Emotional Change Process

What is it and how does it apply to us?

The Emotional Change Process is also known as the grief cycle and describes the various stages of emotional states of grieving. It was first discussed in the 1975 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

With the COVID pandemic rambling on, continuing to test our wit and resolve. With the December break approaching, perhaps it’s a good time for us to reflect, and take stock on what has happened to us over the last 24 months or so.

Many people incurred loss and a change in their daily lives, whether it is through lost jobs and livelihoods, safety and security or even our physical and mental health. Many of us have also had to endure the passing of colleagues, friends and some of our closest family members.

Young or old, this has been an extremely difficult time of immense adjustments, requiring an almost constant adaptability and need to change to the unfolding situation.

How are we doing in this “new” normal?

Have we really thought about how the pandemic has impacted us and each other?

This is where the emotional change process can be useful. It describes the normal emotional response that occurs as a result of an incident that leads to an alteration or change away from our ‘normal’ functioning. It comprises of a series of distinct phases, that an individual undergoes, before finally returning to a meaningful life. It is a tool that can help us identify and frame what we may be feeling.

Certainly, during the last couple of years, we have all endured a lot, in one way or another, we collectively experienced a complete and utter disruption to the way of life we knew before.

What you need to know about the emotional change process?

  • The different stages usually occur in successive steps after the ‘incident’.
  • It is not a linear process; it is possible to pass through several of the stages simultaneously and also move back and forth between phases multiple times.
  • The process in which these stages occur is completely natural, and serves to protect the individual experiencing the life altering event.
  • Each step will take as long as it takes, there is no set time when it comes to grieving, each individual is different and needs time for them to process what has happened and devise a new way forward. Certain incidents may require longer time to process than others.

The emotional phases of change in practice

Denial

Acts as a shock absorber and protects the individual from becoming overwhelmed, allows us time to prepare our minds to experience the pain of the loss.

Anger

Allows us to move closer towards the experience of loss, acting as a buffer from becoming overwhelmed, until we are ready to move forward. It may accompany levelling blame at others or oneself, and acts as a distraction from the associated pain. Anger is a normal and natural part of grieving, unless it occurs to the point of being destructive to the self and others.

Bargaining or Dialogue

Allows us to move even closer to the experience of the loss. It is often characterized as the phase for thinking and over-analysing every detail of the loss, including the factors leading up to the event, how it may have happened and what could have been done to avoid it. This is all necessary, in an effort for our minds to attempt to undo the change, which at this point is still unacceptable. It is often the longest lasting of all the phases, and usually comes to an end, when we finally reach the conclusion that what has happened, has happened, and cannot be undone or fixed.

Depression & Detachment

It is here that the individual finally experiences the full impact of the loss in its entirety, including all of the potential implications. The preceding stages has given the us time and tasks to be ultimately prepared to be able to feel the full effects of the loss. It is the time when we experience the unthinkable, and that is that we have suffered a loss and that we cannot change that reality. The depression of grieving is normal and natural, and not the same as clinical depression. Grieving depression usually begins to resolve itself when we become tired of hurting, that we begin to choose to find a way back to life, which involves a process of learning to let go. It is important to mention, that the natural sadness of grieve can turn into clinical depression, especially when we hold onto feelings of hopelessness and guilt and can occur as a result of unresolved grief.

Acceptance

This is the phase that arises after we have cried and hurt, kicked and screamed, closed our eyes, pleaded and begged, cried some more, and then finally managed to figure out how we will move forward, and how to live our life in the ‘new’ reality. We still hurt, but not in the same manner as before. We begin to focus more on the present and the future, we are in more awareness about our relationships and important people in our lives. We begin to think much less about the pain, which we also now view differently, seeing it for what it is, completely, rather than obsessively thinking about the loss. We should avoid seeing this stage as ‘closure’, as sometimes the loss leads to us being completely changed forever. The journey to acceptance has allowed us to build a new normal that incorporates the loss as a loss, and in the process, hopefully made us wiser. For example, experiences of loss, would hopefully mean that we take less things for granted, we value the present moment more. It usually allows us to set our priorities in order to make time for the people and things which really matter to us.

It is sad that it is often in the experience of losing something, that we realise what we had in the first place. If we could live our lives with more consciousness and awareness, we can truly make our time on this planet worthwhile for ourselves and everyone we meet and have interactions with. It unfortunately doesn’t mean that experiencing loss, even if we lived in that way would be an easier. In fact, it may be to the contrary, however, the former option, of living an unconscious and unaware being is surely not to the benefit of anyone, let alone our ownselves.

This is what it may look like

Shock and Denial *Avoidance *Confusion *Fear *Numbness *Blaming        Anger   *Frustration *Anxiety *Irritation *Embarrassment *Shame  Bargaining or Dialogue *Reaching out to others *Desire to tell one’s story *Struggle to find meaning for what has happened.  Depression & Detachment *Overwhelmed *Lack of energy *Helplessness  Acceptance   *Exploring options *Setting a new plan in place  Returning to a meaningful life *Empowerment *Security *Self-esteem *Finding meaning  

What can you do?

Sometimes things happen, however terrible, in all circumstances we can only focus on things we can exert control over and affect, and always that is ourselves.

This is a call to self-reflection. Our attempts could be aimed at identifying our true emotions and coming to terms with what we truly feel.

If you are experiencing feelings that are weighing on you, it could be useful to speak to someone, reach out to your trusted friends or family, even consider seeking out a professional.

There is nothing to be ashamed of, grieving is a totally natural occurring process, no matter how big or small the loss or change experienced in life. Our emotions are not wrong and is what makes our experience real, these emotions need to be acknowledged in order to for us to process them and move on.

This is a call to be gentle with yourself always. Grieving is often a one step forward, two steps back, rollercoaster ride, bouncing from 1 stage to next and then back again often repeatedly, sometimes even with experiencing multiple phases in combination at the same time.

Remember, no two people grieve the same, we all need the amount of time that we need. If you know someone going through some difficulty, the aim should not be to rush them through the phases. Some losses, such as the loss of child or family member, can take up to several years to overcome, since birthdays or anniversaries, and many other special occasions without them can be too much for us to bare.

We always need to practice being kind and compassionate towards ourselves and others. We have all been through an incredibly rough period. Only kindness, empathy, love and mercy will see us through.

At this moment in time, with the festive season almost upon us, whilst we reflect on what has befallen us, what we have had to endure and how we have needed to change and adapt, let’s pat ourselves on the back, for staying strong and being steadfast. The human spirit can indeed endure much trouble and despair and yet overcome. Let us give thanks to Almighty God, for sparing us to see another day no matter our conditions.

Let’s make the most of this time we have been given. let us also at this time remember our loved ones who have passed on from this world. Let us remember the good times we shared with them and perhaps the beautiful lessons that they taught us. Let us live in the celebration of their memory.

May they all rest in peace and may we see them again one day God-willing.

Till next time God-willing

Dr Ebrahim Samodien (Intern)

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