You may recall the video we sent a couple of weeks ago. If you have not seen it, I would thoroughly recommend you watch it.
The clown is the next analogy I frequently use during my therapy sessions, that I wish to share with you.
Imagine you are at home. Your life is running as per usual, you are in good health, your family members are in good health, and everything is progressing as you would expect it.
One evening, after a long day of activities, your family member comes back home dressed, top to toe, as a clown; a complete outfit, inclusive of the red nose, the big red lips, the clown wig, the big shoes and the squirty flower. As you look at each other, they say, “darling, from today on I am going to be a clown”.
You may have a wide series of reactions to this pronouncement: hilarity, surprise, shock being some of the obvious choices. Whichever your reaction, you would be left wondering.
A few days go by and your partner continues to always be dressed as a clown. And it finally dawns on you that maybe they actually mean it, from now on they will be a clown.
It is at this moment that your mind will resist this new reality the most and the difficulties between you and your family member are likely to emerge.
The world is far too complex an environment for our brain to makes sense of it fully. How does the brain cope with this and avoid constant overwhelm? By creating schema.
Look around you right now and begin to mentally describe everything you see, and I mean EVERYTHING.
No matter how small a place you may be in, if you started describing everything, down to the number of dust specks you can see, or the dots on your carpet, or the number, shade and size of the grains on the wood, you’d feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data.
Your brain therefore created a simplified version of this environment, especially if this is a familiar place, and stored a picture of it in a mental folder that we will call schema.
The brain does this for everything: people, places and experiences.
It derives that your brain also holds a folder for your family member who showed up as a clown. And given this person is familiar to you, the likelihood is that you compiled this file over the years you have known this person, and have not had to revisit the content of this file as your partner remained broadly aligned to who you knew them to be.
By the way, this is one of the reasons why after 20 years of marriage, a partner may wake up a beautiful Sunday morning, look across at the person in bed with them and realise, “who are you? After 20 years together I have no idea who you are!”
We get stuck. We write the content of the files in the hope to never have to make the psychological effort to dig the file out, refamiliarize with its content and update it accordingly. It’s too much effort and in an attempt to remain efficient, the brain thinks it’s easier to just operate by the existing, limited and limiting picture it has already filed.
THE PUSH BACK
This is all fine and dandy as long as the object of our schema does not deviate too much from the picture we hold of them on file. However, when your family member showed up as a clown, there was no frame of reference in their schema where this could possibly be accommodated.
The natural reaction of the brain is to push back. “What?!?!? You want me to go find the file, re-read it, figure out how things have changed, and expect me to update it accordingly?!? You must be crazy! I already have plenty of demands that are more important to me; I can’t be dealing with this too. Go back to who I know you to be, so I don’t need to make all this effort!” This could be a version of the narrative your brain engages in, in order to remain efficient and conserve its energy towards tasks and demands it deems more important.
If this is the case for you, you are likely to experience a push back against your clown partner. You do and say things, more or less covertly, to let them know you need them to go back to being their familiar self.
The surprising thing of this mechanism is that often this happens also when the changes made by our partner are positive, even when those are the changes we have been asking them to make.
Let’s reverse roles! Now imagine, you were the clown in the story.
You worked super hard to finally discover yourself, and mustered incredible courage to enact the changes and show up as a clown.
You believe in the new you, you know deep down that you finally entered your natural life path, and you are committed to see it through.
People around you won’t know how to handle this…initially.
So what are the lessons we can learn from this?
Let’s use a real life example to learn how to protect oneself from the world’s pushback to our significant changes.
I have worked with many couples that are struggling with their marriage and decide that the best for all involved is to separate.
Recently I worked with a woman who was heavily disrespected and mistreated by her husband. To add insult to injury, he eventually kicked her out for not giving him sex and called the marriage off.
This woman took to the situation with resolve and found a way to pick herself up, find a new place to live at very short notice, and begin to rebuild her life.
In view of a recent family bereavement, she discussed and agreed with the husband to delay telling the respective families about the situation. However, he reneged on his promise and shared the news with his family. The news spread like wild fire and within no time my client was being contacted by her parents and her in-laws.
The parents were of course concerned, but what she found most stressful was the pressure, particularly by her mother, to get back with her husband, work it out and quickly have a child to keep harmony within the family.
In a previous articleI wrote about boundary setting. The simplified version of this process can be described in three steps:
Identify your needs
Clearly communicate them to those around you
Protect your boundaries and yourself
This is not a one-time process. If the change you are implementing is large enough, it will require repeating and with time your needs will become clearer, you’ll be able to communicate more clearly, and with the right level of assertiveness you’ll be able to consolidate your changes.
A final consideration is to employ some of the change management processes that large organisations employ when introducing large-scale changes.
Imagine you have worked for your companies for many years. Every morning you go to work you power your computer on and automatically navigate your way through the software you use to complete your work. Except that this morning you power on the computer and everything is different. Your operating system has changed and your software tools are all gone, replaced by 3 icons on the desktop pointing to software you never used before.
This would be quite shocking I imagine, and it would create such a level of disruption that the company would severely drop productivity over a considerable amount of time until its employees catch up and become familiar with the new software.
To avoid this, organisations begin planning such changes months or years in advance and always (or so they should) include a solid communication plan to make sure employees are brought along on the journey, so they are not surprised and paralysed on day 1 of the new software.
If you were working on some significant changes (career, lifestyle, mental, physical or emotional health) it would serve you greatly to implement similar strategies. One such process could be:
Plan the change
Organise the people and resources to help you change
Communicate extensively throughout the process
Implement the change
Monitor impact and go back to number 1
We all deserve to be and become the best version of ourselves. Sometimes, however, the world colludes to keep us in status quo. It is up to us to take ownership for and pursue our innate beauty and talent.
If you found yourself in similar circumstances as described here, please know you are not alone.
Believe in yourself and work towards fulfilling your nature; this is when you will be of greatest service to yourself, your loved ones and your community.