In my upcoming book, Thriving in Change (working title), one of the things I discuss are the many stages of change. In today’s blog, I want to give you an exclusive sneak peek at an excerpt from the book which deals with the first stage of change, which can often be the hardest one: letting go.
THE LETTING GO STAGE
The first step of change can sometimes be the most painful. In order to move through the change process, you will have to let go of something. Something must come to an end. This could be the end of a relationship, the end of a job, the end of security, or the end of an unfulfilled dream. We must at some point let go of the past to be able to accept and prepare for change.
It is hard on our human nature to let go of what is familiar, even when the old might not be serving us well. In fact, during the letting go process, we usually go through a very real grieving process. The more attached we are to the old, the more we will grieve.
Most grief professionals agree that the grieving process consists of five stages, first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:
1) Denial –believing that this is “just a dream” or “just a phase”. It’s really not happening. Take for example a particularly ominous diagnosis. Our first response may very well be to believe that the doctor is surely mistaken. “That can’t be right,” we might say. “There must be a mistake.” Then we cling to a false reality. “There was an error with the tests. They’ll realize they’ve misdiagnosed.”
2) Anger – feeling intensely about how “unfair” the situation is. We may even experience anger toward other people, believing it’s their fault. We might ask ourselves such questions as, “Why is this happening to me?” Say for example your workplace is laying off employees due to budget cuts. You’re among those who’ve lost a job. You’re outraged. You don’t believe you should’ve been pinpointed. You feel victimized.
3) Bargaining – believing that we can negotiate our way back to how things used to be. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of TV shows or movies where a main character will receive upsetting news either about themselves or a loved one, will find themselves in a hospital chapel, and will begin praying to the powers that be that they or their loved one be spared. In exchange, they will reform their life if that’s what it takes. This is bargaining.
4) Sadness – feeling lost, alone, or vulnerable. Sometimes this can deepen into depression and can require professional help. At this point, there may be a sense of hopelessness. Think of the grieving spouse of a terminally ill patient. Often times, they admit to a point when they didn’t believe they could go on with their lives after the death of their loved one. They didn’t see a point to life due to their deep despair.
5) Acceptance – realizing that things will not go back to the way they were. Instead, you embrace the inevitable future. You realize that everything is going to be okay. That you can get through this. You are now ready to move forward.
The order of the stages may shift, and you may vacillate from one to the other and back (from anger to sadness and back to anger). The important lesson for you to take away is the understanding that these feelings are normal and even necessary to complete the grieving process.
If you find yourself stuck in the grieving process at any step of the way, engage the services of a professional counselor or coach to give you guidance.
At times, we may erroneously assume that grief is something that should only be associated with a death. The death of a loved one is of course one of the most impactful changes we have to navigate in this world, but there are other losses that may result in grief.
The loss of a relationship, for instance, can have this effect. It forces us to let go of a person who was such a big part of our lives. We have to deal with the void that’s left in their absence. The loss of a home is another big one. Whether due to a planned relocation or an unplanned foreclosure, we have to deal with the grief that visits us when the time comes to say goodbye to a home where we most likely made many happy memories, a home that provided us with shelter and safekeeping.
Even the death of a dream can precede a grieving process. Sometimes, we have to shelve long-held dreams because they no longer align with our life goals, or because our priorities have shifted, or because it no longer makes sense for us to pursue those dreams. It can be hard to let go of something you’ve spent days, weeks, months, and maybe even years visualizing. It’s quite akin to letting go of a part of yourself.
No matter how big or small the change in your life, grief may very well be a familiar visitor from the onset. Recognising the grieving process can help you heal more quickly and effectively while adequately preparing you for the next stage of change.