Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.
Posted: March 04, 2014 by Walt Emery, LPC
Everyone has the capacity within themselves to adjust to adverse life experiences. Our mind, our heart, our body, and our soul naturally gravitate toward a homeostasis to balance our experience of ourselves, our relationships and our environment. Even though balance is the natural tendency of our being, we can facilitate the process by using our will to move toward our natural inclination.
Seeking out a counselor to facilitate our moves through life adjustments is especially helpful during a period of time when our will feels stuck. Our will may be stuck when we are repeating negative, habitual patterns that no longer serve our movement toward balance.
When we feel like we are stuck in an experience of ourselves that has long since past, counseling can facilitate an adaptive imagination. This can help to bring us out of our loop and into a present-centered experience. It is through making a commitment to ourselves to make this move that we start to experience the rewards of integration or wholeness.
Everyone knows that change is constant. Our lives are filled with preparations for changes that we readily anticipate. Preparing for change provides us with a sense of well-being and security.
We prepare for what is coming next each day by keeping track of the changes of time. We go to work, we pick up groceries, we pay bills, we get gas, we drink coffee or tea, we exercise and meditate, we go to the doctor, we cook and clean, we sleep, and complete many other seemingly mundane tasks to maintain the ever changing foundation of our lives: our body, our home, our relationships, and our profession.
We are also always looking further ahead in our lives to prepare for long-term changes. We make these preparations because we know they are coming and we want to be prepared for them when they do. Preparations are made for education, career changes, having children, marriage, inclement weather, financial stability, vacation, retirement, holidays, environmental conservation, urban planning, elections, planting, harvest, and an infinite number of other situations.
We anticipate what is going to happen before it does and try to have everything in place to support the change as it happens. It is easier to makes adjustments and to adapt to change when preparations have been made.
Unforeseen changes lack the preparation of expected changes, leaving us feeling unprepared. Many of us simply do not have a reserve of resources to adapt to this type of change, resulting in an unbalanced feeling. Examples of unforeseen and unwanted changes may include a break up, a divorce, a loss of job, a traumatic injury, a severe illness, a natural disaster, a fire, an assault or rape, a theft, or the death of a loved one.
When we are put off balance by an unforeseen change, we are experiencing a life adjustment. Life adjustments require the same type of preparations that go into foreseen and wanted changes. With a life adjustment, the preparations come after the change has occurred.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed the five stages of grief to model the emotional experience of individuals and their family members when faced with terminal illness. She observed individuals to experience variations on denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages of these emotions are not typically experienced in a linear manner and are not exclusive to each other. We can experience denial and acceptance at the same time, for example. A model for emotional experience, such as this one, is intended as a point of orientation in circumstances where we would otherwise be at a total loss to grasp where our emotions are leading.
A grieving response to unforeseen and unwanted change is normal. It takes time to process and to gather resources to prepare for such a life adjustment. There is no right way to respond to grief. It affects everyone differently and everyone has a right to their own experience.
There are times when life seems unbearable. Before rushing to try to feel better, it is important to sit with the negative feeling and let ourselves feel the pain of life. When we try to move past a dark mood without staring into it, we dishonor whatever experience brought it about. To really feel and experience life fully is to find a place for all of our experiences to be honored. We can do this alone or we can do this by finding others who allow us to express our pain in their company. If our pain exceeds the resources of our family and friends, there are counselors and support groups that specialize in honoring grief.
When we do not express our darkest moods, we may act out in a destructive fashion. This is why it can be important to find some means of creatively expressing grief. If you can’t express your grief to another person, your expression might to take the form of creative writing, painting, sculpture, gardening, music, exercise, or another other activity.
Once we have honored our emotional experience, we can begin preparations for our life adjustment. This is challenging because we often don’t know exactly who we are in relation to the unforeseen change and we must now adjust to who we have become.
Following an unforeseen or unwanted change, many may try to keep going or to pick up where they left off. This may be effective, depending on how integrated an experience the person had prior to the unforeseen change. Regardless, an unforeseen change is a great time to take an inventory of our lives. Taking a hard look at our physical routines, our soulful practice, our compassion for ourselves and others, and our mindfulness can be very beneficial. This inventory of our integrated experience indicates what areas of our life continue to work for us and what areas we might want to challenge ourselves to nourish some more.
When a life adjustment has us feeling stuck and lacking energy the best thing that we can do for ourselves is to take care of the basics. We can eat a little better, we can improve our sleep hygiene, we can exercise a little more, and we can tend to our environment. Taking care of the basics establishes the foundation for making integrated and sustained adjustments throughout life.
As we integrate life adjustments, we may find we want to learn practices to become more mindful of our experience. Mindful practices, like breathing exercises, meditation, writing, and affirmations, remind us to center ourselves in the present through observing our thoughts. Mindfulness allows us to take responsibility for matching our thoughts with the experience that we want to have.
During a life adjustment, we will often find ourselves asking, “What do I feel a part of? How can I feel more a part of my life and to the lives of others?” Life adjustments bring us face to face with questions about the meaning of our lives. The answers usually lies in the things we are most connected to. Soulful practices are cultivated to establish enduring connections to a relational experience that cannot be taken away. Most everything that we have can be taken away from us in an instant: our friends, our family, our job, our house, our money, our health, and everything else, with the exception of our soulful experience. It is our soulful experience that can sustain our strength through all of life’s adjustments. We grow our soul by taking time to be in relationship with the center of our being. This is commonly done through prayer, meditation, creative expression, time in nature, a hobby, music, or anything that brings the center of our being into relationship with an eternal sense of the interconnection we can have with everyone and everything else.
There are many kinds of life adjustments: break ups, new relationships, divorce, marriage, death, children, illness or disability, health, job loss, a new job, moving, changing friends, self-destructive behavior, a new pet, domestic violence, economic hardship, or war, to name but a few. We have control over some of these experiences, but in many cases, we do not. What we always have control over is our personal response.
About the Author: Walt Emery, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor in Portland, OR. You can find out more about his practice by visiting his website or checking out his profile.
Tags: life transition
Love Lessons: A Guide to Dating Someone Who is Codependent
Shame, Guilt, Humiliation, and Embarrassment
Why Do People Have Open Relationships?