Last week I witnessed something that was a perfect illustration of a phenomenon that we all have probably experienced.
Have you ever started something? Began working toward a goal and quit before you see your goal realized? We’ve all done it, a diet, fitness program, a new course or DIY project. We start out with every intention of reaching the goal but once the novelty wears off it gets hard to stay in the game.
One of the main reasons for this is familiarity. This is especially true when reaching the goal is a gradual process. An example that comes to mind is the aging of a close friend or family member.
You marry that dashing handsome young man at age 25 and 20 years later he’s still that same handsome man… to you. But when you go to his 25th high school reunion everyone notices how “different” he looks. You never even noticed.
The reason for this is that the natural changes of aging are so gradual, it takes either a direct before and after comparison, or an awful lot of time for someone who has familiarity to see a significant change.
This is the same process that’s in play when you begin a diet or fitness program and after a month or two you don’t notice any changes. Many people will just give up and quit, deciding the plan is not working. I call this the enemy known as familiarity, because it actually becomes a saboteur if you’re not careful.
One of the families in my practice recently reaped the benefits of staying the course, despite familiarity, and for me it was truly a wonder to behold.
This family has a child with autism. I first met with them about a year ago. True to his diagnosis, their child was very uncooperative and everything we had to do was a struggle.
Drawing blood was a one-hour ordeal. Changing his diet and figuring out how to get him to take his supplements was a struggle. The worst part is it’s a slow torturous process. There is nothing enjoyable or glamorous about it.
Parents of autistic children will often hold out hope a lot longer than others, mainly because they don’t have a lot of other options. This family was no exception. They hung in there. They dug in their heels and did everything I told them to do, even though they weren’t seeing any changes. They didn’t always do it perfect but they never gave up.
I must admit, in the beginning when they were seeing me regularly for the first 6 months while we were getting tests and doing active treatment, I even developed a sense of familiarity. I didn’t notice much change in those first six months.
Once we got the acute issues addressed, it was just a matter of them carrying out the plan so I didn’t see them for about 6 months. Six months later when the dad called to schedule a follow-up appointment I asked how the child was and he said, “he’s about the same”.
I scheduled the appointment with a sense of discouragement as I tried to think of what we might try next. To my surprise, when they arrived for the appointment I immediately noticed a dramatic difference in the child.
He was relaxed, conversant and not at all disruptive. There had literally been a 180- degree turn from 6 months prior. The best part was that the parents hadn’t seen it happen…until that moment.
It wasn’t until I pointed out that their son was sitting quiet, contently watching PBS. He greeted me and engaged in conversation without anxious and confrontational behavior, which he wasn’t able to do 6 months prior. When it was time to draw blood he hopped up on the table and stretched out his arm in cooperation.
At that moment I looked at his parents faces and they both looked like it was Christmas morning and they had gotten their favorite gift. When I asked how long his behavior had been improved to this degree, they couldn’t recall. In fact I don’t think they realized what had happened until that moment.
They had been so used to having an autistic child with behavior problems that they hadn’t been able to see their child any other way. They were so familiar with what their child had been that they missed it when he changed.
It wasn’t until I recalled something for them to make a comparison against, that they experienced the payoff of their persistence with the program.
True healing is a gradual process. I always remind people that when they get diagnosed with a chronic disease, that disease had been developing for a long time (years in most cases) before they could tell anything was wrong.
Healing is the same way, it’s happening for a long time before we realize it, we just have to recognize familiarity for the enemy it is and imagine ourselves the way we will be, until it becomes reality.