Change can be exciting, terrifying, dull and distressing. To feel a mixture of emotions is perfectly natural. It is a bit of a rollercoaster and sometimes you want to stop and get off and at other times you’re whizzing along feeling exhilarated. The feelings and emotions we get during change have been extensively researched. Back in 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published her book “On Death and Dying’ identified the 5 stages of grief and as all change involves loss, these relate to other big change in our lives. We need to move through these stages in order to get through change. You’re going through change at the moment and feeling many different things and sometimes all at once!
So let’s look at each of the stages one at a time and examine what might be happening in this adapted version of the change curve.
Riding the rollercoaster.
Shock, paralysis & denial.
This is a defence mechanism that gives us time to absorb news of change. We don’t want to believe that the change is happening and maybe think that someone has made a mistake. We think that if we can pretend that the change is not happening, then maybe it will all go away or someone will decide not to do it.
Anger & realisation that things will change
When we start to realise that the change is real and will affect us, our denial can turn in to anger. We look to blame someone or something else for making this happen to us.
Our anger can be directed in many different directions. We might get angry with our boss, our partners or even ourselves. Sometimes, it is the government or economy that gets the blame.
During this phase, we are often more irritable towards other people, including our loved ones even if they have nothing to do with what’s happening.
Self-doubt, hurt & pain.
When we get to this stage we start to lose our confidence and feel doubt. We are hurt and in pain. We don’t want the change to happen and we may resist being part of it.
We might start bargaining in order to put off the change or find a way out of the situation.
Most of these bargains are secret deals with God, others, or life, where we say “If I promise to do this, then you make the change not happen to me”.
Rock bottom apathy and depression
When we realise that bargaining is not going to work the reality of the change sets in. At this point, we become aware of the losses associated with the change and what we have to leave behind. This has the potential to make us feel sad, down and depressed with low energy.
Common feelings include during this stage are suspicion, scepticism and frustration.
The lowest point comes when the anger begins to wear off and the realisation that the change is happening hits.
It is common for morale to be low, and apathy and anxiety levels to peak.
Feelings during this stage can be hard to express, and depression is possible as the impact of what has been lost is acknowledged.
At this point, performance is at its lowest. There is a tendency to fixate on small issues or problems, often to the detriment of day to day tasks.
Experimenting & Learning
In due course, we start to understand more about the new reality and the change. During this time, we start to experiment with new ways of being, working and living. It is possible that you will have moments of excitement and optimism. You might start to have new ideas about options of for creating a new future. Gradually, we build new strengths and set new goals.
This can be a creative space as it forces us to explore and look for new possibilities
We accept that the change has happened and we move forward with commitment, enthusiasm. However, some people still feel hurt by what happened and will carry this pain forward into their future.
Ideally, it would be good to think that we will reach the phase of ‘Acceptance’ but some people get stuck in the stages and find it difficult or impossible to move on.
Whilst this is a useful model and understanding the stages can be very helpful, it is important to remember that each of us reacts individually to change, and not all will experience every phase.
Some of us may spend a lot of time in the earlier stages, whilst others who are more accustomed to change may move fairly swiftly into the latter stages.
Although it is generally acknowledged that moving through the stages in a linear way is most common, there is no right or wrong sequence.
Also, people going through the same change at the same time are likely to travel at their own speed so don’t worry if you find yourself or someone else stuck at an earlier stage.
However, we don’t always move through the stages one at a time, in a neat, linear, step by step manner. That would be far too easy, wouldn’t it!
What tends to happen is that we occupy different stages at different times and can even move back to stages we have been in before. It can be messy and uncomfortable
Furthermore, the stages can last for different periods of time and will replace each other or exist side by side at times.
Overall, change can be painful. However, I know that I have learnt a great deal about myself during the major changes that have taken place in my life.
My final point is to remind you that at any stage you can choose to react differently. You can choose to be motivated, to let go and move on.
If you are struggling with change, you can choose to get help and support so that you can move forward.
I’d love to hear about your experience of change. Leave your thoughts below.