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“When does it stop hurting so much,” I said to my therapist.
I was sick to my gut and filled with anxiety. I could feel the anxiety pounding its way to my chest and I wanted to literally rock in the corner as the pain felt so deep. I felt like I would never stop feeling this way.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to make this change. I wanted to start a new life. I wanted to leave a toxic, unfulfilling path and venture into my freedom, but freedom never felt so crappy. It almost made my old life feel somewhat comforting. I guess this is the point where most of us stop making those positive changes and we continue with our old ways and maintaining old patterns.
“This will pass,” he said to me. But it didn’t. Not immediately, anyway. It took years to be honest.
Am I free? Yes.
Do I still have moments of feeling like crap? Yes.
What is the point of making meaningful changes when it makes us feel so unsettled?
Those crappy feelings, believe it or not, are preparation ground for our rebirth. They are the telltale signs that we are on the right track.
We have a built-in survival mechanism to avoid pain. We would be insane or sadistic to move toward a raging fire. However, living in flight, fight, or freeze coping modes for a long duration of time can keep us trapped in unhealthy ties that also make us feel like crap. Then along the way, we realize this is not how we want to live and we make a change for our best selves and our best life.
Meaningful changes should be smoother than this, and yet, the invitations along the change process are, more often, downright unpleasant. We think that because we decided to do what is best for us that it will bring peace and joy immediately.
Here are a few I have experienced along the way. From most accounts, they are experienced by many others along their change journey.
1. Feeling alone when making meaningful changes:
The journey of meaningful change is a lonely one and it truly is a deep inner process. It is not unusual for many to say how alone they feel. I have felt deeply alone despite having friends, work colleagues, family, and a therapist. It is normal to feel disconnected from others and to feel in these moments that nobody fully understands the enormity of our pain. Pain is disconnecting in its very nature. We will find ourselves saying “I am alone.” “There’s nobody for me.”
The opportunity for growth if we work through the loneliness is a deeper connection with ourselves and greater compassion to others. When we learn how to feel our deepest fears of “aloneness” and we can direct compassion and healthy soothing to it, we have a greater capacity for connection with others.
2. Feeling unable to relax and agitated when making meaningful changes:
When we make decisions to leave a toxic relationship, move country for a better life, change jobs, or make other meaningful changes in our lives, our emotions become heightened and there’s a lot of nervous energy that we feel marinated in. I found these times lead to lowered concentration and increased forgetfulness. We might want to bite the head of the person who tells us to relax. Relaxing is the last thing our body seems able to do.
The opportunity for growth if we work through the restlessness and learn how to work with the anxiety through our body, feelings, thoughts, and even spiritually might lead to profound life lessons.
A lot of us think we need to find a new job, a better partner, or create elaborate plans to reduce our anxiety. Yes, passivity does not resolve anything, but our restlessness and increased anxiety are also okay. We do not need to rush to get rid of it with old survival skills.
Anxiety is prompting the learning of more effective ways to manage the restlessness. Some of us need to learn to not over-plan, some not to run away, and others to not become helpless and paralyzed. The opportunity is for developing healthy coping strategies.
3. Increased irritability when making meaningful changes:
It is not unusual to have an extremely short fuse when we are making changes. Often, we are not met with support and understanding by those closest to us when we are changing old patterns.
We may find that those close to us can sometimes discourage us from making changes and can play into our fear of change. It can also mean that at times, those we love, continue to engage in behaviors that we want to move away from.
Some of us can often be met with a lot of self-doubt during these times because those around us are far from encouraging. This can give rise to resentment and irritability, and we might find that we lash out or feel like we are the real problem, or we retreat and feel irritable with ourselves for being like we are.
The opportunity for growth if we work through the irritability is an increased awareness of how we are in relationships and how we maintain unhealthy relationship dynamics with those closest to us. Maybe we learnt that we continue to seek approval and attention by being fully focused on the one we love and neglect ourselves.
I learnt that I did not have good boundaries with those closest to me and had never asked clearly for what I needed but certainly grew resentful. Irritability is a sign that something isn’t going well in our closest relationships and that the change we trying to make is a good one, and that relationship patterns are being revealed.
4. Surging fear when making meaningful changes:
Here is a truth if ever there was one—even the positive changes we make can fill us with dread because good change is still “change” and change is bloody, freaking scary.
People say it is so scary that it induces a panic that signals death. I think it’s a primitive fear response that we are in dangerous territory and that the unknown can in some way be harmful to us. Again, the natural survival response is to get the hell out. However, this might only be one side to it and if there isn’t an apparent danger, even healthy changes induce fear and stop us from making changes.
The opportunity for growth if we work through the fear is that we discover our inner resources of courage and bravery. Making meaningful changes requires courageous steps for change. It means experiencing the fear, facing our fear, and still moving forward. The greatest achievements of humankind have always been in the face of terrifying fear.
When I discovered my own courage and bravery, I experienced a quiet power that was growing within. Imagine having that power for yourself as a resource within you. Without fear, we cannot have courage.
5. Increased conflict and dissatisfaction when making meaningful changes:
We stop keeping quiet and often get taken aback by the things that come out our mouth, especially if we have always been quietly putting up with things and doing more than we need to. We also start to notice that our level of dissatisfaction increases and we start to become vocal. It simply just doesn’t cut it anymore. Often we are met with disapproval from others who love the dysfunction because it serves them.
The opportunity for growth if we work through the increased conflict and dissatisfaction is to become assured of what we do not want. Sustaining our changes often means that our comfort zone needs to become increasingly uncomfortable, that there is no other option but to keep moving in the direction of change.
6. Feeling intense loss and feeling lost when making meaningful changes:
Even when we make healthy changes, we are always going to encounter our grief. It’s partly why we avoid the change in the first place.
Loss of years, loss of love (even the destructive kind), loss of finances, loss of forms of security are all painful and deeply saddening. When we experience loss, we can feel lost, like we don’t know who we are or where we going or whether what we doing is actually right. This alone is a lot to deal with and can make us change our minds about making that change.
The opportunity for growth if we work through feelings of loss and feeling lost is that our grief won’t kill us (it may come close) and that we don’t completely lose ourselves, but discover new healthy parts of ourselves we never knew we had within us.
If we stick it out, we actually discover strengths and understand that grieving is just as important to healing as any other process. We change because where we are currently standing is too painful, and when we acknowledge that pain, it can feel like the flood gates have been opened. But we are also honoring ourselves and getting to know ourselves in a completely new light.
7. A desire for things to stay exactly as they are when making meaningful changes:
Don’t be alarmed that you want things to not have to change either. We are creatures of habit because familiarity feels safe. Even negative familiarity will seem better than the excavation that meaningful changes bring. In times like these, I found myself idealizing what once was and even minimizing the distress I was feeling. We may say things like: “I can stick it out for the next 10 years” or “Others have it tougher than I have it.”
The opportunity for growth if we work through feelings of wanting things to be as they used to be is that it is normal, and we might stop in our process of change even at this point.
Familiarity is comforting, there is no denying this truth. However, familiarity can also breed contempt. The loss of respect is often underestimated when we persist in old patterns and do not make those important changes.
Self-respect and respect for individuals, organisations, and associations are integral to health and well-being. When we stay too long in destructive situations, contempt increases, and we lose respect. The gains in respect, whether for self or others, are gems of incredible value in our journey of change.
Making meaningful changes can so often be hampered by feelings that make us feel crappy.
Crappy feelings do offer the opportunity for growth if we work through them with consistency and effort. The changes are not immediate and that can be discouraging, but what we can hold onto are the gems, covered with crap, that are discovered.
When we reframe the unpleasant feelings, we can keep going, and not give up on building our best self and our best life.