The Four Main Reasons we Fear Change

It isn’t uncommon to hear people express that they are “not good with change.” This may even ring true for you. But what do we truly mean when we say we aren’t good with change? We might know that the experience of change makes us uncomfortable, but can we identify the reasons why? This post will outline some of the main reasons many of us fear change, in hopes of helping you better understand your own experience.

Change Means Loss. If you think about it, all life changes necessitate loss in some capacity. Whether you are deciding to end a long-term relationship, or change the colour of your bedroom, your previous reality will cease to exist when you make the change. Letting go in this way, proves more difficult for some individuals than others, especially when they are not ready to say goodbye to the old. When anticipating necessary change, the thought of what we may be leaving behind is often difficult to face, even when we know we are serving our best interests. For example, someone who enjoys an upgrade in socioeconomic status, might lose old friends and connections, especially if they physically move to another borough. This constitutes part of the reason that success is sometimes considered “scary” as well.

Fear of the Unknown.  This is likely the most common reason change is often met with ambivalence. The old adage “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” nicely summarizes this point. Familiarity and comfort are highly valued by many of us, making change difficult, as it threatens the comfortable and familiar – sentiments many of us cling to even when we are indisputably unhappy. Even positive change carries heavy implications for the self in various contexts. Take the example of quitting a job that has left you miserable for years. On the one hand, you may be relieved that you no longer have to work in a hostile environment, yet on the other, you may have difficulty facing the adjustments it demands of your identity and other areas of your life – can you accept being ‘unemployed’ while you search for work? Will you miss certain colleagues? Will leaving your job on bad terms affect your future career? Etc., etc. For individuals who resist change, these kinds of “what-ifs” can become problematic. When facing change, we must be willing to venture into the unknown with confidence, and accept a degree of uncertainty.

Change Requires Effort. Venturing into unknown territory following both minor and major changes will require additional mental and physical energy. For example, if you have moved house, with the exhausting nature of moving aside, you may need to familiarize yourself with your new neighbourhood and carefully plan your new commute. Becoming accustomed to your new route will take time and effort. If you have started dating again after being in a relationship for many years, well, we don’t need to convince you of the efforts required there. Even getting used to a new car, pet, job, home, you name it, demands a higher degree of energy – sometimes mental, sometimes physical, sometimes both. This can be a deterrent for many busy individuals who feel they have finally established structure in their lives. The worry that introducing something new will threaten well-oiled routines, and demand more of already limited time and resources, is entirely valid. Change demands more of us (at the beginning), and this is enough to avoid it when we already have too much on our plates.

Change Is Destabilizing. Novelty and stability are antithetical. Along with requiring more effort, making significant changes in our lives could shake our sense of stability, which is highly stressful for many individuals, especially those with great responsibilities, such as child or eldercare. It isn’t always feasible to make a change, or to embrace change when one feels bound to certain core values or responsibilities. The notion of readiness is also important to mention here, as unforeseen change is undoubtedly the most destabilizing and consequently distressing of all. Unexpected job or relationship termination, illness diagnosis, or even positive news could be very threatening. I remember being accepted to the graduate program of my dreams at a University outside my home province. The thought of making that change – leaving my family, partner, and friends behind to live on my own, in a remote area for three years made me physically ill. I was not expecting the news, nor was I ready to entertain the idea of making that change, at the time. As such, being emotionally, mentally, and physically ready to take on any change is centrally important.

We hope these points have been helpful to you, in exploring the reasons you might be resistant to change. Our next post will flip these fears on their head, and reveal how change could arouse as much excitement as it can fear.