Editor’s note: Liberty Forrest, author of several self-help books and a certified Law of Attraction Life Coach, explains that everything in life changes. Then she offers you the secret for how to cope with change when it happens in your life. Read more about Liberty.
It always amazes me to consider the wide range of emotions that the word “change” can evoke. Even without context, some people absolutely love it, relishing a new adventure, the next challenge, or an opportunity to expand themselves or their lives in some way.
And then there are those people who dread it. They fear it more than almost anything else and do not know how to cope with change.
But of course, it’s not actually the word that elicits a particular response, wherever it may be on the spectrum of possibilities. It’s the meaning we assign to it based on our personalities, our experiences and our expectations. When we’ve been used and abused by a sociopath, our reaction may be one of, “Oh no, now what??” The idea of change could produces anxiety and apprehension if we’ve been been repeatedly exposed to having strings attached to even the smallest of gifts or receiving support or help in any way.
One thing I know for sure: The only thing that will never change is that everything always changes, even when you can’t see it. The earth is shifting. We get tremors and quakes and geographical changes. Shorelines change, the water wearing away stone, cliffs and trees over time.
Even the mighty mountains, so strong and enduring, they are changing, too, eroding, moving, changing their shape, their size, but not so you would notice. Sometimes a whole chunk falls away, causing an avalanche, and occasionally taking several victims with it. No matter what changes, we need to know how to cope with change.
The Bench at the Lake
There was a pretty little lake just a few minutes’ walk from the cottage where I used to live. It’s surrounded by woods and has a few tiny islands in the middle, giving the herons, the swans and the ducks somewhere to play hide-and-seek.
Nestled amongst the trees on the shore about halfway round the lake, there was a very small and rickety bench. It was just a couple of 2 x 4s put together as a little seat. It wobbled a little if you looked at it, and a lot if you sat on it, because its two supporting posts were in soft, moist earth, so close to the water, my feet dangled over it. I wondered why anyone would put a bench in such a precarious location until one day, I met the man who had built it years earlier and learned that it had originally been six feet from the water.
How I loved to sit on that rickety little bench, with one of its leaning posts just inches from the water. On either side were trees that met overhead in a pretty little arch, giving cool shelter from the sun and creating beautiful rippling reflections of their leaves and branches in the water just in front of me. Ah, trees…I love them so…
There were a few proper benches situated here and there around the lake, just like the kind you find in a park, but they were in open spaces, very exposed, with no trees, no protection from the sun. Plus they were at least 50 feet from the water.
My Front Row Seat
I preferred my front row seat where I could watch the fish and the frogs as they swam and played and did their fish and frog things.
Occasionally, swans or geese, or sometimes a couple of ducks would swim right up to me, presumably used to being fed by people who visited, as they showed absolutely no fear of me at all.
I adored the view of the little islands in the middle of the lake, the trees on the other side, the steeple from the village church poking up from behind them. I knew every bush, every curve, every tree like they were my children.
I used to sit there with a friend, a daughter, my beloved partner, and I’d make up silly stories about the ducks baking brownies on the islands, or playing dodge ball when they were gathered together, quacking and splashing in large groups in the water.
The frantic honking of geese would spark off a whole conversation as I invented an angry, nagging goose-wife berating her loser husband for hanging out at the pub and ignoring the little ‘geeselets’ who had now gone to bed without seeing you at all again, you rotten father.
I loved it there. My heart loved it, too. For so many reasons, including the memories I was creating that would last a lifetime. It was such a healing place…
We had some torrential rain over a period of time and there was flooding at the lake and over the road that runs beside it. I missed not being able to go for my “healing time,” especially when my life blew up and I needed it more than ever.
When the waters subsided, I couldn’t wait to go for a walk once again. It was a terribly difficult time in my life. I had suffered significant loss on top of massive betrayals in ways I could never have seen coming. I was immersed in deep grief and in need of reflection and contemplation on my favourite little bench in my favourite private spot on the other side of the lake.
Fighting tears, I walked quickly. I couldn’t wait to get to my happy place, where I knew I’d soon feel much better.
But on arriving at that little spot I had come to love so dearly, I was horrified to discover that the bench was gone.
Even the holes for the posts were gone. The water had consumed more of the earth, advancing between the old trees that made such a pretty arch overhead. I could do nothing but stand and stare at the terrible emptiness. Nothing, that is, but cry.
It was two years before I could face going back to the lake. Two years before I could accept this one seemingly insignificant little change that was monumentally important to me. Two years before I thought (hoped…prayed…) that I could walk straight past the benchless place and just carry on and enjoy the many other delights of being there.
But I did not enjoy it. Not. At. All.
It was like returning to the home of someone who had died tragically.
I didn’t want to sit on the other benches, away from the water, away from the trees, the fish, the frogs and the swans. I wanted my bench. I didn’t want a different view of the shore, the islands, the trees across the lake or the steeple from the church in the village. I wanted my view.
Does It Help To Understand the Changes?
Sometimes the changes in our lives creep up on us. Those changes don’t hurt because we don’t notice them. We look in the mirror, see the same face day after day. It seems as though that face never changes.
But of course, it does. Imperceptibly, like the mountains eroding or the lake slowly nibbling at six feet of earth over a period of years, it does.
Sometimes the changes in our lives are thrust upon us. Suddenly, and without any warning, the torrential rains come, the avalanche happens. We ask why. We beg of the universe, “Please make this not be real. Please make it be the way it used to be. I don’t like this change. I don’t want this change! I don’t understand this change!”
But the simple truth is that whether or not we want the change, it has happened. Whether or not we understand it, it has happened. The bench is gone. The shoreline has moved. The side of the mountain has a big chunk missing and the families of the victims it took with it will forever grieve.
Will a scientist’s explanation of the avalanche make those people hurt any less? Will it make them accept that they’ll never see their loved ones again? Will they stop wondering if they suffered?
No. They will not say, “Oh, okay. I get it. Thanks for explaining an avalanche. Now I’m okay with this.”
I don’t understand why many years ago, I was very extroverted and a real party girl but now I’m quite introverted and spend most of my time alone and loving it.
I don’t know why I have gone through periods of loving certain hair styles or clothing styles and at some point decided I couldn’t stand them.
If there were explanations for these changes, would that make me dash off and party my brains out? Would I rush off to the nearest hair salon or clothing shop and try to replicate those previous styles? On both counts, not a chance.
Explaining why an unwanted change has occurred does not necessarily make it feel better. We like to think it does, but really, it does not, for it does not reverse whatever has changed. Explaining to me about how the wrinkles have appeared on my face, or why my hair is now streaked with grey does not make me look like a 20-year-old brunette again, even though I still feel like a much younger woman than my years would suggest.
When it comes to the abusive and crazy-making behaviours of sociopaths, we are usually subjected to all kinds of changes that we do not like, want or expect. If you’ve grown up in such a household, you might be more sensitive to change, because life was chaotic and unpredictable and changes weren’t often for the better.
Even if you had a fairly stable, positive environment growing up and you embraced the idea of change, ending up in a relationship with a sociopath (whether friendship or romantic) can put an end to that fairly quickly.
Let’s say the sociopath is a woman, for ease of discussion. At first, she seems lovely. She is charismatic, charming, warm and interesting. She draws you in and you absolutely adore her. Suddenly, her opinion is important to you so when the criticisms begin, you accept them.
Over time, you feel worse about yourself. You feel unworthy of her love and attention and she makes sure you should realise how lucky you are to be with her, whether as a friend or a partner.
Gradually, her needs become much more important than your own. Eventually, yours don’t matter at all.
And it’s only when you look back to the beginning that you can see the changes that have occurred.
How to Cope with Change
There is only one thing that helps us cope with the changes that knock us off balance, and that is to accept them.
“Easy for you to say!”
Yes, but I’ve also lived it and I understand that it’s easier said that done.
However, acceptance doesn’t mean you have to love the changes. It means being at peace with them, whatever they are.
It does not mean reluctantly choking them down. It means truly “going with the flow” and not being upset or fearful about something new or different. Change is not painful. It is our resistance to it that is painful, and our sometimes-futile search for understanding the change will only prolong our misery.
This is never more true than when dealing with a sociopath. There is no understanding them. There is no way to figure out why they do the things they do. Even if the most highly skilled psychologist could explain the dynamics to you, you will still never truly understand how someone who claims to love you could hurt you so badly.
And trying to change sociopaths will never work. They don’t want to change because it would mean putting others ahead of them. It would mean minding boundaries and not taking power from others. It would mean they would have to stop manipulating people to get what they want.
As far as they’re concerned, there’s no fun in any of that. They will only lose and they can’t see anything to gain.
A fundamental Buddhist belief is that all suffering comes from attachment. If we remove our attachment to our needs, to people, to situations, or to how we wish something — or someone — could be and just accept “What is,” we will remove our suffering.
Everyone and everything changes. And our acceptance of that— with or without understanding — is the key to peace.
A version of this article was originally published at LibertyForrest.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.