"I just can't do it!" exclaimed Betty, "It's just too much to take on right now!" Jai was surprised, confused, and hurt. One minute he's having a rational conversation with his wife about his idea of having the family try out a vegetarian diet, the next she's fighting back tears in what seems like borderline hysteria.
The first post in this series identified the perspective of someone who is comfortable, or satisfied, with a change. Yesterday we considered the same change from the perspective of someone resistant to it. Today we're going to look at the same situation from the point-of-view of someone in a state of distress.
To some, the word distress may seem like a bit of an exaggeration when it comes to reactions to change, yet exaggerated is often how people - especially those satisfied with the change - tend to describe those in this frame of mind. People who perceive the change as too overwhelming, as requiring too much of them or their time, as more than they can handle right now, often appear to others as over-reacting. But to the person with this perspective, their reactions are very real, even if they don't quite understand them themselves.
In our situation about making a switch in diet, let's consider Betty's perspective. She just received a promotion at work, which will require more travel not to mention more hours in general. Up until now she's been heavily involved with her children's school, which is important for her to continue. Her children are active in extra-curricular activities, and she has been the primary form of transportation for them. She's already been worried about how she's going to keep up with her commitments to her family and the school with her new job responsibilities, as well as how she's going to 'hit the ground running' in her new position; something her new boss has already voiced is an expectation for her. To Betty, adding one more thing to her list of responsibilities, as well as another change to her life, is more than she feels able to take on right now.
People who are already under stress, whether actual or perceived, may find it difficult to embrace a new change, simply because they feel they are at capacity. Whether it is a heavy workload, family or other personal stressors, or other changes occurring at, or around, the same time, people voicing a sense of overwhelm or 'too much' are saying they are at or near the tipping point.
Often times, this reaction is difficult for other people to understand, because they may not know about all of the contributing stressors. A lack of understanding makes it easy to label the person as 'too emotional', 'over-reacting', or 'whiner'. To perpetuate these statements, people in distress often have difficulty seeing their way out of their state of overwhelm. They can't see the forest for the trees so to speak. For those concerned about having such labels attributed to them, they often 'suffer in silence', telling few or no people about their state of distress rather than to show weakness. That makes it very difficult for others to understand what is often a surprising reaction when this otherwise stoical person has reached her or his limit.
People with this reaction to change can benefit most from a sense of stability, for when change is introduced, it is disruptive to an already fragile environment to someone in distress. Stability can take on many forms, but first and foremost, stability in relationships is key. Letting the person know that they have your support, can go a long way in creating a sense of groundedness they might otherwise not feel. Asking them for their perspective about what is going on will help gain a sense of understanding of why, as well as where, the sense of overwhelm is rooted, and working with the person to identify a clear path forward can help them see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Some people might benefit from a collaborative approach to problem-solving, while others might benefit from someone else defining the path for them. In this case, it is important to ask before telling, as not all people like others to tell them what to do, but when they aren't able to see a way out of their distress, some welcome a guiding hand. Most importantly, refrain from name calling and labeling, as no good can come from it and it will likely drive a person with this reaction deeper into a sense of isolation and despair.
For Betty, a simple conversation about her concerns, could offer a great deal of information to Jai, provided he is willing to listen to them with an objective ear. By having such a conversation, Jai might realize that Betty felt it was her responsibility to implement the change by doing the meal planning, shopping and cooking for a regimen she knew little about. Maybe it is timing that could alleviate Betty's concerns, by starting with a plan outlining the change that includes her and the rest of the family's needs and concerns. But it all starts with an open, honest, non-judgmental conversation.
Tomorrow we'll look at one other perspective; that of the non-committal, or indifferent, reaction.
*note: the proposed dietary change in this scenario is intended as an example only, and is does not represent any views, for or against, a vegetarian or any other diet.
About the Author
Megan Rounds, Ed.D. is owner and principle perculator of perculcha, llc.
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