“I’m not sure how to describe it, but something shifted.” That statement is the most consistent description used by people in counseling to describe a positive change. Something shifted signifies movement, not resolution—as in fixing or settling an issue. When something shifts internally, perspective changes and whatever shifted is no longer stuck. When we are stuck, some of our troubling behavior and/or feelings operate on automatic pilot. We repeat self-defeating behavior patterns that drive us nuts. But until something shifts, we continue to operate in a way that contributes to our unhappiness with ourselves, although often that unhappiness is projected onto outside sources.
So, what is it that shifts? We refer to it as something. The something that shifts is more related to feeling than to thought. Words help us describe this but cannot really do it justice, even though we have some level of cognition.
The shift is more than intellectual awareness. An intellectual awareness helps us understand something but does not directly change us. It is part of the process that results in the shift. As we struggle with ourselves, we try hard to figure out what is going on. We think hard about it and try to make connections, believing that if we truly understand, we can change for the better. Yet, understanding alone does not seem to result in the lasting change we hope for.
When the shift occurs, however, we are never the same. We feel more connected internally and externally. Both aspects of connection are hard to put into words but the experience is undeniable.
The process resulting in the shift is elusive—it is personal and therefore unique. It relates to our internal and external resources, age, level of development, life history, current circumstances, and more. Does it relate to hard work? Sometimes, but not necessarily. At times it just seems to happen or is related to a powerful life experience. At other times it is related to a process of determined discovery, peeling back layers of experience with the intention of change.
When the shift occurs, the relationship to our problem behavior is changed. The problem doesn’t disappear, nor do our original feelings of unhappiness. But the current atmosphere around the problem changes—how we carry it with us—the relationship we have to it. Somehow we develop more grace, respect, humility, confidence, and peace.
If we bore into our feelings about the original unhappiness, we can still feel the bad feelings but usually without blaming ourselves and without losing our self-worth. We have a deeper and more compassionate understanding. We don’t worry about getting emotionally high jacked in the way that we used to. In other words, our sense of self doesn’t get fragmented by bad memories. We remain intact (connected) and feel whole.
Frequently when we experience such a shift, we expect transformation, a natural and dangerous expectation. Although the relationship to our problem changes, the second phase, which I refer to as integration, unfolds. We still must watch ourselves struggle with the old feelings and behaviors but with greater opportunity to handle them differently. Our choices have increased as a result of the shift and our growing awareness. It isn’t smooth sailing, however. Prior to the shift we did not see any other behavioral possibilities. With the shift our options increase and we have more freedom to grow. That’s all we can hope for . . . and that’s a lot.