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Unpleasant Changes

When things don’t go our way, we typically go through 10 stages which are a normal part of the coping and healing process.

1. Denial—”It can’t be,” It can’t happen to me,” “It’s not true”.... The first stage of reaction to any sudden, unexpected event tends to be denial. Denial is normal if it lasts a short time, but persistent denial is unhealthy because it blocks further growth and healing.

2. Anger/Blame—”Whose fault is it?,” “This makes me mad,” “This isn’t fair,” “Why me?” The second stage of reaction looks backward in hopes of finding the cause and someone or something to blame it on. Although nothing can be done at this point to change the past, it’s nevertheless a normal response. Like the stage of denial before it, the anger/blame stage is unhealthy if it persists for an unreasonable amount of time.

3. Despair—This stage tends to be characterized by tears, negative and hopeless/helpless thoughts, and a feeling of total emptiness and loss. Sleep and eating disturbances are common as the “reality” of the situation sets in. Relationships with other people can become more difficult at this time, but understanding and compassion must be given and accepted if one is to move beyond this stage.

4. Perspective—In this stage, the individual begins accepting the change and is no longer caught up in denial, anger, blame, or despair. The problem is seen in its proper perspective. Although the sense of loss may be significant, the individual does not feel that “all is lost.”

5. Relationships—Coming out of the withdrawal and isolation that is inherent in the previous stages, the individual is able to talk and relate to other people and participate in normal activities.

6. Spiritual Changes—The individual’s relationship with the spiritual side of life is strengthened as a result of having lived through (and survived) the experience.

7. Acceptance—This stage involves the restoration of self-esteem, and the acceptance of the consequences and boundaries of the new reality.

8. Humor—Smiles, laughter, and a sense of humor return to the individual and help in the healing process. There’s a renewed sense of joy in life.

9. Activity and Action—Where once the individual had been restricted or immobilized by the change, he or she now returns to activity, action, and improved productivity. Travel and group activities become more interesting.

10. New Goals—In this final stage, the individual is able to focus on the positive aspects of whatever change occurred, and on new goals and activities. He or she takes comfort in Ashley Brilliant’s line, “I may not be totally perfect, but parts of me are excellent!”

When faced with an unexpected, unpleasant change, you may not go through all 10 of these stages in this order, but it helps to keep them in mind. While it can seem as if life changes nearly drown us at times, by and by we see that it’s only through meeting the challenges of change that we can grow.

Stephen R. Yarnall, MD, Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. Unpleasant Changes—What To Do.