Ouch. An estranged friend, ex-flame, or disapproving family member just directed this comment toward you. How do you respond?
The first thought is, “Oh no, I’ve changed. I’ve turned away from the person they’ve loved and respected, I’ve regressed, I’ve failed.” The anxiety builds and suddenly you’re forced into an identity crisis. You’re torn between who you thought you were and how this person perceives you to be. “You’ve changed” has a certain underhanded, disparaging quality to it; it attacks nothing directly about your character or physical appearance. But it still stings. Why?
Identity is one of our most important possessions. If we don’t feel comfortable with ourselves and believe that our behaviors and values are justified, we will experience guilt constantly. There is great value in self-confidence, but what happens when the self in which you are confident changes (as it inevitably will)? Does your self-confidence falter?
It’s a tricky situation; if we love our current selves, change doesn’t seem necessary. But sometimes, we don’t choose change; it approaches us through a major life transition (like going to college). And in my experience, mistakes included, I’ve seen it as growth. I’ve been accused of change during my first year of college, but I also joined a community service sorority, committed to working in a psychology lab, and did other things that required me to leave my comfort zone (and the shyness of my old self). Being proud of your own accomplishments and the challenges you overcame is so much more important than what anyone thinks.
This goes for changes in personality too, which are usually under the most scrutiny. Whether it’s being more assertive about what you want, ending toxic relationships, or changing your political/religious/ideological alignment, all change is valid. In fact, I think we are made for change and adaptation. Humans are spectacularly multi-dimensional. They are wonderfully malleable. And this is what completely refutes the venom behind “you’ve changed.” Let's undo the glamorization of stagnancy; don’t let anyone undermine your personal growth.
So feel free to collect stories. Make mistakes and learn through exposure. Your life is a blank canvas that you get to color with experiences, thoughts, and meaningful interactions with others. There is no pre-established path of development and the only person who has the right to assess your personal change is you.
So my response to “you’ve changed” is this:
“I’d hope so.”