Change is Hard: Why Knowing This Frees Us From Shame

It occurred to me that most of the things I say in this blog aren’t exactly new; they’re simply reminders of things that people already know but perhaps forgot.

Most of us already know that we should, in theory, love ourselves. We know that authenticity is better than self-abandonment or chronic people-pleasing. We know that perfectionism, beating ourselves up, and telling ourselves that our work is never good enough only sabotages creativity and squashes our willingness to offer our talents in the service of others.

But it doesn’t change the fact that when it comes down to it, it’s still hard to implement what we know to be true. It’s like knowing that exercise and healthy eating are the keys to maintaining a healthy body weight, yet we still struggle to change our habits. Behaviour change is complex, and we humans can be stubborn little creatures.

But this same realization that made me question whether my content actually adds value to people’s lives is strangely also a great source of relief and encouragement to me.

My most recent counselling session opened my eyes to this.

I was in the middle of re-processing a painful childhood memory (classic counselling stuff, lol) when my counsellor suddenly interrupted me and said:

“It seems like something is blocking you from experiencing the full weight of your emotions. You are talking about heavy memories, yes, but it seems like there is a part of you that’s refusing to lose its composure. Why are you trying to keep it together? Is there a part of you that is afraid to be vulnerable, to be seen?”

She’d hit the nail right on the head.

I write so much about the importance of authenticity because I have always struggled with it. The younger me learned very quickly that people-pleasing and compliance was the quickest way to gain approval, so I got good—too good—at squashing my true needs, opinions, and emotions down in favour of presenting what I thought people wanted to see. It was a form of self-protection.

I began to believe that if people saw the real me, they’d run the other direction or just be very disappointed. And I couldn’t stand to disappoint, because my self-worth was derived from other people’s opinions. I believed it was my sole responsibility to regulate other people’s emotions for them, which meant masking my own; I didn’t think my true emotions deserved to be expressed.

As I grew up, I knew this was no way to live. I knew that true acceptance and intimacy could only be derived from vulnerability and honesty. I knew that self-respect could only be built through alignment between one’s beliefs and actions. I knew that true liberation was allowing myself to take up space and be seen for who I really am.

So when my counsellor asked me why I was reluctant to allow myself to be vulnerable and seen, I felt at a loss for words—because the truth is, I want nothing more than to be vulnerable and seen.

Why else would I devote hours to repeating this same message of authenticity in blog posts and YouTube videos? I ached to be transparent. I ached for candidness. I ached for my interior world to match what was expressed in my exterior world. So why, despite wanting so badly to be authentic, could I not just do it? Not even in a freaking therapist’s office, which is arguably one of the “safest” places to unmask oneself?

But my counsellor helped me realize that when it comes to healing from trauma, there are a lot more knots to untangle, slowly, one-by-one. Self-awareness is the first step to healing, but behaviour change is much more complex.

In short: it is unfair to expect myself to magically change, simply because I am aware of what needs changing.

It’s almost as useless as telling an abused child, who instinctively gets defensive at the scent of their abuser’s brand of cologne, to simply not react that way because they are “safe now”. Sure, their rational mind might know their abuser is not in the room. But their reactive, unconscious (or subconscious?) mind doesn’t.

Our defense mechanisms become so ingrained and even automatic after being used for a prolonged amount of time that we have little control over them at first. Rationalization can only go so far at the beginning stages of healing trauma. Patience is key.

Knowing this frees us from shame.

All this time, I’d been so ashamed of the fact that I was still struggling with the same sh*t I’d struggled with as a 10-year-old child, nearly 20 years later. (My 10-year-old self used to go to school with notes in my pocket to remind myself to “love myself” and to “be myself”; even at that young age I was already weirdly aware of my struggle with authenticity.)

But as wise as my 10-year-old self was, she didn’t realize that simply telling myself to “be myself” didn’t necessarily mean I could just do it. While my conscious self wanted it, my unconscious self—the reactive part of me that frantically scrambles to ‘protect’ me at all costs, even if in a misguided way—would not have it. Not yet. It still needs nurturing and convincing that it’s safe to let go of the mask.

And I’m okay with that. I don’t judge myself as harshly anymore, knowing that this is just part of the process.

So as you make New Year’s resolutions, try not to be so hard on yourself if change doesn’t come quickly.

Remember that there is nothing truly abnormal about the two conflicting sides of you: the one that wants to make positive changes, and the one that stubbornly wants to cling onto old ways. As annoying as this ‘stubborn’ part of you is, have a little compassion: it’s just trying to protect you from the ‘unfamiliar’, even if what’s unfamiliar might actually be better for you.

I sincerely wish you the best in the New Year. Here’s to striving to grow, heal, and live life to the fullest! 🥂

– Celine (@itscelinediaz)

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