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The Dilemma of Familiarity vs. Functionality: Why We Struggle With Change

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you look at someone or something and think, "I know that'll be good for me, but I'm scared"? Maybe it's even more subtle, like looking at something that you absolutely know will not harm you, but there's something in you that makes you pause. That something may be fear, anxiety, or suspicion. Perhaps it makes you decline and return to what you know is familiar. Back to the relationship, back to the routine, back to what feels normal...even though normal feels unfulfilling. This taps into the difference between functionality and familiarity.



Functionality defines your ability to be able to do something well. It can apply to a relationship, a work setting, or even your home routine. Familiarity is the feeling of comfort in predictability and knowing how to navigate something relatively well. What many people forget, though, is that these are two different concepts. Things can feel familiar even when they're dysfunctional. Also, how we respond to the unfamiliar is rooted in our survival.


We'll answer the reason for why things that are healthy, adaptive, or functional might feel scary. We'll also tell you what you can do to start your healing process and lean in to the functional.


You've lived with dysfunction for a long time.

The way we, as humans, respond to things that are unfamiliar is usually with fear and apprehension. This is adaptive! We don't know what to expect when we encounter new events, and it becomes hard to predict if we'll be safe. Even when we encounter things that are adaptive and healthy, our brains activate our drive to survive. Responding to something healthy with fear is normal, but of course it can be frustrating.


You've learned to fear change.

When we live dysfunction, sometimes our environment teaches us that anything different is bad. Maybe you've been punished for reaching out. Maybe you've been told that others will take advantage of you if you open up or try something new. Maybe you've been told you'll never find anything better than what you're experiencing now. So, even when we experience something that feels good, healthy, or affirming, we react with fear instead of leaning in to what feels functional.

Let's be clear about these thoughts that may have arisen: there is nothing wrong with reaching out for support from those who love you. Not everyone in the world seeks to take advantage of those who are struggling. You are deserving of more than the pain you are feeling from dysfunction.



Okay...so now what?

The lived experience of dysfunction can feel very confusing and scary once light is shed on the reality. If any of the things we've talked about so far resonate with you, we are so, deeply sorry you've had to experience it. While we don't want to put a positive spin on the pain you may have felt, we want to provide you with a bit of hope that there are things you can do to experience the freedom and authenticity life has to offer you.

  1. Acknowledge what may have been dysfunctional in your life. Fearing the functional doesn't have to be forever. If you are beginning to acknowledge the dysfunction you've had in your life, change is possible. The first step is to acknowledge that perhaps the way something exists or existed wasn't good for you. It can be hard for folx who have lived with long-term trauma. Whether it be an unsupportive family, a toxic workplace, problematic friendships, an abusive partner, or more. You didn't deserve what you experienced. You are capable of growing from it.

  2. Reflect on how dysfunction impacted your way of seeing the world. This is best done when you're with a therapist who can guide you in thinking about the different parts of your life. What are some thoughts you've had about the world? Your relationships? Yourself? How do you think the dysfunction influences all of these things? What are some beliefs that the dysfunction taught you to believe? Sometimes the messages are things like, "People cannot be trusted," or, "I will never be good enough," or, "There is nothing more out there for me." The thing about these messages is that they don't have to be true. You have a choice about what to believe.

  3. Think about what you want for yourself. This is also something to explore in therapy, and sometimes with a trusted friend. You can learn about what functionality looksl ike for you and decide whether it's what you're ready for! This process can be hard, especially if you don't think about your desires and needs often. While a good friend can give perspective, a therapist can help you map out your values and collaborate with you in creating a life and routine you want.

  4. Live out the way you want for yourself. Getting to this step can take a bit of time, and that's okay. Maybe you don't know what you want. Maybe you're still not ready to talk about the dysfunction. No one can force you to be ready for exploration like this.

As you move through your decision, we want you to remember a few things:


You are worthy of living a functional, fulfilling life.


You deserve not to feel fear when your life is going well.


You are worthy of choosing yourself.


When you're ready, Cultured Space therapists are here for you. Each of our therapists specialize in working with BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folx who are seeking support to heal and grow. We hope that when you're ready to be embraced by kindness, peace, and acceptance, you'll find comfort in reaching out to us. If you're ready, you can book an appointment today with one of our therapists! If you need a few more questions answered, you can also schedule a free consultation.

When you're ready, we're here for you.