Many people go through difficult transitions in their life, whether due to relationships breaking down or careers ending prematurely. These events create chaos and significant disruption to lives of everyone involved but unfortunately are inevitable and unavoidable. Therefore, what can we do about them? How can we mitigate the negative consequences and enhance the positives?
Can we prepare for them? Possibly but who wants to start a new relationship or job and immediately start lining up replacements? Can we visualise how we are likely to react and therefore note down likely triggers? Again, possibly but if we have too bad reports or two arguments in a row, does that mean we need to bail out? It doesn’t matter how pragmatic or unattached we think we are, it won’t happen. Therefore, whilst we may see the writing on the wall in some cases, it is highly unlikely that we will come through them unscathed. These incidents will affect all aspects of our life from the material to the psychological and so no amount of preparation will be sufficient for when the upheaval occurs.
However, once the dust has settled, we have a choice. We can either enter a period of self-pity where a bruised ego and pride causes us to blame all around us or we can take the bull by the horns and seize the opportunity to understand the lessons learned and re-invent ourselves. Although when I say re-invent, I mean return to the authentic self we left behind to put the needs of others before our own? This is a hard but necessary process which can only begin once we have been through a grieving process which make take months or years. You’ll know when you’ve reached the point that you can pick yourself back up because you wake up one day and realise you’ve had enough of the pain and decide to do what it takes to rid yourself of it.
The reason why I feel qualified to talk about such a journey is because I came through one. I lost everything and damaged everything that was important to me along the way. I lost my sense of purpose, my self-respect and slid so far from my life path I wasn’t even sure I’d find it again. I spiralled and span, shouted and reached the gates of insanity. I was ready to go barging through them and take whatever came, but right at the final moment, something switched, and everything changed. Why I had to go so far before I decided to come back, I don’t know but it did, and nothing has been the same since.
I’d fallen into a hole of despair and sought solace through alcohol and resentment. I felt trapped in my shame and genuinely couldn’t see a way through the thickets of self-generated issues. However, as I sit today writing this article today, I know it’s from a place of peace and serenity which I never thought possible. Why? Because I’m not pretending to be there to satisfy others, I’m here and there is a huge difference between pretence and authenticity. I am fully aware both of my failings and strengths, am in tune with who I am and what my life purpose is. How did that occur? It only began to get better when I could no longer take any more pain and accepted that the choices I’d made had led me to this point. Therefore, I needed a completely new attitude and was prepared to do whatever it took to get it. That decision to change was both the point of surrender and a new beginning.
I had to be brutally honest with myself, accept that my actions and reactions had got me here and that I had no one to blame but myself. This may sound a little like being a martyr, I mean, surely some of the events and behaviours I’d experienced were down to others? Yes, of course, but it was down to me how I reacted to them. For example, an employer may say to you, ‘you are a worthless employee, I should sack you’. I want to explore this with you as something along those lines happened to me. I stewed on it for years and I allowed it to affect me rather than dismissing it. I visualised hurting him, making him look a fool, lots of dark stuff. Did he know that? Not a chance, he was off on his journey without a thought for his careless remarks years earlier. So, whilst someone had said something negative to me, I was the one who chose to let it affect me. This happens again and again in our lives because we value how others perceive us over how we perceive ourselves.
Years later when I looked back at that one comment which had affected me so much, I reflected on the context. It was said to me during a firefight in Afghanistan after I had just survived a bomb blast and had staggered back to my boss’s vehicle to use his radio. The fact that he hadn’t taken over the situation should have been a big indicator that he wasn’t functioning properly due to the shock of the attack. There was still incoming and outgoing shooting and he was in a state of panic. He couldn’t remonstrate with the enemy so who became the focal point of his fear? Me.
However, whilst hindsight is a valuable tool, it doesn’t help amid a negative situation. I took his words to heart and let them eat at me for a long time. If I’d valued my own perception of myself over his, I would have seen those comments as baseless rubbish. But I didn’t and that was my failing. It is quite common too. Most arguments develop because person A says something to person B which person B doesn’t agree with and they therefore feel a need to defend their position by saying other flippant comments back to person A. If person A and B both had a clear understanding of themselves based upon brutal honesty, they’d already be aware of their character flaws and weaknesses as well as their positive attributes and strengths. Thus, they’d either respond by saying, ‘yes I’m aware that my timekeeping is a weakness but so are you and you allow it to upset you’ or simply say, ‘you are entitled to your opinion regarding my weaknesses, but I don’t agree’.
Does that make us passive and weak? No, simply put, you cannot control the actions or opinions of others so unless they are about to cause you direct harm, ignore them. Feel sorry for them because more than likely, they are directing something towards you which they feel towards themselves. In a heartbeat, you stop caring what other people think of you and begin to align with your authentic self. Happy, a pleasure to be around and more willing to help others, although not at a cost to yourself.
So, when you start to become honest with yourself, you must explore every facet of your dysfunctional personality, relive every painful memory and question every narrative you have lived by. You look at things from other people’s perspectives and identify what part you played in these situations that hurt. The guy who cheated on you, why did he do it? Was it because he was a nasty narcissistic wanker or because he in his perspective was driven to another due to your behaviour? The woman who left you for another man, did she plan from the beginning to hurt you or did you become so obsessed with your career that you never paid her any attention? It’s unlikely you’ll ever get the true explanation but that’s fine because you don’t need it. You can get to a place where you’ve viewed every failure from every angle and made peace with it, learned the lessons and look forward to what comes next.
For me, relationships took a lot of working through. First it was all their fault, then I saw how it could have been mine too, then acceptance that these things happen. Besides, each of these failures made me stronger because I learned what I needed to learn from them and left them behind, in the past. This then gives you a great relief because you realise that it’s only by experiencing what you don’t want that you can find what you do want. The type of partner, type of career, type of boss. You don’t have to accept anything that you don’t want, and you certainly don’t have to react in any way other than the way you choose. If you know who you are and what you want, you can go and get it.