Changing Your Change Curve.
Call me a slow learner but having to face and live with my new normal was tough for me. I was in shock. I just didn’t want to accept the change that had occurred and it took me twenty years to get to a place where I was ready to be really honest about my hurt and confusion, to understand and accept those feelings, and then come up with some strategies to help myself move forward.
When we go through big change, whether it is bereavement, redundancy, retirement, separation, any form of loss or trauma, there is a natural process. ‘The Change Curve’, as developed by the late Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, plots the changes that we naturally go through. My emotional development was no different to anyone else’s, except we all emerge through the other side at different times depending on how long we choose to hold onto the feelings and emotions that we are experiencing. I say ‘choose’ because it is exactly that – a choice.
Everything we decide to think, say or do, whether we are conscious of it or not, is our decision. For the majority of us, only 5% of our decisions come from our conscious mind. A pretty frightening fact, especially when you consider that we are having between 50,000 and 70,000 self-conversations a day, whether they are in the conscious mind or the subconscious. Therefore, 95% of the time we are unaware of why we are feeling, thinking and behaving the way we do. So much could go wrong and no wonder we can feel out of control sometimes. When you realise that, does it not make sense to learn more about ourselves and take back some control?
For twenty years I felt completely out of control. I was caught between stage one and two of the change curve. My head, heart and body were all disagreeing with one another, so no wonder I eventually came to a standstill. I just didn’t know how to react any longer. There was so much confusion going on inside of me that eventually I came to a grinding halt with so much emotional baggage I didn’t know what to do with anymore. The more I look back on it the more I realise that the back ache, the tiredness, the feverish feeling I got as I tried to manage everything was my body finally saying,
“Come on Cath, it’s time. You can’t go on like this any longer. You have been in denial, anger and depression over the transformation of your dad to Joan for too long. It’s time to get your house in order.”
In 2007 I took an introduction to counselling course, then my Life Coaching Diplomas and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. However, like so many other people, when you are working on your own personal development, you get so far and then you can easily get distracted because:
- You start to feel a lot better.
- You start to gain more control over your feelings.
- You also get to the really difficult points so you go back to sweeping it under the carpet again.
- The challenging conversations of keeping a secret continue.
I felt all of the above and distracted myself by using my newfound life coaching skills in my adult education career. It totally transformed it. I had already set up a Parent Craft course to support fathers in jail in developing their parenting skills, and was now setting up and teaching an Effective Thinking Skills course, both of which were well received. I learned how to use my voice, my facial expressions and my general communication skills to put my message across to these men more convincingly. It was really working… until the powers that be decided that they weren’t going to fund the course any longer. As I threw my arms up in dismay I realised that this was the right time to consider my options. How was I really going to change my career and face my own issues going forward?
Career wise, I chose to give up my twenty-five years of adult education teaching experience with schools, colleges and prisons – and go it alone. I was going to combine my teaching and life coaching skills together without the confines of Ofsted, prison rules etc and start a new chapter.
So far, so good… However, I was aware that busying myself with implementing changes in my career was just me in denial, putting off the big acceptance and integration that needed to happen. Things came to a head in unlikely circumstances. It soon became apparent that my parents, now in their eighties, needed a little extra help at home, and I began spending more time with them, doing little jobs that they found stressful or tiring, such as sorting and shredding paperwork. So far, so normal… but funnily enough, it was this job, this coming together to burn through our past that brought things to a head. Doing the admin and paperwork meant facing practical issues such as: how exactly do I describe my relationship with these two women on paper? And from an emotional point of view, sitting down and sifting through meant more one-on-one time with Joan – and I enjoyed this. These quiet hours spent side by side working methodically in a companionable way helped me see her for her, and not a person who used to be my dad, perhaps for the first time in forty years. Did this mean I was moving closer to stage 3 of the curve, finally getting closer to that longed for acceptance and integration of Joan?
I did. One sunny spring day a few months into the task, I was up the garden burning a massive pile of forty years of paperwork. I was mesmerised by the way the cream paper turned yellow, curled and gradually the edges singed to ochre and then brown. There was something rather poetic about the movement and shapes of the flames, how they changed from yellow to orange with the occasional flash of green and blue. As I studied the depth of the red embers in the bottom I saw it. Martin Homer. Dad’s signature on an old Mastercard paper receipt. My heart started to beat uncontrollably and my hands shook violently. I couldn’t burn it! But I couldn’t reach into the flames to grab it either. I frantically sifted through the rapidly reducing pile of papers in the box. A huge sigh of relief. There were more. Many more. Mum and Dad’s signatures, neatly side by side on many documents, just as they had always been. I folded one of each and put them carefully and safely in my pocket. My heart stopped pounding but the reality of what had just happened struck me with huge force. I was burning my dad, I was finally letting him go, and with this thought I could feel the last twenty-five years of denial, anger, frustration and confusion rise up through my body and escape quietly through my tears and sobs. Eventually the sobs subsided and the heat from the flames left crusty salt streams down my cheeks as a calm embraced me, as if comforting me and saying, “Cath, everything is going to be alright”. I had finally reached the third stage of the change curve – and allowed myself to let my dad go.
The amazing thing about our brains and the way the neurotransmitters work is that we can grow new connects but that isn’t enough to make great change. We also have to unlearn the ones we already have. In Norman Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself he discusses the way this works, in terms of grieving for example:
“Though reality tells us our loved one is gone, ‘its orders cannot be obeyed at once.’ We grieve by calling up one memory at a time, reliving it, and then letting it go.”
In other words, we turn on each neural network that we originally wired up, then we have to relive it for us to be able to let it go and say goodbye. This is also going to be the same for parents who are experiencing empty nesting syndrome, retirement, redundancy and many other forms of major change.
Almost within hours of finding Dad’s last signatures and letting go, life started to come together. A true eureka moment. Now I understood why I was doing so much to teach and support others and how they could work for me. As a teacher and a life coach, I had got my strategies to support myself and others but I now finally understood how they linked together and how I have used them. That could only make me a better coach and teacher as well as a happier person. For the first time in years, I felt a deep sense of peace and excitement.
With this in mind, I would like to share with you my ‘7 Steps to YOUR Happy Life’.
By following these seven steps you will be able to see more clearly and find your deep sense of peace and excitement. However, there is no black and white to managing your change because there are so many variables, such as:
- Your own belief systems
- Your values in life
- Results of positive and negative past experiences
- Your levels of self-honesty
- Reactions from others
- Your own natural levels of optimism and pessimism
- Your support structures
- The enthusiasm for your commitment levels and willingness to change
It is, however, important to remember that with these strategies, there is an order to them. You might find you keep going backwards and forwards, re-addressing and checking that you are progressing in the right direction. Always remember that there is no right way, only the right way for you.
If you want to address your ‘living with normal’ follow the strategies, use them fluidly and keep going back to the previous strategies if you need more clarification. This book is to be used as an exercise book. Don’t be frightened to write in it, highlight areas, doodle in the corners when you are thinking. Some of the most useful books I have read have the corners of the pages turned over, notes in the margins and highlighted text. I know then I can go back to it and find what I am looking for easily.
Extract from part 2, When Dad Became Joan: Life with my transgender father.”
By Cath Lloyd, Living with normal. £14.99 from The Sunshine Hub Shop or Amazon.