Stages of Change by Peter Metzner

People don’t  fear change; it is losing  a sense of control that they resist” .  (T.Napier)

The truth will set you free – but it can be very painful and can challenge cherished belief’s.   “Moral certainty is the enemy of truth”.  (Unknown)  Black and white thinking, rigidity of beliefs, the need to be right can alleviate the anxiety that comes from ambiguity,  uncertainty and keep one from being open to the mystery of life. (James Hollis)

One of the major reasons we resist growth is because it is painful.

—The Greek god Aeschylus decreed that through suffering we come to wisdom.
—Without suffering, one can remain unconscious, infantile and dependent.

Yet many of our addictions, ideological attachments, and neurosis are flights from suffering.   (James Hollis)

  • —One in four North Americans identify with fundamentalist belief systems  seeking to unburden their journey with simplistic black and white thinking and the certainty of a leader or dogma.
  • —25 – 50% suffer from one type of addiction or another.
  • —The remainder have chosen to be neurotic – that is to defend against the wounding of life. (Hollis)

It takes commitment, intention and strength to take ownership and responsibility for our role in what is happening around us,  to claim our personal authority and intentionally go after what really matters.

Below are stages of change that occur when we have the courage and commitment  to take responsibility for our actions and behaviors.

Four Stages of Change

1) Unconscious Incompetency

2) Conscious Incompetency

3) Conscious Competency

4) Unconscious Competency

What we don’t know or are unaware of manifests itself as fate.” (Carl Jung)

“What we are unaware of eats our lunch” James Hollis

Those unsavory, immoral or incompetent aspects of ourselves that we try to repress, suppress or hide from often leech out in very destructive ways. When we are unaware of them  in ourselves,  (Visit my prior blog on our Shadow)   we see them in others (projection). In other words,  those parts of myself that I am unaware of; will come out and sabotage what I consciously want.    These shadowy aspects of myself will keep me from enjoying the success, relationships and happiness that is my birthright.   As long as I blame others or something outside of myself, and do not take responsibility for my thoughts, feelings and behaviors I will stay stuck.

Inadvertently,  the very conditions we resist and struggle against get reenacted over and over again. The names, the places,  the people may change but the themes repeat.. In other words, we are in the same play in a different setting;  with a different set of characters.

In these postings, we have built the case that we view the world through our emotional pain and wounds and wound others by and from our pain.   This is  “The wounded wounder” .   For example if someone feels unlovable;  he or she will act in unlovable ways and the treatment they get will then mirror and reinforce this paradigm.  In essence,  believing is seeing.   We  screen out data that doesn’t match our belief system or self image  and see those things will justify our thinking and feeling the way we do.   We can stay stuck in repetitive cycles for months, years, even a lifetime.  Causing and reliving the pain with the story we made up ourselves experienced many years ago.  Yet so desperately we flee from.  This is why we all need to do our inner work.  Carl Jung was asked in lecture; is there hope for the world?   His answer:  There is if enough people do their inner work.

When we take responsibility for our behaviors with their  impact on self and others;  we become freer and more empowered.  This is a major part of psychological maturity – owning our behaviors and the role we have played in co-creating  our life’s situations.  Whatever wounding or pain that  happened  in the past,  it is crucial to realize:  “I am not what happened to me I am who I chose to become”!  First though, we must become aware of the stories or judgements  we accepted from others about us, the ones we  made up about ourselves, the lies we may have bought into, the pain we are avoiding  and how self limiting beliefs are playing out in our lives. This can be a lifetime task.  However as Socrates wrote; “an unexamined life is a life not worth living”.   One needs commitment,  courage,   strength and humility to embark on this journey.  Once started, there is no turning back.

Stage two (Conscious Incompetency) is a doozy!   Sometimes it takes a failed relationship, job loss or crisis in the family to get to this stage of self awareness.  “When the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing, change occurs”.  (Anonymous)  My hope is; by you reading this, it will help get to this stage  before something “bad” happens of which you can no longer deny your role.   Once we can own our role in the dysfunction around us – we are now ready to grow and change.  As a life and leadership  coach, I cannot work with anyone unless they are willing to look at the role they have played in the situation they do not like.  If  you cannot own your role in your unhappiness and the unhappiness around you, please exit this blog  and make an appointment for therapy.  It is very difficult to change, grow and create a better life if  we “choose” not to take responsibility for our actions or inaction.  Unfortunately those  who need coaching or therapy  the most tend to resist it most strenuously. The crazy person is absolutely convinced that they are not crazy.  Everyone else is.  It is like someone throwing hand grenades and then saying look at all these explosions!  What a crazy world.  We do this collectively as well as individually (more on this later).     If you think you are crazy keep reading.  This will help you in the hunt to become sane.   It takes courage, security and ego strength to endure the humility,  discomfort, remorse  or pain in the realization of the role we play in impacting  everyone around us for better or worse. It is easier to blame the “other” for our pain or misery or lack of success than to take responsibility.  Shame, remorse and guilt play an important role in our growth especially when we can connect them to a wrong we have done that needs to be righted.  In every major wisdom tradition, humility is seen as necessary for a healthy relationship to the transcendent.  Most religions value humility above other qualities.    Humility is like chemotherapy to the inflated ego and is necessary for growth and healthy relationships.  Confucius wrote  ” humility is the solid foundation of all virtues”.  Wisdom is often considered a relative to humility.   It allows us to be open and non judgmental to our own flaws and thus non judgmental towards others.

When we are stuck in shame, or guilt, it is unproductive and keeps us from moving forward.  We recreate patterns of experience to reinforce these feelings and associated beliefs.    Unfortunately, taking the easy way out by evading responsibility keeps us stuck in  habitual ways of feeling thinking and behaving.    Self medication though alcohol, drugs, or addictive behaviors like the internet, TV, video games, compulsive sex, work a holism,  etc.  are driven by negative emotions we are trying escape. The diversion works only temporarily and after the initial rush or euphoria the behavior brings,  anxiety, pain depression or boredom come back and will need to be medicated or diverted again.  The function of an addiction is to manage anxiety.  An addiction is simply anything you can’t stop doing.  Unfortunately this coping mechanism usually leads to a train wreck of dysfunctional or  failed relationships, physical & psychological depletion, greater pain to self and others,  a stagnant career or even derailment.

The good news is;   Once we gain knowledge and understanding of why we engage in self defeating and harmful behaviors, we can make a choice or intention to shift.  With knowledge and understanding, compassion to self and others,  pain and suffering  goes away.  Pain and suffering can teach us and be a guide to what needs to be addressed in our lives.  Rather than flee the pain;  insights are asking to be discovered. So: what we resist persists and can grow stronger.  What we face with courage and humility becomes manageable and less likely to drive us in self defeating ways.

Stage three.  (Conscious Competency) Are you are still reading?  Great!  At this stage you are ready to start trying out new behaviors, adopt healthier attitudes and beliefs that will serve you better. You have reached a milestone in psychological maturity.  That is you have accepted yourself.  Warts and all.    By accepting this complete package called you – pain, suffering, bad behaviors as well as your gifts and attributes, you are better able to accept others and have healthier and rewarding relationships. When you truly love yourself you no longer will allow others to treat you with disrespect or take advantage of you.  You will treat your self better.   When you have a healthy sense of yourself.  You will find yourself  less likely to judge, condemn and cripple others by  negativity and anger.  By letting go of  negative patterns and habits  and accepting others as they are; not how you want them to be;  transformation  takes place.  This allows you to create and impact the world and others around you intentionally rather than unconsciously.  Over 90% of conflicts would evaporate if we made an intention to listen more, give up the need to be right and start practicing  habits of the heart like empathy and compassion.  With negative energy dissipating and emotional healing taking place, a natural movement to personal  empowerment, a drive towards greater meaning and purpose, healthier and more fulfilling relationships seems to happen almost automatically.

Stage four (Unconscious Competency)   is like driving.   Remember the first time you were behind the wheel of the car?  It was awkward, uncomfortable and unnatural – maybe even a little fearful.  However, with practice and repetition your driving became so natural and effortless (for the most part) that you are now doing it almost automatically.

Most of our behaviors are automatic and habitual. The biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful or self defeating individuals are their habits.  Since we are slaves to our habits – why not be driven by good habits?   Research shows that it takes about 30 days to form a new habit. Commitment and intention lay the foundation for implementing new behaviors.   When we say: I will or I am or I intend to with conviction and stay with it – as time goes new positive and affirming behaviors become natural.

By forgiving those that hurt us;  we free ourselves.   When we  no longer hold someone else responsible for our condition in life – it allows us to move forward .   That doesn’t mean allowing anyone to hurt,  abuse or take advantage of us – Sometimes we have to find the right distance to love someone.. even if it is far way.  By forgiving those that caused us pain, forgiving and loving ourselves;  we are now better able to chart our own course and claim our personal authority.  One of the hardest yet most important things we can do is to find out what is right for us and go for it. (Carl Jung)  We are each on a hero’s journey.  If we avoid this summons we have missed the purpose of our being here.


One thought on “Stages of Change by Peter Metzner

  1. This is really a must read! Now I know why and how difficult it is to change and what to do about it.
    Great insights. Thank you so much!

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