Coping with the “C” Word – Change
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a wonderful group of actors at The Actor’s Network. As everyone went around the room introducing themselves, I was struck by the fact that all of them, with the exception of one person, were from out-of-state, and several were from out of the country. I thought to myself what courageous individuals they are, not only did they make a decision to come to Hollywood to fulfill an exceptionally challenging dream, but they left their homes and communities to do it. Leaving home to follow your dreams may also include departing from a much needed support system. This could be quite difficult keeping in mind the daily struggles an actor must face. Inherent to change is the fact that every change usually begins with an ending. The paradox of change is that it can hold both negative and positive aspects. Hence, good-bye home, hello Hollywood.
Transition is a process or period in which something undergoes a change and passes from one state, stage, form, or activity to another. Transitioning from what is familiar towards the unknown can be a frightening and stressful experience. The majority of individuals who come to see me in my psychotherapy practice are struggling with some sort of change or living transition such as career shift, illness, geographic relocation, marriage, births, deaths, divorce, financial crisis, identity crisis or a return to school, just to name a few. This struggle entails enduring the pain of loss and learning how to let go of what is familiar, safe and secure for what is mysterious, strange and unfamiliar. Part of the difficulty is not realizing that old reactions to endings will likely get reactivated in the present whenever something ends in your life. For example, leaving home to pursue your dream can ironically cause the same reaction of grief and confusion you may have had when you ended a romantic relationship. This is important to remember because what you are experiencing from today’s change may be stirring up strong feelings from the past that have nothing to do with the current situation. In other words, your current loss can cause a reactivation of feelings from all your previous losses. What you are bringing to your present circumstance is a style that you have cultivated in dealing with endings. This style or way of handling change or loss is usually rooted in your childhood family situation. Change has different effects on family members: one person might comfort everyone, another might carry all the anxiety and grief for the whole family and another might take control of the situation.
When this ocean of emotion starts to be felt, it can flood a person with overwhelming feelings of confusion and fear. The confusion is not understanding where these powerful emotions are coming from and the fear is thinking that they will never go away. If any of this sounds familiar, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, everyone finds endings difficult. But that doesn’t mean that you have to stay stuck in your present mode of coping. There is a positive way to work through change and loss. Let’s look at what kind of lifeboat would be needed in order to ride these enormous waves of emotions rather than allowing them to sink you.
- Bring some awareness to what role you played in your family when change occurred. Were you the one who took control, carried the anxiety and grief for everyone or denied and created distance from it? Understanding your role will help create some insight into how and why you are responding the way you are right now to loss.
- Know that before a new beginning can arise from an ending, there is a period of feeling barren and lost. Think of it as the season of winter. On the surface, everything is frozen and bare, but underneath life is germinating, waiting for spring in order to grow and thrive once again. Most people find it difficult to tolerate the winter, the time before the new growth appears. But, this can be the most important time associated with change. It is a time when one is thinking and gathering important information to help them create their new beginnings. At this stage of change, it is important to have patience with yourself and the process. Rest in knowing you will catapult out of this in a new direction soon enough.
- Make friends with change, invite it in for a cup of tea, face it, and don’t run from this inevitable fact of life. I’ll never forget when my daughter was 8 years old. She sat on her bed crying, when I asked her what was wrong she looked up at me through her tears and said, “I don’t want to grow up.” Well, a mother can work a lot of magic with an 8-year old, but stopping time was definitely not in my repertoire. She became aware at a very early age that she couldn’t stop the inevitable and she would have to say good-bye to childhood and eventually become an adult. I think rituals and rites of passage help commemorate what is left behind and celebrate new transformations. If you didn’t celebrate change in your family, be open to the possibilities of creating celebrations of change now. They help ease the way.
- Take good care of yourself. This is not a time to compare your life to everyone else. Tend to yourself as you would tend the earth that was preparing to bear tiny seedlings of growth. Stop self-critical or judgmental thoughts before they sprout into hazardous weeds that will strangle your new buds. Your life is waiting in the wings, give it the focus and attention it needs right now. Find someone to talk to, whether you choose a professional or a friend. You need to put into words your fears and dilemmas so that you can fully understand them.
Life’s challenges require that we continually search for creative ways to manage change. If we can strengthen our resources to help us turn change into opportunity for growth, personal renewal and new learning, we will welcome change when it is put on our path.
“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
Good luck on your wonderful journey.
For further information on self-discovery, please visit my website.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.