Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Uzma Mazhar © 1997
Change does not occur overnight and usually never goes as planned.
Change impacts three areas of a person’s life —
their thoughts, feelings and actions.
People adapt to any change by moving through three psychological stages, beginning with denial, then resistance, followed by acceptance.
The process is not always linear. People move through these stages at different rates.
The initial reaction: Denial or Shock
People first respond to change with denial and shock. They say things like "I canÂ’t believe this is happening" or "I donÂ’t believe it."
Before a change is announced all is well. People know what is expected of them and they know the criteria by which they are judged. They have a sense of predictability and control. With the announcement of change, suddenly everything becomes unpredictable, unknown and out of their control.
Shock has an evolutionary biological foundation. When threatened most people have a 'fight or flight' response. This reaction served a protective function when primitive man faced life-threatening situations.
Shock serves a protective function. Change is often experienced as a threat. But fighting or fleeing are not the only responses. In some situations we 'freeze'... become immobilized. We stop what we are doing and the ability to attend to and retain information is diminished. Some also become depressed and feel helpless and hopeless. They feel over-whelmed and shut down. This is an internal system that leads to adaptation.
The second state of change: Resistance or Opposition
It takes some time for the shock to wear off. At this point, resistance and opposition sets in. People refuse to let go of the familiar way of doing things. They oppose any and all attempts to voluntarily change and look with suspicion at attempts to introduce change. They feel forced and coerced. They resist having to give up their choice.
The element of fear sets in. They don't know what to expect. They don't know how to be. They have lost the parameters or rules/expectations with which they lived. They doubt themselves and everyone who demands that change. They may react with anger because of their fear.
People may oppose change for weeks or months. The length of time is determined by the magnitude and scope of change they are being asked to adapt to, as well the amount of change they have assimilated in the past. Too many changes, over a short period of time, will exhaust anyoneÂ’s capacity to adapt to change.
Opposition is marked by a decrease in co-operation. Some people become ill, take time off from work, withdraw from team activities, and everyone complains and argue. Stress and fear 'somatizes' ie: it manifests as physical illnesses.
Change is also about giving up control. This is very apparent in relationships, especially abusive relationships. When one partner expects the other to stop 'bullying' them, the abusive partner has to learn to give up their control of that person and that situation. Few are comfortable letting go of their 'power' and will resist change.
Encouragement, support and patience makes the process easier.
The third stage of change: Adaptation or Acceptance
Things start looking better as people begin to recognize that their fears have not been substantiated. They begin to discover new ways of doing things and experiment with new possibilities; they experience a renewed sense of competence and security. This is a positive, future-focused phase. People begin to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
After having lived with the new changes for a while, people usually become involved again. They adapt to the new way of doing things. They exert effort individually and as a team. There is more cooperation, better focus, improved communication, and a genuine search for opportunities to improve.
PeopleÂ’s progress is determined by:
their personal coping abilities or experience with adapting to change in the past
the amount and frequency of change that they have had to assimilate in recent history
the significance of the losses that they face when asked to change.
And of course there will always be some who act like stubborn mules. ;-) They dig in their heels and refuse to budge. Depending on how invested you are in them, you can either exert the effort to pull them along, or let them be and move on.

ptimistic vs. Pessimistic Thinking <../../psychstuff/optimism_vs__pessimism.htm>
Untwist your Thinking <../../psychstuff/untwist_thinking.htm>
Styles of Distorted Thinking <../../psychstuff/distorted_thinking.htm>
Tips for Better Thinking to Feel Better <../../psychstuff/better_thinking.htm>
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