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What You Need To Know About The Change Cycle: Stage 1 (Meltdown)

{In a previous post I provided an overview of the cycle of change. Today we are diving into the FIRST STAGE of the change cycle.}

Do you know what happens to a caterpillar during its metamorphosis? I think the details were glossed over in elementary school, leaving me with vague ideas of wings and legs somehow materializing while the caterpillar is inside the black box that is the chrysalis. Kind of like when a magician puts an object in a hat and then, abracadabra! It’s a rabbit.

What really happens is this: the caterpillar dissolves. It becomes bug soup. Then specialized cells begin the process of forming the parts that become a butterfly.

This is what it’s like when you are thrown into the first stage of the change cycle. Something significant happens that changes the way you see yourself, and your life as you knew it is no longer the same. The old sense of who you are that shaped your life, your relationships, your actions – it no longer exists for you.

This is a confusing, disorienting time. It can feel like everything is falling apart. What had been familiar in your life is now unrecognizable and chaotic. The future appears uncertain. As Martha Beck says, “Our whole lives, all the actions we take, are based on concepts of who we are.”

When you lose that sense of identity, it’s like you become “person soup”.

For most people, “person soup” is a very uncomfortable time. Strong emotions come up as your old identity dissolves. If a loss of something or someone you valued is part of what threw you into the change cycle, your journey through this stage includes grief. It’s about recognizing what you’ve lost and allowing yourself to feel sadness about it.

Don’t be surprised to also find yourself feeling fear. The territory ahead of you is likely way outside your comfort zone and requires that you stretch beyond what you perceive as your limits.

You may feel guilt, too. As you leave the old patterns of your life behind, this might mean leaving some people behind – people who only fit in with the old version of you.

Grief, fear, guilt: we often want to avoid these painful feelings and paste a smiley face on ourselves so we can get back to a comfortable life. This doesn’t work (rebound relationships are a classic example). You can’t fake your way out of stage 1, nor can you force it.

In fact, the more you resist it, the longer it will last.

Here is what you can do to ease your passage through stage 1:

  • This is not the time for big decisions. Don’t get carried away by worries about the future. Focus on living one day at a time (or if that’s too much, an hour or even 10 minutes at a time).

  • Take care of yourself with comforting activities – whatever that looks like for you. Well-meaning friends may try to cheer you up with entertainment that feels like “forced fun” at this time. Kindly decline and do what feels like comfort for you (read your favorite books? go for a walk? nap with your dog?).

  • Talk to others who understand this kind of metamorphosis. You will find you are not alone in your experience.

  • Martha Beck created a mantra for stage 1: I don’t know what the hell is going on and that’s OK. Say it out loud. Repeat it often.

  • Accept that your life has changed and you don’t know yet what it’s going to fully look like. Allow yourself to be a beginner as the new you develops.

Recognize that this is a liminal time – a period when you are between identities. No longer who you previously were, but not yet established as who you will be. If that sounds frustratingly vague… yes, it is. Keep in mind: this is temporary. Trust that you can, and will, make it through to the other side.

After all, if it weren’t for bug soup, we wouldn’t have butterflies.

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." – Anatole France

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