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 and the person affected is not really there. He/she may retreat from the reality of the change. A bereaved person may “see” her or his lost love in the street. A redundant person may continue to go to Town each day or become over confident of 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. Each individual copes in his/her own way. There is no neat way. Much of the difficulty of coping with personal change is coping with the feelings generated, rather than the facts of the change. It is likely always to be helpful to talk to an understanding person about these feelings and the general situation. 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 usually 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 ability to make decisions. Unproductive patterns of behaviour arise. You can think of them as tape recordings that play in a redundant person’s ear always. They are rigid and get in the way.

Some examples

“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 his/ her major 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 a bread winners. People have to learn new roles, have inevitable failures and the feeling 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, type of 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

In the end we take 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. Once you take a decision in a high band the decisions lower down become easier.

An example

I will go on living

I will stay in the UK

I will stay 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. It is often helpful to have one temporarily fixed point 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 Job on NE Coast
Pro Con
Employment at lastCold
Lower cost of livingKnow no-one
Friendly peopleLong way from family
Lovely countyUnexciting job

Continue Looking 
Pro Con
Two promising interviews to comeUncertainty
Chance to get the right jobCost and lost income
Avoid social disruptionStress
Market researchLonely 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 the results over with a friend or counsellor also helps. Consider how to reduce the disadvantages of your choice and so make the decision work.

Time and goals

Decide how long you need to decide what you want, how long to scan the market, how long to apply for jobs of a certain type. Stop and reflect at intervals and adjust your plan accordingly.

People usually enjoy working towards clear and attractive goals that 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 important 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.

My Goals

 Next weekNext monthIn a yearIn five yearsIn 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 treated be badly. 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 your self for all your difficulties. Some responsibility may belong to someone else. Ineffective management and poor information are quite 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 have thoroughly aired your feelings with another person.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick