me be okay with changing
Letter #: 408853
Category: Self-Improvement

Original Letter

Recently my shrink and I have gotten to the core of my depression which has been affecting me for about 6 years now. This was a very hopeful discovery and made me feel great for a little while, but soon I returned to my usual hopeless state. The main reason for my depression, we determined, is my fear of conflict stemming from the relationship I had with my parents as a child.  My father was a violent man who was quick to anger and was a bit of an alcoholic, and my mother was irritable, extremely critical and sarcastic, as well as verbally abusive from dealing with my father. This made me quickly develop a fear of conflict from dealing with the two of them. Unknown to me, this fear grew larger and began affecting bigger and bigger decisions going on in my life: coming out to my parents, choosing a first job, etc. It then began to affect how I viewed myself as a person, seeing myself as more of a coward and a monster than a human being, and with that, obviously, my self-worth dropped drastically as well as my standards, not just for myself but for who I dated and befriended. Eventually I saw my personality slip away as I tried to be as malleable as possible, changing the way I acted and spoke around people just to get them to like me more so I wouldn't have to be alone, and eventually I couldn't remember who I really was, which was a hard realization. Now I've gone through a long journey of self-discovery, but at the end I sit here realizing the cause of it all and I can't help but wonder if I do cleanse myself of my depression, how would everything change? My personality is greatly reliant on my self-deprecating humor and my ability to shift myself to a person people enjoy; would I still have friends? family? If so, how would they see the new me? The fear of that happening is really holding me back from changing my life for the better, and although I consciously know that, I can't seem to bring myself to do it. How can I convince myself to change things for the better, and what steps should I take in figuring out who I really am while building an accurate image of myself? 

Elder Response

It sounds like you've done a lot of good, hard work, John. Uncovering all of that stuff can't have been easy, and I salute you for sticking with the program even when it was painful.

I know you'll be working through your current questions and doubts with your therapist, and I'm not sure I have much to add to what you and s/he will deal with. I can say, though, that I think good therapy has four major parts, and you seem to have arrived near the end of the first one. That first one is the "archaeology phase": digging deeper and deeper until you find the roots of the thing that brought you to therapy. The second phase involves exactly the question you wrote to us about: deciding whether and what you want to change. Weighing the costs and benefits of changing. Thinking about what changing will mean. Sorting out what you want to give up and what you want to keep. Too many folks, I think, whip through this phase too quickly, assuming that of course they want to change; that's why they came in the first place. But -- as you are realizing -- it's not a simple decision. Take your time as you deal with it.

If you do decide that you want to make major changes, you move into phase 3: actually changing the old habits of thinking and feeling. Different therapists approach this phase in different ways, so I won't make any predictions about how it will be for you -- except that it won't be like flipping a switch. You've been acting on old perceptions and beliefs and survival strategies for years and years, and it will take time and effort to exchange them for more useful ones.

And the last phase is what a friend of mine calls the "hello-goodby" phase. Saying hello to the new, updated you, and getting used to living without the old stuff. And saying goodby to your therapist (not an easy thing, either, after all those years) because your work is done. You may need an occasional "well-baby check," but it won't ever be the same between you. Saying goodby will be bittersweet for both you and your therapist. Your concerns are a perfectly normal, absolutely predictable, important (and often necessary) part of your therapy. Congratulate yourself on getting this far!

You may want to show this letter to your therapist, just in case s/he disagrees with any part of it. If so, s/he will need to tell you why I'm mistaken, so that nothing I've said will get in the way of your future work.

I'm glad you wrote to us, John, and I'd love to hear from you again as you continue your journey. Good luck!

Best Regards,



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