Change is a concept that refers to making or becoming different than what came before. Change is an activity that requires deliberate steps toward transformation. We have to be conscious about changes that lead to a different way of being.

I’d been allowing bits and pieces of myself to be swept away. I wanted to trek through the wasteland that was my life toward more fertile ground. I wanted to take charge of my life, to be accountable to myself and responsible toward others. I wanted to change everything, as if change is an all or nothing event.

Once I thought that the only way to change my life was to cease living it. Fortunately, I had conversations with my counselor about change. These discussions started with the observation of myself as a victim. I learned that I perceived myself as a victim and I was led into circumstances that continued the victim role. Why was that? In my case, especially as it pertained to my relationships with men, I’d been around abusive men my whole life. The inner resources to defend my self were eroded by the myth that men are a force to fear. I learned that men and women are equal in the emotional and spiritual levels. I also had to learn that I deserved relationships that made me feel good, that were based on healthy common interests, and that true partners bring out the best in us. Change meant transforming from a vulnerable target to an empowered woman.

This knowledge helped me to disengage from abusive relationships. But this change does not occur in a linear fashion. The activity that accompanies change happens in fits and starts, by trial and error, with failure and success. What remains constant is the determination to make a change, as well as the discipline to develop the strength and skills required to be different than before.

My counselor suggested that I change my way of living by changing my way of thinking. “You can replace negative self-talk with optimistic thoughts. It is possible to change a negative perspective on life into a positive life force if you keep a sense of proportion.” Survivors of trauma are often drawn into drama by reacting without thinking. I learned that not every minor inconvenience leads to a major catastrophe. Rather, the whole of life is more about how I shaped it, day by day, by making good decisions and better choices.

My counselor encouraged change but I was paralyzed with ambivalence. My desire to change was in conflict with the fear of change, and I resisted change even as I risked change. If only change could occur overnight, by osmosis, or at least if I could leave well enough alone. I pleaded with the universe to cooperate:

Now travel, Time, no more delays, Propel me now to future days.

To days of good, new days unfold. Now faster, Time, before I am old.

I asked my counselor, “Why do I continually make mistakes?” Her answer was, “Your experiences were not mere mistakes, but life lessons. Human experiences pertain not just to suffering but also to personal development and soul growth.” That helped me to ease up on myself for perceived mistakes.

For example, I couldn’t count on myself. I could not make up my mind or I would change my mind, or anyone could change it for me. I changed plans, habitually procrastinated, and invented excuses: a headache, a stomachache, it was too early or it was too far, or the weather was too terrible for whatever it was that I was avoiding. It was all too much because I’d been through too much.

My counselor taught me the concrete steps to making a change:

  • Be aware of the behavior needing change
  • Examine the reasons for developing the behavior in the first place
  • Have compassion for the choices made under the circumstances
  • Find new and healthy ways to meet the needs
  • Get support! Ask for help!
  • Set goals in small timeframes: one day, one week, one month
  • Break down the larger goals into smaller ones
  • Give yourself rewards along the way.

Try not to minimize triumphs but appreciate the steps toward self-improvement.

“What if I fail?” I asked my counselor. I realized that I failed to try anything that I could not do perfectly and all I could do perfectly was clean house. I thought about trying other things but never got around to it. I made a mental note: “To think and think and think about a thing and never to accomplish it at all.”

She responded by saying, “Use failures as a learning experience and try again. It’s a waste of time to wait to do everything perfectly. In order to grow, it’s necessary to attempt new skills. Let go of the limiting controls of perfectionism! To make mistakes is to be human and everyone makes mistakes.”

I began to change by using discipline to keep commitments, finish projects, and manage emotions. While I was incorporating healthy changes into my life, I was in transition, no longer the person I was and not the person I was yet to be. I had to call upon my courage reserves to navigate the hurdles and overcome an obstacle course of adverse circumstances. It would take courage to clear the past to find clarity for the future. Meanwhile, I kept the commitment to changing my life from constant chaos to inner peace.

You can’t change everything at once, and some changes are noticeable only in retrospect. I can look back and know, feel, and believe how much I have changed since embarking on a healing journey. Have confidence in your ability to change! Confidence is based on previous accomplishments; build confidence by acknowledging the cumulative ways you have changed.

The power to change is already within you, ready to be discovered. Find new methods to deal with old routines. It is up to you to make the conscious choices that bring a better future.

Post completed by Lynn C. Tolson, author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story