Natalie Hartney, LPC NCC
So many questions in the aftermath.
When we emerge from a personal disruption, we can waste a lot of time asking questions for which there are no answers. They seem to swim through our heads when we are least prepared to answer them-or worse, can't possibly answer them on our own. We tend to ensnare ourselves in these traps when we feel wronged by another. We want to know "why?" and what the person was thinking. We seek understanding in the belief it will illuminate our way out of the darkness they have created for us. But the light does not come from answers they provide. This why the seeking of closure from others is destined to frequent failure. Our healing, like so many things, does not require input from the other because healing is a self centered exercise. The illumination that relieves the darkness comes from finding meaning, not understanding. And meaning is created from within the self, never from an outside source.
I know, it feels natural to demand answers, to have someone help us understand-it is their fault after all if they left, cheated, or betrayed. It is their fault and they must answer if they stole, hurt, or abandoned. It almost makes sense. Except, when we task the person who happily devastated us with healing us, it is a set up for failure. Additionally, you have the opportunity to replace all those "they" centered questions that keep us stuck, with productive forward moving, meaning making thoughts. Our brains will want to keep busy so, lets keep it productive, and working on our behalf, hm?.
How do we make meaning from devastation? First things first. Grab a journal or notebook (or use your online Counsol journal if you're my client). Let's contain what happened by first defining it. Be simple and direct in what happened. Just the facts. Keep in mind that drama will want to expand to include others, stir controversy, create diversion. Trauma will retract, will need to be contained in order to be managed. Drama will be exquisite in detail, who said what to whom? Who was there? Trauma, on the other hand may be accompanied by forgetfulness, losing details. Be careful to not add to your trauma by folding in drama. What happened? Write it down in as concise a way as possible. You don't need me to say it, but a good cry may feel good right at the start. Then, only write what you know to be true-not what someone told you about it, not someone else's experience. This is all you.
Next, define what your feelings are about what happened. Be aware that some very strong feelings may overwhelm. Use an emotion wheel (available online) to identify and name your feelings. This helps our brain process. Being fired can be accompanied by feelings of relief, embarrassment or feeling insufficient. Being dumped can feel humiliating and isolating. A ghosting can certainly stir a lot of angst and loneliness. Defining these complex, sometimes warring feelings can help us move out of the swirl of disorientation and into a more productive mental/emotional work space.
Next, ask what you believe this circumstance says about you. This answer will change over time, as you build meaning from evidence and begin to see your circumstance in a new light. Leave yourself a few blank pages for addenda. Next, we challenge these initial answers with actual fact based evidence in order to create the new meaning we seek. Challenge the initial ideas that you have written. Ask yourself the following questions: Can the source of these messages be believed? Have I believed these things about myself before? Have others mentioned these things about me before? Am I being the scapegoat? Am I being gaslighted? Without any judgement, challenge yourself to answer these, and other questions that occur to you, as honestly as possible. Is there a pattern that you recreate in your relationships, jobs, social engagements? This is where the meaning begins to be made. Learn everything you can about yourself as you experience this personal disruption.
For instance, in the case of a break up, you may initially believe that if you were just something enough then you would still be together. Over time you may come to realize that you never had any interest in being that something in the first place, and the break up happened as a natural ending to a relationship with an expiration date. You may even come to realize that you weren't as content in the relationship as you thought at the start of this healing process. This is why it is important that we find and assign our own meaning-it gives us power.
Another example from the world of work: At first we may believe we were fired for a reason given in a last awful meeting.Then later, we may realize that a job failure came from not receiving proper training, or a faulty hiring process. I left a job once under terrible circumstances where I was made to blame for the failings. Only later did I learn that my immediate supervisor was embezzling from the company and was at risk of being discovered if I stayed. That was their hundreds of thousands of dollars mistake, but it caused me a lot of pain and self doubt at the time I was going through it. They were never going to help me understand-it was up to me to find meaning and growth from that experience. And though it may be petty, I did a bit of a happy dance when all came to light.
Any time spent investigating the motives, feelings, or doings of the other is wasted time. If each of us has one life to live, this is where you decide to live yours. When you find yourself turning your attention to others, ask yourself what you are trying to avoid seeing in yourself. Are there lessons that you are afraid to learn? Be as kind and gentle as you can be. This is the exquisite center of our humanity, our vulnerability. The good news is that many gifts are derived from this hard work. Not the least of which is healing with meaning-which is really just another way to say "growth." And growth is always good. So good, in fact, you just might dance.