Positive life changes, loss of identity, and how to stop over analyzing your grief.
Overthinking Change: A Pie Chart
As a wedding photographer I used to witness an unusual phenomenon amongst wedding couples - as soon as the wedding was over, they would have a sense of grief.
To be clear, they weren't crying over their choice to get married, instead they were going through a process of grieving their loss of identity - whether it was the identity of being single, or the identity of being the bride or groom to be, or something else completely. Thinking about name changes, wishing they had done something differently at the wedding, etc, and then feeling shame around feeling sad about being done with the wedding. They would then go into a spiral of overthinking these positive changes in their lives.
At the time I did not recognize this as grief because, well, I hadn't studied it so much, but now as a grief educator, I now know that grief around a loss of identity is something to be expected.
When you start a new job, when you start school, graduate from school, when you get married, when you move to a place you have always wanted to live, when your child graduates from high school, when you stop having pain, when you leave a toxic relationship -grief is grief is grief. Grieving your lost identity even when the new identity is something you want, is totally expected, healthy, and NORMAL. That doesn't mean it isn't startling when it happens, however. I want you to know you are not alone when you experience this grief while being excited for new changes in your life!
Human beings are complex creatures. We are completely capable of feeling joy and grief all at once. Though we may be ashamed to admit we are feeling grief around a positive change in our lives, it is a sign of being human.
What are some signs that you are grieving a loss of identity?
You may find yourself more pessimistic
You may find yourself more controlling
You may find yourself wishing things had happened differently
You may feel ashamed around how things happened
You may feel ashamed that you feel grief around a positive change
You may lose friends from your prior identity
You may find yourself questioning your decision, and lashing out at those around you who have been part of the change
You may find yourself over analyzing your choices
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile and ask yourself, how did I get here (oops sorry - that's a song.)
If you find yourself doing any of the above, do not judge and belittle yourself! Don't get distracted by them. Change is a process, just like grief. Don't overthink.
How do you move forward from the grief behind a positive change without obsessing or over analyzing?
Acknowledge the feelings of loss. Don't push them down. If you do, they'll just stay around longer. Write it out in a journal. Writing these things out gets them out of your head.
Don't romanticize the past. There is a reason you went for this positive change, or there is a reason that former identity was temporary.
Be kind to yourself and others who may be on the change journey with you. It is completely ok to miss the old you and your old life sometimes. It is also ok to be frustrated, but it is not ok to lash out just to lash out. Sit down and talk it out.
Give yourself the time, grace, and space to get used to your new life and new traditions. Change is great, but change is hard - both mentally and physically - even when it is positive change. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and exercise.
Find joy in your new routines and traditions. Something as small as a cup of coffee every morning at a new location, or starting up a hobby you used to love, but that got forgotten in the chaos of life.
Positive changes are just as difficult as negative changes. Don't beat yourself up thinking you shouldn't feel how you feel. You are human and capable of many emotions all at once. Find a safe person to talk to, or write it all down. You are not alone in these feelings!
Above all, if you find yourself obsessing and overthinking these new changes. Go outside, go for a walk, turn off your phone, go paint. Go do anything that lets you reset. Remember life is a grand adventure!