The fear of change is one of the most common fears that people face. I see it frequently among my therapy clients, and just as frequently among friends.
Change is difficult for everyone; there are few people that don’t feel somewhat anxious at the prospect of a major upheaval in their lives. The problem comes when fear of change keeps people paralyzed in situations that are not healthy or fulfilling, or when their fear of change isn’t confined to significant changes, but encompasses relatively minor, daily changes in routine.
Examples of a Fear of Change
A common example of fear of change is when a person stays in an unfulfilling romantic relationship because they are terrified of being single, or of the effort and risk involved in trying to find a different partner. People often coast along in unfulfilling relationships, even marrying a person about whom they feel ambivalent, just because they are so scared at the prospect of breaking up. Often, these marriages end in divorce when one or both partners have finally had enough, but the divorce is very difficult for everyone involved, not least of which being the children.
Another frequently observed example of fear of change is the person who stays at a boring job or a career that they have no passion for, just because they can’t wrap their minds around embarking on an entirely new and different career path. Counting down the months to retirement, particularly if this starts in your 30’s or 40’s, is a terrible waste of a life; yet, many people convince themselves that it is preferable to the risk of striking out in a new direction.
A situation that may resonate with many people is the fear of changing something about your identity that you no longer identify with. Even if this is as “small” a change as getting (or removing) a tattoo, stopping partying so much, or learning to cook, many people feel paralyzed by changing something that others perceive as key to their identity. This is how you end up feeling like you’re not being true to yourself, which is a deeply uncomfortable feeling.
Roots of Change-related Fear
Fear of change is often related to a negative worldview, and just as often related to a tendency toward anxiety (and of course, these two variables are often related to one another, as well). People who grow up in a home that is very negative, where parents think of life as burdensome, often exhibit fear of change as adults.
They were exposed to the idea that life isn’t so great no matter what path you choose, so you might as well stick to the path that you’re on. This cynical way of thinking can pervade and poison everything in life, rendering people jaded and negative even as very young adults.
Anxious parents often pass down the worldview that life is filled with danger and risk, and the best course of action is to stick to what is safe and known. Often, parents who experienced trauma, severe poverty, or abusive upbringings can implicitly teach their own children that life is dangerous and unpredictable.
This is how young adults who objectively have lots of exciting opportunities in front of them can remain paralyzed by fear of changing anything, because the change might lead to something unsafe (e.g., a career change would lead to job loss and homelessness, or breaking up with a significant other would lead to dying alone).
How to Live with a Fear of Change
If you struggle with fear of change, don’t allow it to trap you into a life that you don’t want. While change may seem terrifying, the real tragedy is living a life that doesn’t bring you any joy.
Therapy can be extremely useful in helping you understand what you really need to fear in life and what is just a roadblock that your subconscious is throwing at you. Challenge yourself to try and overcome your fear of change, and watch how much more fulfilling, interesting, and meaningful your life can become!