When you have a persistent sense of heartbreak and gutwrench, the physical sensations become intolerable and we will do anything to make those feelings disappear. And that is really the origin of what happens in human pathology. People take drugs to make it disappear, and they cut themselves to make it disappear, and they starve themselves to make it disappear, and they have sex with anyone who comes along to make it disappear and once you have these horrible sensations in your body, you’ll do anything to make it go away.
~Bessel A. van der Kolk
The only consistent thing about living as a human being is that change is inevitable.
Sometimes the changes that come our way are out of our control.
Sometimes the changes that come our way we do not consent to.
Sometimes the changes that come our way stem from our own choices.
Sometimes the changes that come our way are our own choice, and still we may wish they didn’t happen.
Life is complex and rarely stagnant.
When big changes come our way, they can throw us off kilter. Our systems may become dysregulated. Our old traumas may be triggered. The change itself could be traumatic in its own way. This can happen even when a change is of our own conscious choosing.
I have witnessed that basic human response to change, sometimes even to changes of our own choosing, is to fight like hell to return to the status quo – the way things were before the change. This fight is almost always a losing battle.
The dysregulation our systems experience when change happens is inevitable. Systems theory confirms that when a change happens within a system, the parts of the system will do all they can to find equilibrium again. Sometimes we call this “finding our new normal” when it comes to the changes that come into our lives. Until we find this equilibrium however, our systems, including our nervous systems, will be agitated.
Change happens. Dysregulation happens. It is how we move through the changes, how we find our ways back to equilibrium, or our new normals, that matters. How we do this is up to us and frankly is unique to each person and each situation.
What I would love all of us to remember, including myself, is to have some compassion for the dysregulation that is an inevitable part of being human. To have compassion for ourselves as we find our ways to the new normal of each new change in our lives. To have some compassion for trying things and feeling like failing and trying different things until we are able to figure out what works for us.
This is true even when the changes we experience are of our own choosing, are welcome, perhaps even wanted. It will still take time for us to find our feet again, to find that “new normal,” to get back to our equilibrium.
Reminding ourselves that we are trying to find our way back to a “steady state” as we shift through a major or even minor life change is important, and is part of where our self-compassion comes in. Giving ourselves the grace of knowing we are doing the best we can with the resources we have. Slowing down to allow ourselves to feel the myriad of emotions that may be coming forward, some possibly expected and some probably not.
We are all complex beings, and our life experiences are complex. Sometimes change is welcome, and even in this welcoming for a short period the change will cause some amount of chaos and dysregulation. Remember to be gentle with you. Remember to give yourself time and space to breathe and feel all the feelings you are having. Remember to be patient with yourself. And most importantly remember to have compassion for yourself as you stumble along finding your ways to your own new normal.
This was originally written for my weekly(ish) newsletter on July 15, 2018. It has been revised and edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays you can subscribe here.