Jamie Kupkovits is a school psychologist who works with families affected by divorce and family change. She is the author of Relational Aggression in Girls, a curriculum focused on teaching girls healthy relationship skills while helping to reduce the incidences of relational aggression/social bullying. She has taught college-level professional development courses and is a Love and Logic parent trainer. Jamie’s most significant role, however, is her role as a single parent to her two children who constantly keep her on her toes and who inspire her, daily, to keep learning and growing as a parent.
At some point I stopped trying to figure out what happened – what went horribly wrong and how quickly the secure and comfortable walls around me fell. I stopped trying to put the sharp, jaded pieces of glass that resembled my now messy and very broken life back together. After many failed attempts of trying to put what once was back together, I realized it was time to move forward. And, honestly, for a while I struggled with how to do that.
You see, it was a scary thing to do – to let go of a comfortable and (seemingly) secure kind of life. I knew it meant saying good-bye to people whom I had come to love dearly and whom I greatly treasured. It would include walking away from dreams and expectations that had become a part of my very soul. Gone were many visions of what I had expected and counted on as being my reality.
The life I have now is hardly the life I imagined or dreamed about. The exhausted, worn-out single parent look was not a look I desired to wear by any means. But, it IS the look I now wear – and with style I must add. (Yes, those dark spots, aka bags under my eyes, are the greatest badges of honor I wear…daily.)
For a while, I resisted the change. I avoided the subject. I refused to associate with ‘single parent status’. I think I resisted out of ‘educated fear’. And by that I mean I had done my homework on the single parent research. The outcome data for single parents and their children, let’s just be frank, were less than celebratory. And so, for a while, I avoided it all like the plague.
And then, given some very divine intervention, it dawned on me that this avoidance pattern had me running. And all of this running was hindering me from moving forward. I had to face the uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings and thoughts of this life altering life-change. I had to accept what was and to stop avoiding the uncomfortable.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
John Murphy, from the University of Central Arkansas, equates thought and feeling avoidance to that of running in a rainstorm as he describes a way to deal with such uncomfortable feelings and thoughts through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). He states the avoidance comes when one tries to dodge the drops of rain in order to avoid becoming wet, but in fact what one ends up doing is just running in circles. According to Murphy, this avoidance pattern ultimately prevents you from going anywhere.
I couldn’t help but think, after reading this approach to dealing with the uncomfortable, how life-altering changes can resemble that of running in a rainstorm… Life-altering change can resemble that of a storm in which we find ourselves. Not wanting to face the unfamiliar, we cling to what once was while trying to avoid the unknown ahead. Instead of embracing the opportunity to move forward by dancing in the rain, we instead end up trying to avoid it and find ourselves stuck in an unprogressive circle or unproductive pattern of behaviors.
According to Murphy’s explanation of ACT, one must thoughtfully engage in answering the question, “Are you willing to do what it takes in order to attain the life that you want?” I like this question, but at the same time recognize just how big of a question it is. When life has dealt you a rough hand, it’s often more comfortable to sit back and to see circumstances as events that just happen to you and that you are powerless to change versus seeing that you have the choice to do something about those circumstances.
What if answering this big question includes accepting the feelings and thoughts you have while not engaging in behaviors of avoidance? ACT, accordingly, seeks to help individuals to recognize one’s values and goals, identify presenting barriers to reaching those goals and committing to take the necessary actions to reach one’s goals. It’s also about recognizing that the thoughts we have are not necessarily absolute truths. We need to mediate on thoughts that are in fact the truth. Just because I think it, does not mean the thought is true.
Here are three steps to get you started. Try writing the following out on a notecard or record in a journal to refer back to along the way to attaining that life you want.
I think if we are being completely honest, it takes courage to dance in the rain and to take the risk of getting wet. It takes courage to deal with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings instead of engaging in avoidance behaviors. But, sometimes, we have to do those very things that we are afraid to do if we truly want a great life. Isn’t that what courage is all about – sometimes we have to do the things we are afraid to do?
When we do take that risk to dance in the rain and to allow ourselves to get wet, we find that those things that were once uncomfortable and had us running won’t affect us in the same way anymore. They won’t have a hold on us like they once did, because we made the choice to step forward and out of the circle.
Oh, yes, how true it is that life will come at us in ways we did not expect. Disappointment and hurt will come by means of dreams that may be deferred indefinitely. But, what if the disappointment and hurt are opportunities to build something better? What if they are opportunities to build courage and character?
Courage comes when I allow myself to face and to not avoid those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Courage is dealing with those feelings and thoughts so they can no longer hold me back from living the life I want to live. Courage is allowing oneself to get wet and to dance in the rain.
I’ve come to learn, through many of those dreams deferred in fact, that sometimes the rain isn’t all that bad. Yes, I have been disappointed and have been hurt. But, I am still loved and have many people to love (and that is a truth worth meditating on). I may no longer have the dreams I once did, but I now have new and improved dreams – ones that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for this life altering change. And, every day, I’m learning how to dance in the rain.
Reference: Murphy, John (2006). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Schools: Prevention and Intervention Possibilities. Presented at the NASP Conference in Anaheim, CA.
Another transition is quickly approaching. I can feel it by the uneasiness that lurks within. I’m not alone. My children feel it. Their restlessness is a giveaway sign that another big change is right around the corner.
There is much yet to be done. Papers, stacked high, liter the counter waiting to be filled out. Unpaid bills lay next to them, both competing for attention. Then, there is the back to school shopping that needs to miraculously get done on top of the many forms that are waiting to be completed.
Aside from the lists of “to-dos,” there lingers within something greater. It is the wonderings and anxiety of what lies ahead. It is in fact the unknown and unforeseen challenges that keep many of us up at night. Thoughts of “Will I be able to make two different drop offs work every morning and still manage to make it to work on time?” and “Will my kids adjust okay to their schools?” are just a couple of those nagging thoughts that can run rampant in our minds. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed before the day has even begun!
But, as the head of the household, I know I set the tone for the day ahead. My kiddo’s eyes are on me watching and looking for guidance on how to handle this new change ahead (no pressure at all). So, I know that in order to help them overcome this transition and to deal with their unrest in a healthy way, I need to first be honest about my own thoughts and feelings regarding what lies ahead. Second, I need to deal with, and not avoid, my own uneasiness about the many new changes that are before us.
Below is an approach I’ve used with myself, as well as my kiddos, in order to help prepare us for new transitions and change. The approach is based off of a technique called, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a research-based approach for dealing with anxious and worrisome thoughts and feelings. A foundational premise behind CBT is that our thoughts, feelings and actions affect and interact with each other in profound ways. The way we think about things matters! Our thoughts affect the way we feel which affects how we choose to act.
I love this anonymous quote, because I think it does a great job summarizing just how important our thoughts are in affecting how we feel and approach our circumstances. “Whatever you hold in your mind will tend to occur in your life. If you continue to believe as you have always believed, you will continue to act as you have always acted. If you continue to act as you have always acted, you will continue to get what you have always gotten. If you want different results in your life or your work, all you have to do is change your mind.”
4 STEPS TO MANAGING CHANGE AND TRANSITIONS
1. Recognize and take captive any negative thought that enters your mind.
Those thoughts of “I can’t do this.” or “This is too difficult.” are a couple examples of such negative thoughts. (If you are a visual person, try taking out a notecard and writing your thought down on one side of it.)
2. Identify how these negative thoughts produce uncomfortable feelings.
For example, the thoughts of “I can’t do this.” and “This is too difficult.” lead to feelings of anxiety and fearfulness.
3. Identify how these negative thoughts and uncomfortable feelings affect how you choose to respond to your circumstances.
4. Seek to exert control over the negative, unproductive thought by replacing it with a positive, constructive thought instead.
(Write this positive thought on the other side of the notecard.)
This way of thinking takes practice, especially if you aren’t used to thinking this way. It will take persistence and determination to keep with it, as those negative thoughts are quick to meander back into our minds. A conscious effort will be needed in order to change the way we think.
There is no doubt. There are many new transitions that lie ahead for us. But, I’ve decided that I’m going to change my mind about how I think about these transitions. Yes, they will undoubtedly be challenging, but I have decided to think about how much stronger I will be because of them. When I think and meditate on these thoughts instead, I can’t help but feel empowered to act confidently that I will be able to handle the transitions that are before us just waiting to be conquered.