Blog written by Ania Grimone
It has been 28 years since I left my country and embarked on adult life adventures. I thought I was leaving for 2 months and I have never gone back. Not permanently that is. But even though I visited at times, I have not had an opportunity to spend any length of time with my mom without other people around budding in on conversations and sharing our experiences. This year we decided to spend 2 weeks together in a beautiful region of Kaszuby in Northern Poland at a health retreat ( AKA eat vegetables for 2 weeks, exercise all day and listen to the evils of western diet).
As a side note, it was interesting to notice that even though their philosophy and nutritional guidelines are something I subscribe to, the mode of presentation suggesting that I must live according to those rules or else, elicited in me a fierce resistance. I suppose it is not unique in any way as nobody likes being told what to do. We all want to feel that we have a choice and an option to exercise it or not.
It was even more apparent as I spent time with my mom and realized that even though I am almost 50 years old, in her eyes I am still a child, who needs to be directed, protected, warned, questioned and instructed. It was as if my mom froze in time and refused to acknowledge the passage of time despite the obvious proof to the contrary. I wondered; was it because she could not see me any other way, or because if was important for her to feel as only moms off youngsters can feel – indispensable. Or was it even more broad than that? Could it be a simple resistance to change?
Day to day we acquire different experiences, perspectives, we accumulate information and as a result of it we change. I am a different person today than I was yesterday, a year ago or 10 years ago and yet, people around me insist on holding me to who I was when they took a mental snapshot and formed an opinion of me. Hell, I do it myself. My son constantly reminds me: “Mom, stop treating me like a child, I’ve got this!” Ugh! Can I trust it?
It is such a paradox that the only thing that is truly constant in our lives is change and yet we resist it tooth and nail. We cling to our habits, routines, opinions, relationships, positions, places of residence or beliefs, even when it is obvious that we have outgrown their usefulness and would be better off figuring out what IS useful for us now and going for it.
Why do we do that? Well, part of it is hard wired in our brains. It is what psychologists identified as familiarity heuristic, the subconscious preference for familiar, which we associate with safety and well-being. Things that are unfamiliar or foreign – people, places, ideas may carry unknown risks, so we reject them on the “gut level” as unsafe. We can carry this bias even when it can lead us into self – defeating choices and we tend to do it more when we are under pressure than when we are relaxed and can actually evaluate what’s happening.
So what am I saying? That you should not trust your gut? Well, it appears that what you consider a gut feeling while under pressure, may actually be a stress response strongly favoring the familiar, regardless if it is actually in your benefit or benefit of those around you. I noticed that when we were traveling, which is very stressful for my mom, she would be more likely to order, direct and correct, which would create conflict and push back on my part. When we had time to breathe, she would be more open to consider me in a different light and adjust her behavior, leading to more open communication and growth in our relationship.
So it seems that in order to navigate change better, we need to take a breath. Resist reacting from automatic pilot, look at what is happening, what needs to happen, what you want and what would help you get there instead. When faced with new situation, don’t reject it on principle. Stop. Wait a bit. Give yourself time to know what is it that you are actually deciding against, what are it’s true merits and faults and only then make a decision. Who is this person in front of you NOW? Look at it consciously, intentionally, mindfully.
For my mom and me it translated into advancing our relationship beyond the mindless repetition of the old dynamic, we got to know and appreciate each other a little more as who we are today, which deepened our trust and willingness to connect.
So remember, when life throws you a curveball, stop and breathe…