When a major change takes place in your life (particularly one that you aren’t prepared for and didn’t particularly expect or welcome), it can leave you resorting to denial of the fact that it’s even occurring.
You may not be consciously or verbally denying that a major change has taken place, but subconsciously you might be entertaining fantasies about some form of reversal of the change. You may secretly believe deep down that somehow the issue is going to get rectified (however wild a thought that may be) and that all will soon be back to as it once was.
For those whose spouse has just left them assuring that they want a divorce, parents whose children have flown the nest leaving it empty or those who have been made redundant or had an accident that has changed their career forever, this can be a very difficult reality to face.
The pain can be so intense, so bewildering, so sickening to confront, that it can be quite normal for someone to enter into denial as a way of distancing themselves from the pain.
Whilst that may feel good for the short-term, prolonged dwelling in the denial phase will create problems for you.
As long as you have one eye on the past, you can’t fully focus on the future. However, it’s not just the fact that you are focused on something that is over instead of focusing on what can be in your future that keeps you stagnant. You will also begin to attract other problems into your life because of the state that you are in.
You won’t look for solutions to make you happy, now and in your future, and the solutions that you do look for will be for the wrong goal; the goal of getting back your old life. You are never going to achieve this, so longing for it will only serve in making you more miserable.
When stuck in the denial phase for too long, the mental dissonance and pressure builds up. You’ll become increasingly tense, anxious, irritable, confused, sad and frustrated with your situation and yourself. Whilst in this state, your judgement becomes clouded and then even simple things seem difficult to do and simple problems confusing to solve.
Here are 7 steps to help you move on:
1. Accept that the old life is over. No more pretending.
2. Get in touch with the pain and allow yourself to feel all the emotions that this change brings.
3. Think about what your emotions are telling you and what you need to do to ensure this never happens again (or at least minimise the risk). For example, if you devoted too much time to one aspect of your life and now it’s over, in the future, you’ll know to balance your time amongst all the important aspects of your life.
4. Identify how you would rather feel, e.g. happy, attractive, proud of your achievements or in control.
5. Set goals (SMART goals) that will help you to achieve those ideal feelings. Ask yourself questions to help you identify what would make you feel happy, attractive or more successful.
6. Take regular action that will move you closer to your goals. This keeps your focus on your future instead of the past and helps you to live in the moment.
7. Reward yourself for moving closer to your goals by setting little milestones that break your big goals down into several smaller goals. By rewarding yourself along with your journey you reinforce your own good behaviour and thus create positive associations with moving forward, meaning you’re less likely to look back and remain stuck.