Big changes have an intellectual component…but they go much deeper.
At one level it is quite simple. They have the ability to (and quite often do) touch us to our very core.
Let’s take a brief look at this phenomenon. While it may not make the experience of catharsis any less difficult, it may be helpful to both know to expect it, and to recognize that this is an unavoidable element of major change.
Change disrupts the status quo; big change disrupts it big time. The path is unclear, the outcomes are uncertain, the journey often uncomfortable. At the very least, it will intrude on our sense of safety and security (the second level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Some changes may hit us at even a more fundamental level, leaving us feeling that our very survival is at stake. Other big changes may undermine our ego or sense of self-worth. Or, they may bring about the creation, re-definition, or termination of relationships. They can leave us questioning our wisdom, our insights, and our dreams.
As if that isn’t enough, very often the big changes in life–whether personal or professional–are about dismantling paradigms that we have invested significantly in creating and sustaining. Most likely, we envisioned them lasting forever (or at least for our lifetimes). It may be that the marriage or similar relationship that you have spent decades nurturing along with the home, the family, and the associated traditions are all about to fundamentally change. Or perhaps it is that the business in which you have invested days, nights, weekends (along with vacations and holidays) bringing to fruition…you have come to realize must dramatically change if it is to continue to survive.
If all this sounds like catharsis comes with “doom and gloom” (few people would be surprised about that), it is equally true with the positively perceived big changes you will face. While I will go into this in more detail at another time, the reason we so eagerly launch into those changes, whether at work or at home, is that we are naive as to what they will be demanding of us if we are committed to long-term success. (Think “honeymoon” here…) The status quo is being equally disrupted. The old paradigms still need to be dismantled. The journey is no more certain, nor is the outcome.
So, positively perceived change or negative, if the change is big, the journey is going to be more than a “head trip.” It is going to require making significant shifts in ways of thinking, behaving, and perhaps even believing; it is going to require letting go of the old and affirming the new.
What does this mean for you and the others affected by the change?
First, anticipate and plan for catharsis; don’t let it surprise you. It may be possible to create cathartic moments. One consulting firm that I know facilitates leadership workshops that are designed as catalysts for catharsis. I once worked with a client organization that held a ceremonial funerary event to acknowledge their acquisition, then followed it with a celebration for the new possibilities the acquisition would allow. The bachelor party and wedding reception are examples of parallel rituals at the personal level.
Second, acknowledge to yourself that catharsis is not just for the other people; it is part of your journey as well. Until you are ready to let the tears flow, find an appropriate outlet for the anger, perhaps laugh hysterically, mourn, and/or…, you will be unable to complete the journey.
What is your experience with catharsis and change? Please comment below.