DEATH, DYING AND CHANGE
Our bodies come and go. Because no-one is exempt from death, much research has been devoted to the subject. That research has been helpful in telling us about the processes of change. Below is one version of the change process likely to follow after a shock or major life change.
Research and practice seems to conclude that we are not all guaranteed to work through our changes, as listed. It is possible not to notice one or more ‘stage’ and some people find they will move back and forth between stages.
Do not think of this diagram as offering a straight line towards change as nothing is inevitable.
That said, the process appears to arise from our ‘hard-wiring’, an internal neural activity that is ‘universal’ to human beings. Therefore, few of us, regardless of culture or nationality, are immune from the process. We will manifest it in many ways and, indeed, there will be a number of us who will defy the pathway.
Our initial reaction to a major change is the release of adrenaline; the body’s signal to arms. Initially, this alerts our body to pay attention and it can improve concentration for a time. Some of that energy can go into denying that anything has happened at all!
However, adrenaline works most effectively in short bursts. Prolonged release of adrenaline will pull us down – make us tired and lose attention – we become less able to manage daily tasks. Over time, often slower than we might think, our bodies let go of that adrenaline overdose and turns our energies to testing out the ‘new normal’ that has entered into our lives with that change. If all goes well, we find a ‘new normal’ that ‘explains’ our new position in the world. We begin to tell a revised story but that does not mean we forget the old one.
This may be a familiar process to many. It helps us think about changes we can make in our lives. Most of all, however, it reinforces the adage that “time is the great healer“; there is a time to act and a time to wait and a time to reflect.
Therefore, despite what I have said to date: now may not always be a time for experimenting and creating change and uncertainty in our lives. I hope I never promised you any consistency in writing up this web site!
Here, below, I am adding a different ‘take’ on this change process. It is a positive illustration of some reasons for having to experience uncomfortable things when we are surrounded by change – whether through death, divorce, house move etc. As it says, their are useful purposes for the feelings we experience.
I owe this very insighful illustration to Trevor Griffiths and Nightingale Conant who published an Home Study Programme called Emotional Logic. My apologies for the loss of data arising from the oversized original. If it helps to make good, please note:
TOP PINK (far left) says the ‘start’ of change seeks us to RECOGNISE LOSS
TOP YELLOW (middle) says one of our first reactions is TO PREVENT LOSS. PLainly, this is not always possible, but even in death ‘prevention’ can include ‘seeing’ the person after their death.
TOP GREEN (middle) says RECOVERY FROM LOSS is something we then aspire to, and
TOP BLUE (far right) say we are able, in due time, to LET GO OF LOSS.
As you reflect on both these charts, can you reflect on a MINOR change in your life. Be wary of exploring the very disruptive changes.
Can you notice how you moved back and forth between the ‘stages’ as summarised? What helped and hindered you going on that ‘scenic route’ to a ‘new normal’?
Make brief notes on the process you used to adapt to changed circumstances. That might include feeling ‘stuck’ and unable to adapt. In that situation, it is wise to consult a therapist and get some indepdent support.
ANOTHER VIEW OF CHANGE
Margaret Stroebe broke with mainstream researchers such as John Bowlby and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her understanding of the grief process. Bowlby had reasoned that attachment behaviour has survival value for many species. The grief response was regarded as a distressing aspect of a lost attachment – a general response to separation.
This view gave a central place to the construct of ‘grief work’; a cognitive process of confronting the reality of a loss through death, revisiting the experience of that loss and events associated with it, prior to working towards detachment and change.
Stroebe, by contrast, developed a transcultural perspective paying attention to the use of language. She saw grief as, primarily, an emotional reaction to the death of a loved one but it does not have to have detrimental consequences. Mourning was a social expression of grief shaped by the practices of the host culture. There are visible signs of grief such as crying but there are cultural differences. In the Western world is it usual to view depression as a psychological process associated with bereavement but Stroebe was concerned to emphasise that the different phases of grieving are not found to exist universally. She advocated a model that sees change as an active process in a vastly changed world. She likened the grieving process to an intricately-balanced, dynamic battle that requires expenditure of large amounts of energy and re-adjustment on a number of levels.
In practice, Stroebe and Schut take aspects of the traditional phase model and introduce a dynamic component into the change process. This is achieved by formulating a set of tensions between loss of the old normal and restoration of a managable today’s normal. It conceives of people coping with two different types of stress – facing the experience of loss and just noticing our ability to restore some order to our lives.
Each person will respond to this tension in their own way and in varying proportions according to individual and cultural expectations and variations.
The model infers that concentration on the aspects of our loss, and the opportunity for adjustment, can be exhausting. It imposes substantial changes on our life-style. The shock of bereavement makes the shift rather dramatic and unpredictable in some settings, and carefully controlled. Cultural and family norms will be powerful determinants of the tendency to approach or avoid one or other response.
Stroebe and Schut saw everyday experience leading the individual through an appraisal process in to cope with change in their life through an active review and rewriting of our ‘story’.
Such an approach emphasises a search for meaning; an appraisal of events and one’s own coping strategies. The individual, the family and the larger society to find a different place for lost opportunities and deceased people.
This model, with its often catastrophic shift in states of mind, is termed The Dual Process Model of Coping with Loss (DPM).
SOME POSSIBLE EXPERIMENTS
When under the pressures I have described here, it can help to be ‘kind’ to yourself with different experiments.
Affirmation work helps here. Affirmations are short, positive statements we can hear in our heads, or even say out loud. I am including a small sample on another page along with further discussion about this form of safe experiment.
Also, you can use the body scan experiment to observe and record the thoughts, feelings and sensations that are associated with any affirmation.