Here we are again, another January filled with messages advising us of our need to change. Change your hair, change your body, change your lifestyle, change your perspective. In January the motivation and drive to create change reaches a fever pitch as we recover from the holidays, leading to resolutions and goals that may or may not be met. We promise ourselves we will upend our life, start fresh, and never look back.
And we start out on that path with all the energy and enthusiasm you could ask for. We hit the gym in our brand-new fitness gear (30% off at Generic Big Box Store, this week only!), get a sassy fresh haircut, and put on our best new face.
But then something happens. We become tired from overextending ourselves in our quest for self-renewal. Or we realize we bit off too big a bite to chew all at once. Maybe we miss a day of working toward our goal and become discouraged. Or we find ourselves struggling against the inertia of daily life, remembering why we haven’t followed through on making these changes before.
Why does this happen?
Captain Obvious here: Things are hard
It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: change is hard. I mean, it’s hard. No matter how positive a change may be, we may not be fully on board with ourselves trying to make it. We may have parts that have good reason to want to stay in this place of relative comfort, or at least familiarity - because who knows what’s out there, over that horizon? Sure, there could be greatness. But there could be monsters, too.
Most people read these articles and seek out therapy because the parts of them that want to do things differently are talking louder than the ones that want to stay the same. But that inside argument may go back and forth quite a lot. And both sides have valid and important arguments. Staying the same means you don’t have to face the unknown. If you never challenge your toxic mother-in-law, you don’t have to deal with the wrath and recriminations. If you never tell your dad how his favoritism hurts you, you don’t have face even more rejection. There are risks you can avoid, if you choose to remain where you are.
Of course, what hasn’t been said so much is that it is also hard to stay the same.
Staying in your familiar role in a narcissistic or emotionally abusive relationship is a choice. A choice that requires sacrifice. A choice that requires immensely hard work to retain your sense of self and your will in the face of continued toxicity. A hard choice.
The difficulties you face in daily life may not change much, because your capacity to influence them is restricted by your decision to remain. It may be an agonizing choice. It may be one that you struggle with for months or years before coming to a decision. And far from being a failure or sign of weakness, I think of it as simply this: a choice that is hard.
Pick your hard
I’ve seen memes on my Facebook feed, among other places, saying something along the lines of “Being overweight is hard. Getting fit is hard. Pick your hard.” Personally, I don’t think that weight and fitness are necessarily correlated - there are some incredibly strong weightlifters who would also be considered overweight or obese - but there’s one aspect of that quote that I like. Pick your hard is an accurate description of a choice that family members and loved ones of emotionally abusive people face every day.
It is hard to stay put in a bad relationship where you suffer pain every day. It is hard to paddle upstream and try to shift a family dynamic that may have existed for numerous generations. Every day presents the choice: Pick your hard.
You may not make the same choice every day, and that is okay. Maybe today, you feel strong, supported, and badass. So you choose to speak up for yourself and call out your gaslighting boss for giving you misleading or manipulative directions. And maybe next week, you’re exhausted from fending off the onslaught of passive aggressive memos that follow speaking up, so you simply roll your eyes and pretend not to notice it. Each day, each interaction, you pick your hard.
It's not always bad
Let me not frame this as a sentence that life will always suck, or that you’re doomed to always struggle. I truly do not believe that this is the case. There will be times when picking your hard feels like a daily, or even constant, series of choices. There will be other times when you make your choice and then life goes on pretty smoothly for awhile.
Sometimes, when the hard you pick most often is change, the momentum builds to the point where you are not forced into the choice as often - because people learn that you are not the same person anymore, and their old tactics and strategies are much less effective. Getting to that place takes time, focus, and the wherewithal to pick that hard more often than not.
Sometimes you will choose not to fight that battle, or to take a break from being the only one to stand up and say “this is not okay.” That doesn’t make you weak. It means you are choosing a different hard right now. If changing a troublesome relationship is your ultimate goal, you’ll pick a different hard when you’re ready to. So try to give yourself some grace and compassion for the times when the hard you pick is not the one you want. You will get there. Change can be a lonely road, but I believe in the journey you have chosen.
What I know about you
In closing, here’s what I know about you. Whether your journey is straightforward or features pauses, reboots, and detours, you will get where you want to go. There will be lonely times and hard times, but there will be joy and pride as well. Here is what I know about you as you pick your hard each time; from the classic and enduring “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss:
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot
And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike.
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You've got this.