Isn’t it crazy when life changes for you all of a sudden? I’m sure you don’t need a random guy on the internet to give you examples of how life really changes for you. But, since I’d like to say something thoughtful about cats, toilet-training and milk, I’m going to anyway. Here, I’ll reflect on one of the most important things you can learn when life just isn’t the same anymore.
You know, on my more sophisticated and musically snobby days, I’d probably steer clear of toilet jokes and choke on citations of pop music lyrics (instead of referencing them like I do below). I’d likely mention a compelling parallel between the complexities of an avant-garde jazz piece and contemplate the many unexpected changes in our lives.
But, since I’m more in a pop music-McDonalds Chicken McNuggets sort of mood, let’s just start my reflection with Thomas Rhett’s pop song, Life Changes. Whether he’s on your playlist or not, I’m betting that his lyrics might resonate with you.
For example, Rhett sings: “Ain’t it funny how life changes/You wake up, ain’t nothing the same and life changes”.
I know, I know…Those words don’t quite massage the senses like a John Keats poem would.
But I’m sure many of us can identify with the idea of waking up and suddenly realizing how everything’s changed in our lives.
Life Changes When You Don’t Want It To.
If you’re a cat person like me, maybe you grew up with an adorable baby kitten who nibbled on your ear while you watched Animaniacs.
But that cute kitten eventually grew up. Getting friskier and wilder, she developed sharp claws (as cats do). One day, your cat painfully scratched you for the first time and left this nasty scar on your arm. You felt shocked, maybe even sad that your lovely cat would do that to you.
Or, perhaps you’re feeling nostalgic about your (once) bubbly 3-year old kid. You remember how he randomly hugged your leg so tightly in the cereal aisle at the supermarket. You really needed that, because you didn’t have the best day at work. But, now he’s 16, tends to ignore you.
Overall, he’s a good kid, and you raised him well. But he just gets a bit moody and fiercely protects his privacy and quest for independence.
Now you’re just wishing for those better days of toilet training, and easy-to-fix baby vomit on your carpet.
Heck, maybe you once loved drinking milk. But as you got older, you started developing stomach issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). You can’t really handle milk anymore, so the Internet told you that you’re developing lactose intolerance.
You’re hoping that the IBS is temporary and from an especially tough year of long, stressful work days. Now you’re wishing that your creaking body would still allow you to do those all-nighters like you did during college/university exams. Sometimes, you still do, but sadly, you’re not in your early 20’s anymore.
So you just can’t handle all these physical, mental, and emotional demands on your body like you used to.
The anxiety that we feel from our life changes builds up in different ways and prompts different reactions.
Maybe we feel like we’re losing control–losing our grip on things we could once get a hang of, understand or grasp in some way.
We scramble to figure out any number of solutions that help us re-gain that locus of control that we so desperately cling to. We react by fighting and clawing for control over our fears, insecurities and emptiest moods. This can express in a number of different ways. For example, it can appear as:
- an outwardly aggressive reaction to others. This can express itself in a number of ways, including repeated blaming of others, shaming others, angry outbursts and so forth.
- an inwardly aggressive reaction to ourselves and our own inner thoughts. This can express itself in different ways, including different types of depression, sabotaging one’s own life, fear of success, self-isolation, constant self-blame, deep anxiety with a loud inner critic and more.
By “control”, I’m referring to our expectations and our ability to predict that if we do “A”, then “B”, will be likely to happen. In a higher level and abstract sense, our locus of control ties into our deeply held sense of “trust”. It’s a type of trust we have in human people, behaviours, and our deeply held beliefs about how the world is “supposed” to be if we, ourselves, behave in a certain way.
Overly Extreme Reactions to Life Changes: Examples from my Brain
In extreme scenarios, we may default to an intense anxiety of panic when we feel control slipping away from us. These are those all-or-nothing solutions that we desperately try to avoid, or feel a deep sense of regret if we end up caving to them. For example, maybe we go declaw the cats that scratched us (please don’t do that!).
With our snotty kids (that we love), maybe we forget how unhelpful it is to speak in aggressive tones with words like, “I want to talk to you now!!!!”
Worse, maybe we’re actually far more hot-tempered than those otherwise moody and “emo” teenagers of ours. So you became so frustrated with them that you made sure that they never forgot that spectacle (or scream-a-thon) of you publicly berating them at the mall.
So, in our own inner emotional storm, our anxiety forgets to remind us how we could have chosen different responses.
Responses are very different from reactions.
I believe many of our reactions are, in fact, knee-jerk things that are triggered in light of our fear, anxieties and insecurities. However, I believe our responses can be far more intentional and thoughtful choices. I believe such responses can be born from wisdom, and our desire to respond to our life challenges. We can choose how we respond to the many changes, griefs and traumas that challenge us, by boldly showing up with our truest, most beautiful selves.
For example, maybe you respond to humanely trim our cat’s nails with a nail filer (or take them to a vet who will help us do that). Perhaps we respond by learning how to better communicate with our beloved children via neutral tones and intentional phrasing (e.g. “I was thinking about you and had some thoughts I wanted to share with you”).
Heck, if we do develop some lactose intolerance, perhaps we respond by seeking a dietician for calcium alternatives. Or perhaps you decide to indulge in the miracle of almond milk instead.
You’re Probably Not Evil like Voldemort
I find it’s sometimes quite easy to consider ourselves the “villain” of our own story.
If you’re still reading this right now, my guess is that the extreme reactions I’ve described represent very few of your own actual, real-life behaviours.
But maybe, just maybe, on those incredibly frustrating days, these extreme examples tap into some of our deeper, darker thoughts that we so fear to entertain.
In fact, perhaps we care so much about our own reactions and responses that we’d rather punish ourselves than ever hurt those we so deeply love. Regardless, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed or bad about yourself.
Whatever genuinely regretful actions or imagined, dark thoughts you may feel guilty about right now—I’ll remind you right now that you’re not a bad person.
Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you’re probably not the Voldemort type. I’m betting you’re the type of person who cares deeply about people and those you love, whether through your empathy, sense of honour, moral code, or inner integrity.
Sure, maybe you’ve actually made terrible mistakes that really hurt yourself, others (or both), and you do feel quite remorseful about them.
But let’s not confuse our shame with our guilt.
Shame and guilt are quite different. As Dr. Brené Brown in her fantastic book, Daring Greatly, suggests, while “shame is focused on self, guilt is focused on behaviour.”
“Shame says, ‘I am bad’.”
“Guilt says, ‘I did something bad’ ”.
While I believe shame is a natural human response, I don’t believe we’re meant to linger on it and allow it to darken our innermost, truest identities as human beings.
But we can learn from the positive guilt of our mistakes, ill behaviours, and pain we’ve intentionally or accidentally caused others.
Sure, it’s true that you could have made a different choice.
But in between the best and worst of our life choices, there’s a lot of real estate.
Whether we choose to help or harm, endanger or empower, bless or curse—we always have a choice.
Good guilt affords us the opportunity to improve, grow and deepen the fullness of who you are for yourself and for others.
And the more difficult choice is deciding how you want to live your life now.
You are intrinsically wonderful, after all.
- Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York: Random House.