Going through Something Big?
Get curious about it.
First her Mom died. Delia had a tough relationship with her, never feeling like she was wanted and cherished. Her Mom did the usual things like putting dinner on the table and buying her clothes. She did not, however, do things like come to any of Delia’s softball games in high school or any of her school concerts. This kind of parent-child relationship is tricky. There wasn’t any overt abuse, like being hit, which can be much easier to understand and respond to. This kind of thing — which I call emotional neglect — is much more subtle and tends to seep into every nook and cranny of a person’s sense of worth.
As Delia sat across from me each week, I could see how painful it was to wade through it all. Being an empath as well as a therapist, I could see and feel it coming off of her in thick mucky waves. The hardest part was the intense heart longing. Intellectually, Delia knew that her Mom would never be the caring loving Mom she needed. Still, there was part of her — which I call her child part — that was hoping her Mom would somehow be that Mom. Now that her Mom was dead, Delia was mourning this hope.
Then one day, about six months after her Mom died, Delia’s husband left.
She didn’t see it coming. Already feeling on shaky ground after her mother’s death, Delia reported that her life was suddenly turned upside down by her husband’s departure. For months, nothing in her life made sense or felt worthwhile. She struggled to take regular showers and feed herself. She had trouble staying on top of her stressful job as a lawyer in a large firm in Manhattan. She drifted away from the friends on whom she once counted for support. Delia was in the midst of a huge transition.
I call these times Gate Passages.
Most of us go through at least one of these in our lives. Some Gate Passages are enormous and unwanted, like what Delia was experiencing. Some aren’t. They can even be things that you want in your life, like getting married or beginning a new job. Either way, going through a Gate Passage can be notoriously difficult, because we humans tend to want things to stay the same. There’s comfort and predictability that helps us feel safe. Gate Passages kick this predictability to the curb and kicks you out of your comfort zone.
From a zoomed out perspective, Gate Passages do specific things. They clear out people, things, and circumstances that you don’t need for the next part of your journey. Like Delia experienced, this can be really tough. She didn’t want her marriage to end. The go-to coping skills that worked like a charm for you before can suddenly break down. You feel like the people around you haven’t a clue what’s happening and don’t understand. You can feel panicky and anxious about the changes and uncertainty ahead of you.
Gate Passages require new skills to help you navigate your way through it.
Here’s one to try: Get curious about it.
Getting curious lets you move through it differently by giving you a break from the intensity of it. Gate Passages are, by nature, intense beasts. With this distance, you can also begin to make meaning of it and put it into context with your life so far. I call this being your own sacred witness. This meaning-making is something your brain is wired for and does effortlessly all day, unless you’re going through something overwhelming like a Gate Passage. The overwhelm can slow down and even stop your brain’s ability to make sense of what’s happening. Getting curious helps your brain get back to the business of making meaning.
Journaling can be a super helpful way to cultivate curiosity. If journaling doesn’t make your toes curl with glee, try something else. Make a collage, bake a cake or do an interpretive dance. See what you notice, as the sacred witness to this part of your life.
Some things to be curious about are:
What’s ending in my life right now?
Who is leaving?
Why it is happening? If you don’t know, tap into your inner knowing and guess.
What lessons are here for me?
How am I showing up for this change?
What’s coming next?
If this is tough for you, imagine that you are seeing yourself going through this from above. Close your eyes. From this zoomed out perspective, see yourself before the change, as the change arrives, and what lies ahead. See what you notice, in your head, in your heart, and in your body.
It took time, but Delia was able to become curious about her Gate Passage. Once she did, she began to show up different in her weekly sessions. She began to see her mother’s death and her husband’s departure as an opportunity to look at her sense of worth more as something she owned and less as something her Mom and ex-husband defined for her.