Embrace Change: Keys to Being a “Good Coper”

April 29, 2008 — Leave a comment

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If you think about it, really the only constant in life is change. Already today many of us have changed clothes, changed diapers, changed gears, changed stations, changed plans, and changed our mind (every woman’s prerogative.) So, with all this practice, why do we resist those other changes that could lead us to healthier, happier lives both individually and in our family systems?Some changes are obviously easier than others. But change is stressful whether it’s easy or hard, or positive or negative ââ?¬Â¦ and a certain level of stress is needed in order to bring about any change! For example, I will need to give up the freedom to spend time, money, and resources as I see fit in order to marry and share life and love with a wonderful human being. Which path will I focus on? The one that takes or the one that gives! I cannot have it both ways. Look for the opportunities change brings with it. Even the more turbulent circumstances, like divorce, accidents, and job loss, can leave us changed for the better if we look for those opportunities. So many times I’ll hear people talk about difficult life circumstances in hindsight, saying, “You know what? It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.” It’s true that we’re never disturbed by circumstances; only by our view of them.

Again, it all comes down to how we respond to the change in our lives. To explain this further let me tell you about a study done of AT&T executives who lost their positions in a large corporate reorganization. During a 5-year period, psychologists documented two different response patterns: People in one group suffered an increase in medical and psychological symptoms, and those in the other group remained as healthy and happy during the changes as they had been before. The second group – the Good Copers – had learnable characteristics that identified them as more resilient.

Be Challenged Not Threatened

So, the good copers see change as a challenge to grow and not a threat to their security. For the stress-hardy, problems are puzzles to be solved; not stumbling blocks to be tripped by. Rise to the challenge and create a more spontaneous adventure in life. We only have one go-around; what’s the worst thing that can happen? Let change motivate you! Say, “O.K., no whatââ?¬Â¦I can hardly wait to see what great thing comes of this!”

Control Responses (Not Life)

Good-copers believe they have a sense of control over their choices. And it’s why we resist change – because we falsely assume we have to relinquish control over everything. We know we can’t control life but we can control our responses to positive and negative events. Everything becomes an opportunity and grist for the mill of personal growth. Do not let outside circumstances get the best of you! In looking back on a particular event 5 years from now, how do you hope to have responded?

Let Meaning Buffer Stress

And good-copers are strongly committed to their values and life’s meanings. They are dedicated to family, community, and work, giving them a sturdy framework of meaning that helps them weather any and all changes. Without meaning, life is hollow and empty – allowing depression to more likely creep in. If we look at our jobs simply as a way to pay bills, our lack of commitment leads to an increase in stress. However, if we think of our work as chance to make a difference to the people whom we serve, that higher sense of meaning will buffer stress.

Validate Feelings & Security

The best we can give anyone, especially our children, is the right to feel. The right to feel angry ââ?¬Â¦ the right to feel pain ââ?¬Â¦ the right to feel devastated. Encourage them to use words out loud or write them in a journal. Validate their feelings; “It’s O.K. to be angry but it’s not O.K. to hit or throw things.” Anger is a common reaction to feeling powerless, helpless, rejected, or scared. These feelings are understandable when there are so many major changes in today’s family systems: separation, divorce, mom’s boyfriend coming in, dad’s girlfriend going out, older siblings leaving the family home, grandparents moving into the family home, loss of a parent’s job, the arrival of a new baby , and the list goes on.

Children want to know that some things will not change. They need to know that there will be rules to help them feel loved and secure. Even though omnipotent-feeling children will fight the rules, they really do feel more secure knowing that the adults are in charge.

Embrace Family Reorganization

Probably the harder change is when a family loses one of its members to death. A family member’s death can lead us to either tightly embracing each other or removing our self from the family embrace all together. It takes time for a bereaved family to regain its balance. The ability to grieve with one another is crucial even though every person will experience the loss differently and have unique needs. Remain open and honest when talking with each other – this is not the time for family members to hide their grief to protect one other. Reorganizing family roles can be stressful so be patient and gentle. When family members maintain their embrace, there is no greater way to honor a loved one.

 

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Dr. Liz Hale

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