If we are not changing we are dead, or so the saying goes. Changing is an important part of our social development, and hopefully, those changes help us grow into better, more well-adjusted people. However, the changes we undergo have implications for how we relate to others, and often there are expectations put on us about how we show up. Those who relate to us become familiar with particular repertoires of interaction, and their expectations end up threatened by our growth. At the same time, the motivations for these expectations precede our relations and have much to do with social conditioning. Growing and changing threaten social ideas about who we must be and how we must behave, which is exactly why we must aspire to personal growth.
As a queer person, I have found that as I grow into myself, with every change my relationships were challenged. Some survived the change, while others let go. At the core of every challenge my relationships experienced, were the socially conditioned ideas about who people like me are meant to be and how we are meant to behave. When I came out as gay: expectations of masculinity were challenged and although I had never performed masculinity adequately, I was less intelligible to those who placed these expectations on me. Later in life when I grew into my non-binary identity, the taken for granted notions of gender were once again challenged. I learnt that people often direct their relations with others according to taken for granted rules that qualify identity. We find comfort in the ability to rely on the agreements we have collectively made with normative ideas of who people are. It seems much easier to form relationships with people who already conform to our ideas of what is normative than with people who contradict them.
This is one way in which social conditioning impacts our ability to grow with the relationships in our lives. When we see the people we are in a relationship with as being in transit to their ideal selves, we are better able to support growth without unrealistic expectations that place our comfort first.
When our perceptions of the people in our lives are informed by how they identify throughout their journeys of growth, we may also be inspired to open ourselves up to changes we have been afraid to make and explore identities we have been closed off to. When we open ourselves to participating in each other’s growth, we pave the way toward healthier and more useful relationships that benefit community building. We also create a sense of belonging for everyone and places of safety for our ever-changing subjectivities.
Growth is an important part of our personal evolution, but in order to truly experience its benefits, we must interrogate the belief systems that make us resistant to change. Once we can release ourselves from preconceived notions of who people must be we can accept that people change and it is wonderful!