Change is Uncomfortable

Estimated reading time: 10 mins

Navigating significant change is inherently an emotional experience. It can be thrilling, painful, or a mix of both, creating a complex landscape of feelings. During such times, maintaining perspective can be particularly challenging. However, understanding that there’s a natural cycle to these emotions, experienced differently by everyone, can provide some comfort. Every individual reacts uniquely to change, influenced by personal history, coping mechanisms, and the nature of the change itself. For some, change brings excitement and a sense of opportunity. They may feel invigorated by the potential for new beginnings and the possibilities that lie ahead. This optimistic outlook can propel them forward, helping them adapt quickly and embrace the new circumstances.

Change is Uncomfortable

On the other hand, for many, change can evoke fear and uncertainty. The disruption of familiar routines and the loss of what once was can be deeply unsettling. These feelings can lead to a sense of vulnerability and loss of control, making it hard to see the positive aspects of the new situation. It’s in these moments that understanding the emotional cycle of change becomes crucial. Recognizing that feeling overwhelmed, angry, or sad is a normal part of the process can help mitigate some of the distress.

Additionally, knowing that these emotions are temporary and part of a broader journey can provide a sense of hope. Just as the initial shock of change fades, so too will the more intense emotional reactions. Over time, as we move through the stages of this emotional journey, we can begin to find acceptance and even a renewed sense of purpose. This awareness can transform our approach to change, allowing us to navigate it with greater resilience and understanding.

Understanding Change and Grief

The emotional journey through significant change has been studied extensively, with various theorists contributing to our understanding of how humans process grief and change. In the 1960s, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross closely studied the emotional journeys of the dying and bereaved. She identified a common pattern in their emotional experiences, which she detailed in her book, “On Death and Dying.” This pattern, known as the ‘grief curve,’ outlines five stages of emotion: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Interestingly, these stages also apply to significant life changes, particularly those imposed upon us.

Before Kübler-Ross, other pioneers laid the groundwork for understanding grief and change. In the 1940s, Erich Lindemann conducted pioneering work on the grief process following the tragic Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston, which claimed nearly 500 lives. Lindemann’s studies focused on the acute grief reactions observed in survivors and relatives of the deceased. His work highlighted common symptoms such as somatic distress, preoccupation with the image of the deceased, guilt, hostile reactions, and loss of patterns of conduct. Lindemann’s research was foundational in recognizing that grief has identifiable symptoms and predictable patterns, which can help in understanding emotional responses to significant life changes.

Collin Murray Parkes, a British psychiatrist, further developed these ideas in the 1960s and 1970s. Parkes’s research emphasized the phases of grief and the psychological processes involved in adjusting to loss. He introduced the concept of “grief work,” which involves the conscious process of confronting and working through the emotions associated with loss. Parkes identified phases such as numbness, yearning, disorganization and despair, and reorganization. His work showed that grief is not a linear process but involves a series of overlapping phases where individuals oscillate between confronting the reality of the loss and avoiding it. This understanding parallels the emotional journey through significant life changes, where individuals often experience a mix of denial, anger, and eventually, acceptance.

John Bowlby, a British psychologist known for his work on attachment theory, also contributed to our understanding of grief and loss. Bowlby’s attachment theory posits that early relationships with caregivers shape our emotional responses to loss and separation throughout life. Bowlby identified phases of mourning similar to those described by Parkes and Kübler-Ross. His four stages include shock and numbness, yearning and searching, disorganization and despair, and reorganization. Bowlby emphasized that the quality of early attachments influences how individuals cope with loss and change later in life. His work underscores the importance of secure attachments in providing a foundation for resilience in the face of significant changes.

These foundational works collectively inform our understanding of the emotional journey through change. Recognizing that these emotional stages are normal can help us gain perspective during turbulent times. Understanding this cycle can make the process a bit easier to manage. Each theorist highlighted that grief, whether due to loss or significant life change, follows a somewhat predictable pattern. This predictability can be reassuring, suggesting that the intense emotions felt during significant changes are part of a natural and shared human experience.

Incorporating these insights, we see that change, especially when it’s unexpected, can evoke a whirlwind of emotions. These feelings are a natural part of our human experience. By acknowledging and understanding these emotions, we can create a little distance from them and trust that they will pass in time. This awareness, built upon the foundational work of Kübler-Ross, Lindemann, Parkes, and Bowlby, can transform our approach to change, allowing us to navigate it with greater resilience and understanding.

Recognizing the stages of grief and the emotional responses to change can provide a framework for coping. It helps to know that denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are not just personal failings but part of a universal process. This understanding can foster compassion for ourselves and others as we navigate the inevitable changes that life brings. By embracing the emotional journey with awareness and acceptance, we can better manage the transitions in our lives, ultimately emerging stronger and more adaptable.

The Five Stages of Change

Kübler-Ross’s grief curve outlines five stages that we typically go through when faced with change. These stages aren’t experienced in a linear fashion, and individuals may move through them at different paces, sometimes revisiting previous stages. Here’s a closer look at each stage:

  1. Denial
    When confronted with sudden change, our initial reaction is often denial. This stage acts as a defense mechanism, allowing us to buffer the immediate shock and gradually absorb the new reality. Denial can manifest in various ways, such as downplaying the significance of the change or refusing to acknowledge its impact altogether. For example, many initially minimized the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, clinging to a belief that life would quickly return to normal. This denial serves to protect us from the overwhelming emotions that come with abrupt shifts. On a more personal level, resisting lifestyle changes, like adopting a vegan diet despite compelling evidence, reflects a similar form of denial. By rejecting the change initially, we give ourselves time to adjust and process the implications gradually. Understanding that denial is a natural first response can help us move towards acceptance and adaptation more effectively.
  2. Anger
    When faced with significant change, fear and vulnerability often manifest as anger. This stage is a natural emotional response where we ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Anger serves as a protective mechanism, masking deeper feelings of helplessness and fear. It can be directed towards others, situations, or even oneself, creating a sense of blame and frustration. This anger is neither rational nor constructive, but it is a common part of the human experience. Recognizing that anger is a shared response to change can be liberating. It helps us understand that our reactions are normal and that we are not alone in feeling this way. The key is to acknowledge the anger without letting it control our actions. By accepting it as part of the process, we can begin to move past it, allowing ourselves to feel the underlying emotions and gradually transition towards acceptance.
  3. Bargaining
    Bargaining is a stage where we attempt to regain a sense of control amidst change. This stage often involves making deals or promises to ourselves or a higher power in an effort to influence the outcome or to mitigate the impact of the change. For example, someone might think, “If I do everything right, maybe things will go back to how they were.” This can also manifest as replaying scenarios in our minds, considering what we could have done differently to prevent the change. Bargaining reflects our deep desire to avoid the pain of loss and to restore a sense of normalcy and stability. It can be a way to postpone the sadness and confusion that comes with the reality of the situation. Understanding that this stage is part of the natural response to change can help us navigate through it with more awareness and self-compassion.
  4. Depression
    As the initial shock and strong emotions begin to subside, many people experience a period of depression. This stage occurs when the reality of the change fully sets in, leading to feelings of sadness, confusion, and a lack of energy. It can feel as if a heavy weight is pressing down, making it difficult to muster enthusiasm for activities or even maintain daily routines. Concentration may wane, and a sense of isolation often sets in, as the individual grapples with the profound sense of loss and the daunting task of adapting to new circumstances. This depressive phase is a natural part of the adjustment process. It’s important to recognize these feelings as normal and to allow oneself the space to grieve. If the depression feels overwhelming or persists, seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals can be crucial. They can provide the necessary guidance and care to navigate through this challenging period, ensuring that the individual does not face it alone.
  5. Acceptance
    Acceptance marks the stage where we begin to genuinely adapt to change. It’s characterized by a sense of resolution and the ability to envision a future beyond the upheaval. While the pain of the loss or change may not entirely disappear, it becomes more manageable, and we start to integrate it into our lives. This stage is not about being perfectly content or happy but rather about finding a new normal and a renewed sense of purpose. Acceptance often brings a calm understanding that while things are different, life can still be meaningful and fulfilling. It’s normal to have occasional setbacks, where old emotions resurface, but these moments become less frequent and less intense over time. Embracing acceptance allows us to move forward, leveraging our experiences to foster resilience and growth. This stage is about making peace with the past and focusing on the possibilities that lie ahead.

Embracing the Emotional Journey

Navigating through significant change is an intricate emotional journey, deeply rooted in our shared human experience. The theories and observations of Kübler-Ross, Lindemann, Parkes, and Bowlby provide invaluable frameworks that help us understand the various stages we undergo when faced with profound changes. Recognizing these stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—can offer a sense of structure and predictability in otherwise chaotic times. This understanding fosters compassion and patience, not just towards ourselves but also towards others who are undergoing similar transitions.

By acknowledging these emotional stages as natural and universal, we reduce the stigma often associated with feelings of vulnerability and fear. This awareness empowers us to approach change with greater resilience, viewing it not as an insurmountable obstacle but as a part of life’s ebb and flow. Understanding that these emotions will pass and that they are steps on the path to eventual acceptance can make the process less daunting.

While we cannot control the changes that life brings, we can control how we respond to them. Embracing the emotional journey with awareness and acceptance enables us to navigate through life’s transitions more gracefully. Ultimately, this journey through change can lead to personal growth, resilience, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and our capabilities. As we adapt and move forward, we build a stronger foundation for facing future challenges, equipped with the knowledge that we have the strength to endure and thrive.

Check out these similar posts:

Leave a Comment

Please note: if you are making a comment to contact me about advertising and placements, read the Advertisers page for instructions. I will not reply to comments about this subject.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
How Am I Doing?

Did this discussion solve your problem?

Then please share this post or leave a comment.