As individuals we are as unique as our fingerprints yet when facing major life changes our behavior is predictable. Some of you may be familiar with the 5 stages of grief by Dr. Kubler-Ross but what you may not realize is that these stages not only apply to the loss of a loved one but, in fact, apply to any major change we experience in our life.
For instance, for those high school seniors who are getting ready to graduate over the next 9 weeks major life changes are at an all time high! Because of that they will be experiencing denial (is high school really over – I’ve waited forever for this but it is happening too fast am I’m nervous or scared). Once they recognize the fact that graduation is really happening they may have moments of anxiety or a short fuse and anger may surface out of the blue. You may hear statements such as, ‘It’s not fair’ or ‘I thought I was ready but I didn’t get to do …’ They may even feel that others are trying to controlling their lives. Why? Simply put, things feel like they are moving too fast for them at this point. Their behavior may become a bit scattered or random. Fear and life altering change can do that to all of us.
Bargaining is the next stage and you may hear, ‘I just want to go out with my friends more and experience life before it is gone.’ Sadness may surface temporarily, as they realize that life is about to change and ready or not it will never be quite the same again. The safety and security of the known is replaced with the daunting reality of the unknown. After emotional working through the previous four stages the person finally arrives at acceptance. They will still be nervous or worried until they are walking in the shoes of their new life but they begin to muster up the confidence that they will make it and can handle the changes that are about to happen.
You may be puzzled or surprised that the much anticipated graduation date has become something you see your loved ones worried about rather than celebrating. After all, how many times have you heard the statement, ‘I can’t wait to graduate!’ Major life altering changes affect all of us the same way and fear of the unknown reigns supreme. The time we spend in each of the stages above differs and can be days, weeks, even months. I do know that KNOWING these stages for what they are …simply stages …HELPS the person hold onto their grip in life. It is reassuring to know that our feelings are normal and our fears will pass. We just have to ‘Fake it ’till we Make it!’
What can we do to help others who are going through these stages? Like most things in life it takes a listening ear, encouragement, time and knowing about these stages. You simply can’t speed up the process but you can do various things to alleviate some of the fear. The more familiar the person is with what they will be facing in reference to the change the better. The gift of time to mentally process and ‘grow into’ the change that is about to happen results in a more positive outcome. Changes that happen too fast are generally much, much harder to accept since the processing time was not available.
As parents we want to believe that we have done our job correctly and raised confident, self reliable individuals. We may expect excitement, happiness or even joy from them given the opportunity to move on and create their own life. All that will come…it just takes time. With love, patience, (and a little advanced planning) these stages will pass and their self confidence will once again be restored as they accept the changes before them.
Dr. Seuss wrote a humorous children’s book entitled, ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go,’ that describes these 5 stages perfectly. It really is a classic example of the human emotions that are experienced when life altering changes happen. It is a favorite to give to graduating seniors who will one day look back and remember the emotional roller coaster they experienced. The last page in the book says it all…’And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.) KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!’
Please pass this on to anyone who may be facing a major life change especially parents and graduating seniors as a way to ‘pay it forward.’
Have a great few days!