Hampshire, United Kingdom
When you are worried and distressed, it’s important to look after yourself first. Be kind to yourself, show yourself compassion and allow yourself time to do this. And breathe. Deeply! It’s a bit like when the airlines ask you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. We all need to be the most positive version of ourselves and in the best state of mind that we can be, before we can help others.
Exploring what we often call the change curve and the reaction needed through leadership (leadership in the broadest sense of supporting others in every way) might be a useful starting point for us. Many people have heard of this and use it to discuss change and just as many don’t realise its origins and how to work with it at a deeper level.
The Kubler Ross change curve (developed by a Swiss psychiatrist of that name) originates from a need to help people suffering grief, loss and serious illness. It is a path that most of us go through when we suffer in this way. We typically experience shock and denial, followed by anger. We then move to bargaining and this might lead to frustration and in the worst cases depression. Hopefully, we can move on to acceptance and dealing with the situation we find ourselves in.
Why is this helpful? Well in business it is often used to help people with big life events such as redundancy or a change of role that was unexpected and/or unwanted. We need to be aware that people are often deeply disturbed by things which would not bother us at all – but it is very real for them. It affects their performance and wellbeing and leaves people feeling totally stuck. I have experienced people who exhibit these characteristics after an office move when they don’t get their usual window seat! Those of you who have ever had to produce a new office plan will recognise this! If you’ve ever been made redundant then an office move story might seem trivial – but both example situations can result in the feelings outlined in this model.
In this difficult and arguably unprecedented time of coronavirus, I think we can all relate to the origins of this change curve. Confusion, grief and sadness, and, for some, complete panic. Everyone I have spoken to is keen to get some sense of what to do and how to help others.
Let’s look at these stages in a bit more detail – we will all be experiencing them:
- Denial: Confusion, shock, fear and even avoidance
- Anger: Displaying frustration, irritation and anxiety
What do you need during this stage? What do people you want to support need during this stage? Everyone needs clarity, information, facts, thoughts and ideas delivered in a straightforward, easy to understand way.
- Bargaining and frustration: Struggling to find meaning, reaching out to others and the importance of being able to tell one’s own stories.
What do we and those we support need at this stage? Humans need to be listened to, we need emotional support and to be cared for and for people to be kind to us and give us time.
- Depression: A feeling of hopelessness, of being overwhelmed: maybe even triggering the fight, flight and freeze response.
There are times when people might need professional support if this becomes clinical depression. However, we can help by giving people even more time as with the previous stage. Listening, talking and giving our time. Often people just need to know someone cares and is willing to listen. Listen deeply without judgement or comparing with themselves.
- Acceptance: Exploring options, looking at new ways to deal with this situation and seeking positive moments and acceptable solutions.
What do we and others need at this stage? Guidance, direction, the opportunity to explore, be creative, try to find ways to deal with the situation, and maybe even try to find some positives from the situation you or they find themselves in.
This model might help us to understand what we are going through, what we need from others and what we might need at the different stages as we struggle with this situation of extreme change that we find ourselves in.
Understanding and being able to label the feelings can help us to realise that these are ‘normal’ reactions and maybe help us to understand how to deal with our emotions and those of others.
The overall message I want to leave you with is:
- Accept that you are likely to travel through this change curve
- You might get stuck for a while at a certain stage
- You might go backwards and travel through a stage once or twice
- Your timing will be different and more or less extreme than others you are trying to support
- Look after yourself first
- Only then can you be the best support possible for those that need this from you
Good luck and let’s hope that ‘this too will pass’.
Why do I feel able to comment on this and share this model with you? Well, it helped me. It really did. In June 2016, I was experiencing severe stomach pain. It’s that moment when your GP asks you to rate the pain from 1–10 and you are tempted to say 20.
It wasn’t long before I was admitted to hospital for tests. Hospitals can manage pain! Wonderful, I am clearly okay then! Thank goodness they can sort this temporary glitch in my life out! Suddenly life changed. Life-saving surgery needed this minute, I’m told! Where is your husband – we need to talk to him and we need to take you to surgery right now. What? This can’t be true. I am fit and healthy and young (well maybe youngish). Shock
And I wake up –
‘You have Stage 3 bowel cancer. It might have spread. You are seriously ill.
You might need chemotherapy.’ Still shock and denial (I told you that you can get stuck at any stage). I needed information and facts at this stage. I had a confident surgeon who explained my situation in an empathic but honest and directive way. She was brilliant and I respected her approach. It was what I needed at that time.
As I continued to try and recover – it took a while – I needed to try and get to my son’s wedding. It was not looking good. I was definitely bargaining with myself and others and was frustrated with the many setbacks I
experienced. My nearest and dearest listened to my fears and worries and when I was well enough to chat, the junior doctors even listened to the stories of the outfit I would be wearing to the wedding if I could get well. I talked about hiring a wheelchair and not being out of hospital for long. I reached out, I had emotional support and people who listened to me. My husband responded to my bizarre messages to come quickly (Now!) when I was at my least well. I needed emotional support and I was lucky to receive lots of it from professionals and family.
The important day got closer and it looked unlikely that I would be there. I also had to deal with the news that I would need chemotherapy. I was in the depression stage for a while. I received lots of family support and some professional support from the surgeons, specialist nurses, oncologists and nurses. All amazing. Meeting others suffering worse outcomes and also people recovering really well helped me gain a sense of perspective. The emotional and professional support was amazing. I started to realise I was travelling along the change curve and felt lucky that I understood this.
Lucky that I could see that it was normal to travel along this curve and get stuck as well. Acceptance followed – I received guidance and direction. I could do this. My understanding helped. Other people had travelled this path before. I needed to move from fight, flight, freeze (stuck) and move through my emotional response to logic and dealing with the situation and greedily listening to all the guidance from everyone who cared for me professionally and personally. I did it and I made that wedding! Yay!
The journey started again when the cancer spread to my liver – stage 4. That’s not good then! The journey through the change curve started again – that’s what happens to us humans – a new journey. This time, I moved through the curve faster and with less dips. Mainly because my understanding was better and I looked after myself to enable me to look after those closest to me.
My coaching and consultancy work has benefitted hugely from this life experience. I treasure my friends, family and colleagues and indeed life itself. I smell the coffee and the flowers. Now there’s a Positive!
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