Surprise impact of big decisions

How changes impact us emotionally

Ever found yourself inexplicably angry at a friend or loved one for some decisions they took? Or even mad at yourself for life-changing decisions you’ve taken?

A good while ago in a coaching session, I mentioned to my client that the decisions we take can have unnerving implications for those close to us and we should therefore not be surprised at the emotive reactions we get in those instances. Sometimes life throws us curve balls. Things happen that have a significant impact on our lives or those of our loved ones. These throw us into what author John Fisher has called a ‘transition curve’.

How changes impact us emotionally The transition curve depicts the range of emotions we often go through when faced with change: denial, fear, anger, resistance, bargaining and even depression, before we get to acceptance. Our ability to work through our emotional response to the circumstances is what helps us to overcome the curve-balls life throws at us. (For more on the transition curve click the image.)

I found myself in exactly that situation a couple of months ago. Close friends of mine moved away to a town very far away. I found myself suddenly angry at them. But how could that be possible, I thought? This was a wonderful new opportunity for them. I could see how happy they and their kids were with the move. Why on earth would I be feeling angry? Could I be that selfish and mean? Luckily before I could get into a spiral of self-condemnation I remembered the transition curve picture.

A month or two later another close friend moved even further away, to a different country in fact. Of course, I was sad to say goodbye, but I was not angry at her. I had come to accept the new reality and was at peace with it.

I pondered these different emotional responses I had in two very similar situations. I realised that the first friend’s decision caught me completely off-guard, and I was stuck in the anger phase of the transition curve. My other friend just happened to share more of her thoughts and decision-making process well before the move happened. So, as she worked through her decision, I effectively worked through the transition curve myself.

Fortunately being able to understand my anger-response helped me move through the curve quickly and all is well in that relationship again.

The lesson I learned from this experience lead me to a decision: when I make big decisions, with life-changing impact on myself or others, I will do my best to take others along in my thinking and decision making. I will try to regularly communicate with the important people in my life, not just my end-decision, but also the steps along the way. This is in the hope that it will bring them along on my journey of transition, and will help ease the sudden “break” such decisions could have on them. This requires a willingness to be vulnerable on my part by sharing my thought process and emotional journey, even my struggles. Even if my loved ones in the end do not agree with my decision, I would have honoured them by giving them insight into my world and allowed them to get to know me better. Of course, I could think of many reasons not to share that deeper part of me; they don’t have time, they would not really be interested, they have better things to do or think about, I am really not that important that they need to listen to all my stuff etc. But if I am to be honest with myself, most of these excuses are linked to insecurities that hold me back from sharing my deeper self with those in my inner circle.

In the end, this decision to share requires vulnerability: to trust another person enough to be disappointed. The payoff is really worth it: truly deep and intimate relationships.

Friendships are fragile things, and require as much care in handling as any other fragile and precious thing. – Randolph S. Bourne

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