John McCaffrey
3 min readMar 30, 2023

No Pain No Change — Are you choosing the comfort of conformity over the calamity of conflict?

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw

Jason Kurtz, a leading psychoanalyst in New York City, and an author, playwright and filmmaker, often says this about patients who are making progress in sessions:

“They tell me that people in their lives are angry with them.”

Why is this a good thing? According to Jason, it might mean a patient is changing, and in the process upsetting those who do not want them to change. For example, the “drinking buddy” is unhappy his “happy hour sidekick” has decided life is best led sober. An abusive spouse is livid their formerly compliant partner is moving out and filing for divorce. The hard-driving boss does not understand the need for personal time. The overly-critical parent can’t take constructive criticism. Based on these type of reactions, it’s no wonder making meaningful life changes can be daunting…and hard to sustain. The fact is that when confronted with push-back and peer pressure, many people retreat back into problematic patterns and dysfunctional relationships, choosing the comfort of conformity over the calamity of conflict.

This ebb and flow plays out often on social media, especially in the mercurial and volatile space that is Twitter. On this app, I have observed many a politician or celebrity, anyone well-known to be on one side of an issue or in lock-step with a particular party, post something that opposes (or merely questions) their usual stance. And very often, upon receiving heaps of scorn and ridicule and even threats, they (1) delete and/or apologize profusely for the “offending” post, and (2) “double down” on presenting content that reestablishes their former online “self”. The message could not be clearer: get back in line and keep in line or expect more of the same. Which is antithetical to intellectual and emotional growth. There is nothing more stifling to the human spirit than fear, and in this situation, the fear of online backlash and ostracism pushes against our primal urges to connect and combine. Jason calls it a kind of “tribalism.” He explains:

“We want to feel like we matter, like our opinions are valid and good, and one of the ways we tend to do that is by identifying with a group and modeling our opinions and behavior to match that of said group. In the past this was usually defined by the community with which we lived, whereas now a lot of people define their identity by connecting with an online community.

We are communal creatures by nature. Whether it’s a church group, or a political group, or a work group, or a social media group, we want to belong and to fit in and in order to to this we often have to have the “right” opinions.”

Yet who is to say what is right? We are by nature evolving beings, and we survive and thrive by learning and adapting to an ever-changing world. This is not done in a linear line: we do not move forward in lock-step, but more like a line graph depicting a volatile stock market. But whether it be on social media, in the workplace, at school or with friends and family, when we keep silent in the face of bullying, when we no longer push the boundaries of our curiosity, when we stop exploring and expressing our truth, we also stop changing. And when we stop changing, we stop improving. Life becomes stagnant, repetitive, mundane and narrow. Is not angering some people worth that?

John McCaffrey

John McCaffrey is a writer and a professor at The Rochester Institute of Technology.