Why is change so rare and difficult? I heard a fascinating interview with a doctor this week. He gave an analogy about people who would come to him with back pain who he helped by treating their feet.
Why? Because in these cases, he discovered that the back pain originated in a foot problem, which was compensated for by the ankle, which then was compensated for by the knee, then hip, and by the time they did anything about it, their back had joined the chain of compensating adjustments and now was hurting.
The patients had re-arranged most of their body to keep the untreated foot problem alive. They altered the way they stood, walked, sat, and slept to facilitate the foot problem. They unknowingly built a fortress around the original hurt and protected it with everything they did.
Treating the back did not have longterm benefit. The problem kept reoccurring because the cause was the untreated foot. He analogized this to problems in our lives where we experience a hurt or problem such as a childhood trauma or dysfunctional conditioning by our family, then slowly and silently begin re-arranging our life to suit the hurt; often for decades or a lifetime.
Over years, we have actually created a network of supports to enable the hurt to continue and affect us. We unknowingly choose and get into habits of thought and behaviour that help keep this damage alive. We choose people, build relational dynamics, occupations, living environments, and daily routines that also nurture and protect the hurt. We fortress it. Or we let the untreated hurt destroy our relationships and hurt others. Why?
Perhaps simply because it’s familiar and in a paradoxical way, comfortable? And why can’t we detect it to any degree that we can bring about change on our own? Perhaps because it is so woven into our psyche, it has become effectively permanent (so far).
Then, when one part of the compensating behaviour is challenged (the knee-limp), it upsets the whole dynamic (foot, ankle, knee, hip, back) so we resist it. We may be fearful or confused by the new awareness so we retreat to the comfort of the familiar, even if it is only kind-of working.
After years or decades of this protective behaviour, we have a well-rehearsed limp; physically, emotionally, relationally etc.
It is no wonder that we recovering alcoholics, ACOAs, codependents, ragers, etc. cannot affect change on our own and that the journey of change requires time, effort, and lots of support. Equally sick people in our lives often resist change as much as we do because it takes them into the less familiar as well, so they may not want us to change. And they too have fortressed in their limps with compensating behaviours.
I am grateful today for the numerous voices that I can listen to that help me see more of the root causes of my problems, rather than just the symptoms. I am grateful today for the company and influence of healthy people who are also on journeys of recovery, who don’t need me to continue limping in order for them to remain comfortable. I am grateful today to God for bringing these people and circumstances into my life to help break the fortresses around my pains and dysfunctions. I know a freedom and contentment like I have never known. I feel like a freed captive.