Facing Personal Change
The effects of change
People’s reactions to personal change follow a recognisable pattern. Initially, there is a period of shock or numbness, “I can’t take it in”. It is as though the event had happened to someone else. They may retreat from the reality of the change. A bereaved person may “see” their lost love in the street. A redundant person may continue to go to where they worked each day or become overconfident about finding a job immediately. After a further period, there is an adjustment to the new reality that is often painful or frightening. The person accepts the loss has happened. The final stage is coping with the new situation. If the change is traumatic, the process can take two or three years or more. Skilled help can reduce the period considerably.
The emotional impact of change
Personal change will sometimes unlock painful memories of other losses. Everyone copes in their way. There is no neat way. Much of the difficulty of dealing with personal change is coping with the feelings generated rather than the facts of the change. Talking to an understanding person about these feelings and the general situation is always helpful. Only if the feelings of failure, abandonment, guilt or anger are expressed and understood will movement be possible. In severe personal change, it is NOT weak to break down and cry. It is often the most helpful thing you can do.
When the initial shock is over, or even before, there will be decisions to take. If negative feelings remain unexpressed, they distort people’s decision-making ability. Unproductive patterns of behaviour arise. You can think of them as tape recordings that always play in a redundant person’s ear. They are rigid and get in the way.
“No one will ever want me.”
“It is not a problem. I don’t need any help”.
“You can’t trust anyone.”
“It was unjust. They owe me a job.”
After severe personal change, an individual’s role changes. A production manager finds their primary occupation is now marketing. Looking for a job is a marketing operation. Bereaved people may have to be housekeepers and full-time parents rather than breadwinners. People must learn new roles, have inevitable failures and feel that “I’ll never do it properly”.
Severe personal change shatters the assumptions people make about life. Loss of job calls into question a person’s physical location, income, type of employment, organisation, country and discipline. These are all open to change. The choice becomes overwhelming, and we become paralysed. Erich Fromm describes this as “The Fear of Freedom”. It is the reason big Lottery winners sometimes have breakdowns or throw their money away.
Decision-making in response to change
Ultimately, we make decisions, or they are taken for us. Two questions help.
“What is the worst thing that can happen if I do X?”
“What will happen if I do nothing?”
Doing nothing can mean losing time to plan or to learn from experience.
You can place decisions in bands, with the highest band having the broadest consequences. The lower-down decisions become more straightforward once you decide in a high band.
I will go on living.
I will stay in the UK.
I will remain in similar work.
I will relocate if necessary.
I will seek a new full-time job
I will scan the newspapers and technical journals
I will prepare for interviews carefully
Of course, failure in one band may cause reconsideration of the decision at the next highest band. This process does provide a boundary to work within. Too much change is unmanageable. Having one temporarily fixed point is often helpful, like not wanting to move your house.
A simple decision-making tool
It helps to write down the pros and cons of each alternative, including those for doing nothing.
|Take a Job in the North East|
|Employment at last||Cold|
|Lower cost of living||Know no-one|
|Friendly people||A long way from family|
|Lovely county||Unexciting job|
|Two promising interviews to come||Uncertainty|
|Chance to get the right job||Cost and lost income|
|Avoid social disruption||Stress|
|Market research||Lonely work|
Writing down the pros and cons can enable you to get far enough away from the situation to examine all the factors and judge them rationally. This is a better guide to action than your feelings. Talking about your thoughts with a friend, colleague, or coach also helps. Consider how to reduce the disadvantages of your choice and make the decision work.
Time and goals
Decide how long you need to decide what you want, how long to scan the market, and how long to apply for jobs of a particular type. Stop and reflect at intervals and adjust your plan accordingly.
People usually enjoy working towards clear and attractive goals they have set for themselves. We do not live in isolation, so it helps to consider goals for family, friends, community and you. It is hard to be happy if your family is miserable. It is essential to have long and short-term goals. Long-term goals provide vision and personal energy, and short-term ones provoke practical action. They should be consistent.
A simple planning chart will help to organise this.
|Next week||Next month||In a year||In five years||In my lifetime|
|For me|| |
|For my family|| |
|For my friends|| |
|For my community|| |
|For my world|| |
Coping with disappointments
Even with good planning and thinking, things will go wrong sometimes. When this happens, three reactions are common.
|Blaming others||“It was their fault. They mistreated me. You can’t trust people like that”. This is blaming others for all your difficulties. Some responsibility may be yours.|
|Blaming yourself||“I am just incompetent. I’ll never be any good at anything. It’s not worth trying any more”. This is blaming yourself for all your difficulties. Some responsibility may belong to someone else. Ineffective management and poor information are common.|
|Thoughtful reflection.||So, it did not work out. What was it in me and the situation that caused this to happen? What can I learn from the experience to use next time?|
The third alternative is preferable. It may only be possible when you thoroughly air your feelings with another person.