A New Normal

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. – John C Maxwell.


If you or someone you know is enduring life-altering loss, illness, injury or change, this topic is available to facilitate genuine conversation about how to turn toward your loved ones and unify your family in order to overcome the difficult season. The questions in this topic are also useful for individuals to explore, in preparation of a life-altering event. What do you value and what is your identity found in? If your job, a family member, health or talents were to be taken away, how would you respond?

We all enter different stages of our life with significant expectations, goals and an ideal image of how we would like our life to be. We invest our time in planning our careers, homes, relationships, family, retirement and developing our talents. Sure, small bumps often occur on the way to our ideal reality that need problem solving but most problems are solvable and we continue to lead lives with our eyes set firmly on the desires for our future. It’s a fantastic feeling to have control over our work, family and social life and reach our goals, ultimately creating the life we want for ourselves and our family. Who doesn’t love a life that’s social media worthy, right?


What happens though, when an unexpected and uncontrollable life event interrupts your plans? Not just interrupts them, shatters them. What happens when the loss of a loved-one or job, an illness, empty nesting, injury or relationship breakdown pulls you and your family off course and has you scrambling to create a new normal?


It’s not something many families consider until a life-changing event occurs. Are you and your family pushing through some difficult times right now? If so, my heart breaks for you. It’s not easy to keep a family flourishing and unified when tough times hit. This is why the below strategies have been included for this topic. These strategies will help you and your family draw closer to each other and use the strength of each other’s support to create a new normal through suffering.


If you and your family are blessed to not be enduring any significant struggles right now, the below strategies are great to explore and implement in preparation for a difficult season or to use to support friends who’re suffering.


1. Self-compassion


Feeling like you aren’t winning at the game of life? Experiencing suffering, perhaps due to becoming unwell, losing your job or experiencing a loss is difficult. Often, we make our suffering worse by adding our own self-judgement to the fire. Being self-critical about the gap between our reality and our ideal life during difficult times can overwhelm us with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity and can result in us taking our frustration out on our loved ones too as we struggle to deal with challenging emotions.


So, you’re faced with a situation that’s not in line with your plans for you or your family’s life, what should be your first reaction? In order to move through a difficult season, our first response should be to relate to ourselves with kindness and empathy and change our critical self-talk (our inner voice) to resemble the support that would come from a close, understanding friend. Sounds easy, right? Not always. Being kind to ourselves during our suffering does involve us tuning into the way we treat and speak to ourselves and trying to soften our self-critical dialogue. What kind words do you need to hear today? Did you know you don’t need to hear them from your loved ones, you’re capable of soothing your own pain? When we begin to be more kind with ourselves and show ourselves compassion, we experience an inner warmth and peace that breaks us free from our struggles and allows us to give more in our family relationships.


2. Diversify your Identity

Every challenge in life will affect every one of us differently. Often the impact of loss, injury, illness or change will depend on how much our identity is found in what we’re being challenged with. What do you most value and what would you say your identity is found in? Is it your work, family, talents or your faith? If you find your identity only in being a financial provider, and you suddenly lose your job, your suffering is going to be greater than someone who loses their job but finds their identity in their faith.


A great family activity to do that provides perspective in difficult times or can prepare a family for suffering is to explore together what each individual values and what foundation their identity is built upon. For any family member whose identity relies solely on things and people or is based in only one area of life, it would serve them well to explore additional areas of their life that they can find a sense of self in.  This one activity alone will fast track your family’s path to a new normal after life-changing events.


2. Engage in Perspective Taking


Perspective taking is a great tool for any couple or family to use to reduce tension during suffering and build a stronger family unit where everyone feels valued and understood. How easy it is for us to become trapped in our personal view of our problems and forget that our loved-ones may be experiencing the same problem from an entirely different point of view? Any problem that arises within a family can be viewed in three different ways.


1. Perspective of self

This is the first and easiest perspective we take on. This is how a problem is experienced based on our own thoughts and feelings.


2. Perspective of the other

This is how the issue is interpreted from the experience of your family members based on their thoughts and feelings


3. Outsider’s perspective.

This considers how the problem is interpreted from someone who isn’t involved in the situation, but instead, looking in from a neutral, outside perspective.


When we consider everyone’s perspective in our family context, we’re more likely to discover solutions that respect everyone’s needs. Families that proactively engage in perspective taking are more considerate of each other’s struggles and are quick to resolve conflict. During difficult times, who doesn’t need quick conflict resolution, right?


So, although it would be ideal if we were unbreakable and we could move toward our goals in a straight line, life is unpredictable and sometimes we’re faced with situations that cause us to change our path, redefine our goals and rebuild our identity. As you and your family journey through challenging changes, be kind to yourselves, consider the perspective of your loved-ones and turn your eyes to other areas of your life that are worth celebrating.


Karra Eloff

Managing Director of Eloff & Andrews Clinical Psychology & founder of The Chronic Pain Couple.