How Significant Emotional Events Shake Your World
In everyone’s life there definitely will have been some standout experiences or events that have shaped you. Examples of these Significant Emotional Events are the birth of a child, marriage, job promotion, illness, divorce, separation, child leaving home, redundancy, job layoff, bereavement …the list goes on.
You know when you’ve experienced an event like this because it shakes you to the core. It disrupts your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. It makes you think and behave differently.
What are Significant Emotional Events?
I know this is a normal response to a Significant Emotional Event, as I’ve previously researched values development and Significant Emotional Events extensively. In particular to share with my clients on self-development and self-leadership.
The vast majority of my research focused on the work of Dr Morris Massey. He defines a Significant Emotional Event as:
“An experience that is so mentally arresting that it becomes a catalyst for you to consider, examine, and possibly change your initial values or value system.”
I can say, without a doubt, that’s what I’ve experienced. And if you’ve experienced a Significant Emotional Event, you will relate to this too.
Why values are so important to us
Our values guide our approach to life and relationships. They inform our way forward through the many choices we are offered every day. You could say they make up a large part of who we are, and how others view us.
Massey believes our values are developed during three major periods:
- The Imprint Period – 0-7 year old. Where we’re like sponges. Absorbing everything around us and accepting much of it as true. Especially when it comes from our parents.
- The Modelling Period – 8-12 years old. Where we copy people. Often our parents, but also other people, e.g. teachers.
- The Socialisation Period – 13-21 years old. Where we are very largely influenced by our friends, media, technology, music etc. We naturally turn to people who seem more like us.
Unless a Significant Emotional Event occurs or we make a conscious effort to adjust our values; Massey believes we live our life modelling the behaviours formed from our values. He says they are reflected in our perspectives, work ethic, and communication style.
The theories vs the reality
When I’d previously researched this, it all fell into place. I understood how values are formed, and how they can be changed. I also understood the impact a Significant Emotional Event can have. It made sense.
In reality, when it’s your own Significant Emotional Event …it doesn’t always make sense.
Here are some of my significant emotional events, where I’ve questioned what I wanted to do with my life, and what’s important to me.
Significant Emotional Event: Separation
In 2005, when my 2 boys were in primary school, my husband went back to University full time which meant he only came home at weekends. This meant I was a single mum in the week and back to our family at weekends. At the same time, I started a new job, which, after day one knew I’d made a ‘wrong move.’ I didn’t connect with my manager, and for the first time felt anxious about going into work.
Here’s what I did
1) Scheduled everything
- Everything was scheduled, from taking the dinner out of the freezer, to going to football practice, to putting your PE kit in the wash! Probably, why I’m now a little obsessed with my calendar …if it’s not in my diary, it’s doesn’t get done!
- I remember packing lunch and dinner in the mornings for the 3 of us. The boys would take their lunch to school, and I would take their dinner to work. Just before I was due to leave work, I’d heat up their dinners in the microwave. I’d then get in the car, pick them up from school, and they’d eat their dinner in the car, as well as getting changed for football. Having 2 very active boys meant this was my task 4 nights out of the 5 each week!
2) Held everyone accountable
- The boys quickly learnt how to be responsible for their own stuff. We agreed key roles and responsibilities in the house, which we were all held accountable for. It really did help with self-discipline, self-management, as well as self-growth. Two of my favourite sayings: “if it’s not in the washer, I can’t wash it!” and “everything you own, has a home!”
3) Focused on the positives
- I decided to look for positives, each day because I couldn’t continue feeling anxious each day with my job. Something had to change. Now, believe me, running around with the boys every day was easy, compared to looking for positives each day in my job. But I did manage to notice some positives in the day. I decided to journal these positives in a personal notebook. And when I was feeling quite low some days, I looked back over my journal. I’d realise that actually it wasn’t all that bad. After all, what you focus on becomes your reality.
4) Made new traditions
- We introduced a new tradition, which involved breaking one of our house rules “no food in the front room.” Every Sunday when my husband left, we had a ‘picnic party’ in the front room. The boys helped putting the food out on party plates and really looked forward to it. I remember a real excitement about Sunday evening, which seemed to take the edge off my husband leaving. Re thinking our ‘rules’ was a real positive.
5) Had a future vision and purpose
- Lots of conversations with people where focused on how difficult this must be for me, and how tired you must be, running around everywhere while keeping a full time job. My response was always that we can all be busy rushing around doing ‘stuff.’ But the key questions to ask is, are you doing the ‘right stuff?’ The stuff that aligns with your values, your purpose and your future vision? We knew what our future vision was and knew we were collectively working towards it.
It amazes me how I adapted so well to this full-on schedule, stayed sane, and stayed healthy, whilst holding down a full time job. Obviously my schedule really helped me. But most importantly my self-belief, my resilience, and our common goal of doing this for our future.
- Schedule everything – if it’s not in the diary, it’s doesn’t get done
- Be responsible – everything you own, has a home
- Focus on the positives – what you focus on becomes your reality
- Make new traditions – re think your ‘rules’
- Have a future vision and purpose – are you doing stuff, or the right stuff?
Significant Emotional Event: Child leaving home
My resilience was tested again, when I decided to set up my business in October 2015. My dad passed away just 2 months later. Then in June 2016 my younger son left home just after his GCSEs. He went to live 2 ½ hours’ drive away. At the time, I noticed I’d filled my life up with ‘stuff.’ My diary was full of client appointments, CPD workshops, concerts, DIY, time with family and friends. There was hardly a space in my day (or night) when something wasn’t booked in!
It felt good, I was in the busy zone! I kept on telling myself that my energy levels were well and truly topped. Yet something really important to me had been put aside.
The CPD workshop
I attended a CPD workshop where we talked about the left and right brains. I learnt the left brain which focuses on logic and reason will tend to take over if there are emotions we don’t want to deal with. With the help of the left brain, we’ll close down our hearts and avoid connection. It takes over with logic, creating reasons for tasks that keep us away from the discomfort we fear. The workshop invited us to expand our right brains, open our hearts, be present and connect.
We were invited to notice the constriction we experience when we protected ourselves out of fear. In my case, I knew my son was going away the following day (he had been home for 4 weeks). Yet I had chosen to fill my diary with stuff. When he left home for the first time, I felt a painful sense of loss as it changed my role as a mum. This time I knew it was for much longer, and overwhelmed myself with tasks and appointments to avoid feeling that loss again.
Here’s what I did
1) Opened my heart
- Reflected on what I’d learnt in the workshop, and acknowledged now was the time to share. I explained to my family what I’d learnt and cancelled my appointments for the next day. I opened my heart and spent the quality time with my son, telling him how much I loved him even though it hurt to see him going away. It’s so easy to get into the habit of asking people how they are, and getting a response of “OK, fine, good.” Opening my heart helped me share more of what was beneath the surface – the real feelings.
2) Took time out
- I recognised and acknowledged how my busyness was based on my fear of ‘loss.’ I acknowledge how I had constricted myself in the weeks leading up to my son leaving. I’d shut down my feelings, as a form of protection from pain. I changed my working week, so I could visit my son each week. This not only helped to stay connected with my son. But also helped me take time out to be present and enjoy the moments.
When you realise what’s wrong, that’s your chance to change. Sometimes busyness, even when it is highly productive, can be a symptom of wanting to avoid something difficult or awkward that we don’t feel prepared for emotionally. It’s so important to make the emotional space for ourselves, and those around us, too.
- Open your heart – when you feel anxious, that’s the moment to share
- Take time out away from the chaos and pressures – acknowledge how much of your busyness is actually self-protection
Significant Emotional Event: Losing a Parent
In October 2018 my mum passed away. It left me shaken to the core. I experienced first-hand how it felt to be drained. Physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Here’s what I did
1) Took time out
- I stepped away from my business for a couple of months as I couldn’t relate to my work. I’d walk into my office, and the energy I usually felt was missing. When I don’t feel energised by something, I don’t believe in it and therefore don’t perform at my best. Staying true to myself, I chose not to work. After a few months, my energy started to build back up, and I started to find value in my work again. I asked people around me to bear with me as I reflected, refocused, adjusted and accepted. The re-evaluation process would take time.
- Some people said I was ‘lucky’ I was running my own business which enabled me to take time out to grieve. I’d say it’s got nothing to do with luck – I was doing what was necessary for me to grieve.
2) Made more time for me
- I learned to take a step back and make more time for self-care. It would have been so easy to go back to ‘normal’ and work at the pace I previously had. But I had to acknowledge things were different now, which meant I had a new ‘normal.’ I remembered the quote my Gran shared with me over 20 years ago “you can’t be a great mum, wife, daughter, friend, boss etc; if you’re not a great you.” This made me re-prioritise to ensure I was first on the list and not last. I’ve learned that time for self-care is never wasted time. It’s an investment in yourself that pays you back a hundredfold.
I found the time I took off to focus on myself incredibly rewarding, and I’m a much stronger person and coach for it. I learned how to take care of myself, as well as learning the business won’t fall apart if I take a little time for me.
My mum’s last words to me were “go and enjoy yourself, and keep improving yourself” and that’s exactly what I’ve done, and will continue to do.
- Take time out – if you don’t feel energised by something and you don’t believe in it, you won’t perform at your best
- Make more time for yourself – you can’t be a great mum, wife, daughter, friend, boss etc; if you’re not a great you
Significant Emotional Events get you to re-evaluate your values
When you experience a Significant Emotional Event, it really does make you question what you want to do with your life, and what’s important to you. It feels like someone has thrown your deck of values cards up in the air, and you’re sitting there waiting for them to fall down. It gets you to re-evaluate your values and your behaviours; as well as the priority you place on your values.
The priority of my values changed after each Significant Emotional Event. When I experienced separation, my priority value was Family; when I experienced my son leaving home, my priority value was Honesty; and when I lost my mum, my priority value was Wellbeing.
Significant Emotional Events change you
The birth of a child, marriage, job promotion, illness, divorce, separation, child leaving home, redundancy, job layoff, death, etc, are all things that can shake your world. They are things that can make you think, behave and feel differently. When this happens, everything changes for you. But if you don’t open your heart and share your vulnerabilities, the rest of the world will continue, oblivious to the internal turmoil you might be experiencing.
What you can do
It’s why it’s so important to understand who you are, what you believe in, and what’s important to you. This, along with your core values is the ‘core of who you are.’ Your values drive you and help you make the difficult choices in your life.
Spend some time reflecting on who you really are – remember our past leaves clues to our greatness and potential.
And as for something my Dad would always say to me …it always works out. And what’s really interesting is, it always does.
Andrea helps you focus on leading yourself first, so you can be a great leader. Start getting your regular dose of leadership tips and inspiration with the ‘Leadership Breather’ – encouraging you to give yourself a breather and take 5 minutes for you.