Give yourself what you need. — We’re all unique, extraordinary human beings. That means that how we react and how we’re impacted by loss and life challenges will be unique. There is no handbook on how best to deal with grief — and if there was one, you wouldn’t want to follow it anyway because it hasn’t been specifically written for you.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bronwen Sciortino.
Bronwen Sciortino is an International Author and Simplicity Expert who spent almost two decades as an award-winning executive before experiencing a life changing event that forced her to stop and ask the question ‘What if there’s a better way to live?’
Embarking on a journey to answer this question, Bronwen developed a whole new way of living — one that teaches you to challenge the status quo and include the power of questions in everyday life.
Gaining international critical acclaim and 5-star awards for her books, Bronwen is sourced globally for media comment and spends every day teaching people that there is an easy, practical and simple pathway to creating a healthy, happy AND highly successful life.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. (Albert Einstein)
Most of us have been taught from an early age that life was meant to be hard. I accepted this as truth and I believed that a challenging life was my lot — that a hard life was mine to carry.
And while ever I carried this thought, my life was hard; I spent all my time and energy trying to overcome what was in front of me.
But then I learned that life is actually a mirror, reflecting back to you the things that your thoughts have created. It is an interesting concept. I found myself wondering if it could be true … and then one day I decided to test it out.
I started creating time in my diary to consciously connect with what I was thinking, and then look at what I was experiencing and seeing in my life.
I noticed that as I consciously stepped into creating thoughts, the world moved in sync. So, with a deliberate and conscious formation of thought, the world shifted in response.
Life isn’t something that happens to you, it’s a direct reflection of the thoughts you carry. It made me realize that if this is the case, then it was time to get very deliberate about the reality I was creating.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
My strength is my greatest strength. I can withstand a lot and keep going. The greatest part of my strength is also recognizing that it is my greatest weakness — I have been known to push too far and too hard for too long … which always creates situations that are to my detriment. It’s knowing how to harness this strength so that it is always working in my favour AND the favour of others in the world that creates the best situation for everyone.
Authenticity is also one of my top qualities. I’m not afraid to share the truth about situations and I always openly share my story and my journey — warts and all — because it normalizes the ups and downs of life. I understand, better than most, the true impact of trying to hold a facade up that presents a false impression of life to the world. I want people to know that it is absolutely perfect for them to be the truest version of themselves that they can — that in fact, the world is depending on them doing so.
My ability to constantly remain grounded is another of my top qualities. It’s so easy to be pushed and pulled by the demands of life. So, by being able to remain grounded, it’s so much easier for me to be present in what’s happening and make simpler choices about the direction I want to head in, and the next step I need to take to get me there.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
I’ve experienced a number of significant losses in my life. Perhaps the greatest loss was when I lost myself. One minute I was an award-winning executive, and the next I was unable to cope with the basics in life and unable to stop crying.
I lost my entire life in less than 60 seconds.
I had been told for years that I had psoriasis on my left temple … and then the diagnosis suddenly changed: I had skin cancer and was going to need plastic surgery.
When the bandages were removed after the operation and I saw the wound for the first time, it looked like a quarter of my head was missing. The shock I got from my reflection in the mirror catapulted me into another reality. I was dropped with such a force that I found myself plunged into my own personal Armageddon and my life was never to be the same again.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part was being thrown into a ‘void’ where I could see everyone around me, hear them asking me questions and notice the concerned looks on their faces … yet I had absolutely no idea what was happening. Everything outside me was moving at normal speed, but it felt like I had been thrown into ‘no time’ and nothing was moving.
Being suddenly — and inexplicably — unable to process anything I was seeing or hearing, and having no way of being able to communicate to anyone what was happening to me, was terrifying.
I knew that everything I had just one short minute ago was gone, and for the first time in my life I had no idea where to turn or how to ‘fix’ things and be able to move on.
How did you react in the short term?
My initial reaction was that I was a monster. When you have a wound to your face it is personal, and it challenges everything you thought you knew about yourself. It’s highly visible and in a lot of ways, is on display for the world to see.
I was never someone who wanted to be visible to the world. Even as a highly successful executive, I would always find a way to push someone else into the limelight rather than take it for myself. So, to have a wound on my face that made me visible in the world was traumatic.
I withdrew from everyone and everything. I couldn’t cope with anything other than the basics in my life and I couldn’t stop crying.
What made it worse was the fact that I was horrified that my reaction to the situation was so vain. I had never thought of myself as a particularly vain person, and it wasn’t a characteristic that I was comfortable with.
I had no idea that it wasn’t vanity but emotion that I was feeling.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
It was weeks of crying and withdrawal from the world before I could take a breath and get myself some help. I started working with a counselor who specialized in grief and emotional disturbance in cancer patients.
I worked with her for over nine months, and she helped me to understand my emotions. I learned to see what was happening for me from different perspectives. From a starting point of being broken into a million pieces, I started to pick up each piece of myself, assess it and decide whether I wanted to leave it behind or take it forwards with me.
This started the process of building another version of myself. I jokingly refer to this as Bronwen 2.0, but in truth that’s not far from reality.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
Healing for me came when I learned the art of self-care.
I had been engaged in a life-long battle with ‘enough’ and I eventually realised that it was time to stop the fight and walk away. My life never compared to anyone else’s; I always made myself and my issues small in comparison to others.
It didn’t matter what I had achieved; there was always something I beat myself up about. I was never fit enough, fast enough, good enough, nice enough, intelligent enough, kind enough, generous enough … and the list goes on. There wasn’t one corner of my life that wasn’t overwhelmed by the mean and vicious way that I spoke to myself.
One of the greatest gifts this event gave me was clarity around the relationship I had with myself. I was mean and vicious and unrelenting in the way I spoke to myself. My inner voice had way too much to say, and way too often. None of it was nice or kind or generous.
It wasn’t until I was able to speak to myself, value myself and be kind and generous to myself — in the same way that I would to everyone else around me — that I was able to heal.
It was the wound on my face that brought my life to a crashing halt. But it was healing the wound in my soul that allowed me to move forwards in a different way.
Self-care is now a cornerstone of my life structure. It allows me a softer and gentler relationship with myself, and it gives me the benefit of the love, support and encouragement that I’ve always had extraordinary amounts of for everyone else.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
There were three key things that helped me to more easily find my way forwards.
- I stopped placing importance on other people’s opinions.
- I started tuning in to what was important to me, and how I could get more of those things in my life.
- I started trusting my inner guidance and using that as the compass that directed my next steps.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
There are a number of people who played a significant role in helping me to recover and rebuild my life, but the person I hold the most gratitude for is my husband, Jon.
My life broke, and it felt like I lost everything in less than 60 seconds. But Jon’s life changed extensively as well. He went from having an independent, highly active wife to having a fully dependent and seriously unwell person that he became responsible for.
Neither of us had any idea what had happened, what the cause was or how to fix the situation. He stepped up, without complaint, and made sure I got the support I needed so I could recover and move forwards.
We discovered that there was lots of assistance (counseling, alternative therapies, medical subsidies and the like) for me, but almost nothing available to him as a carer.
He was there for me. He allowed me to take the steps I needed to so I could create the new me moving forwards. He never complained. He never made the situation about him.
But mostly, he reminded me every day that he loved me — no matter what.
To have that level of support, in the most traumatic time of my life, was one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. I will be eternally grateful to him.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Every choice has a consequence.
Life is made up of a string of choices that we make. When we’re stuck in life, it’s because we’ve chosen to be caught up in the distraction that a situation is creating.
When we learn to take responsibility for our choices, we learn to find the pathway forwards. While ever we spend time blaming people, places, situations and things around us for the situation we find ourselves in, we create more distractions that keep us locked in place.
If we want our lives to run smoothly, and we want things to be simple and easy, then we have to make the choices that allows us to live that way.
We make our lives so complex, when simplicity will do.
We don’t need to have a story about how terrible things are, how complex, how stressful or how exhausting for what we’re doing to matter.
We don’t have to be switched on, amped up and highly visible 24/7 for us to make an impact in the world.
All we need to do is reconnect with ourselves, work out the things that are important to us and then find the simplest way possible for us to have those things.
And if we can be kind to ourselves with all of that, then we can find the tailor-made solution that creates the life that is perfect, just for us.
For me, teaching myself to approach my choices gently, and in a way that always supports me first, makes it so easy for me to always have the energy I need for every situation.
And when challenging times appear in my life — as they are wont to do — I know how to find my way through them more easily, without the distraction and the disruption that used to rule my way of living.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
The biggest lesson I learned was the importance of looking at ALL the pieces of yourself.
When I broke, it was like I was shattered into a million pieces that were thrown onto the floor around me. Everything I knew about myself — and my life — was gone in less than a minute.
For me, that felt like I was ripped open and everything had been laid bare for the world to see. It was like all the layers of protection I had built around myself were gone, and I was on display.
When we’re young, we’re taught by others around us that there are parts of ourselves that are good and bad, right and wrong, appropriate and not. And as we move through life, we learn to hide some of these parts so that we create the version of ourselves that we feel is most accepted by the world.
The hidden parts get locked deep within ourselves — buried deep so that no one can see them. The longer we leave these parts hidden, the more fearful of them we become. After all, no one wants to be seen as having characteristics that aren’t loved by the world.
But this creates a void within us and leaves us feeling like there’s something missing.
It’s not until we pick those pieces up, look at them with non-judgemental eyes and allow them to take their place within us that we can be whole again.
When you do this, you realize you can drop the pursuit of trying to be a ‘better’ person … because when you’re a whole person you don’t need to chase someone else’s definition of the perfect version of yourself.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
Loss and life changes are a part of life. They come with grief, turmoil and a sense that nothing will ever be the same again. And it won’t.
Here’s my 5 things I believe will help people to transition through the loss or life change with the greatest levels of ease and grace:
- Let yourself grieve.
We live in a society that is always pushing us to find the things we’re grateful for. I believe that gratitude is a fabulous mindset and that being positive can help you move forwards. But when loss and life challenges first hit, it’s really important that you allow yourself to feel the emotions that go with that.
When we shove our emotions down and don’t allow them to be expressed, we create a ‘pressure cooker’ environment that is guaranteed to blow up sometime down the track. It’s so much easier, and kinder, to allow yourself to feel the emotion now, allow it to be released and then find the things to be grateful for as a way to change direction and move on.
2. Give yourself what you need.
We’re all unique, extraordinary human beings. That means that how we react and how we’re impacted by loss and life challenges will be unique. There is no handbook on how best to deal with grief — and if there was one, you wouldn’t want to follow it anyway because it hasn’t been specifically written for you.
Start by finding the things you need, right now … and then give them to yourself. Loss and life challenge can feel a bit like being broken. They create a wound, and one of the best things you can do is to find what helps you to heal that wound. Asking questions like: ‘What do I need?’, ‘What’s important to me right now?’ and ‘How am I feeling right now?’ can help you to give yourself what you need.
3. Surround yourself with powerful allies.
Loss and life changes can feel like you’ve been ripped open and you’re on display for the world to see. Often, we feel like we need to withdraw and lick our wounds because it can feel dangerous to be out in the open when we’re so vulnerable.
So, find the people, places, objects and things that make you feel better — the ones you trust at the deepest levels — and turn to them for help when you need it. We were never meant to do everything on our own, and it can release a massive burden when we allow others to help us in times of our greatest need.
4. Question the status quo.
Everyone will have an opinion about what you ‘should do’, ‘need to do’, and ‘have to have’. They’ll tell you what’s wrong with you, and what will fix you.
Question everything. Only you know what is happening for you, and often in times of loss or significant change you can’t seem to understand it yourself or see what’s happening for you. It makes it so much easier to move through these times when you step back and ask yourself some questions that help you to find the next step for yourself, rather than relying on others to tell you what’s right for you.
5. Find the simple steps.
When you experience loss or significant change, life becomes noisy, complex and chaotic. It almost always hits without warning, and everything can be both overshadowed and overwhelming.
Once you know the things that are important to you, the next thing to focus on is taking a step that helps you get those important things. It’s always the action that creates the greatest outcome for us.
Finding the simplest step you can take to help you have those things creates the greatest outcomes in your life. The simplest steps often take the least energy, and they don’t require massive amounts of courage or discipline, which makes it so much easier for us to move forwards.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would inspire people to view the world with a filter of love.
We’ve been taught to compare, judge and criticize as the primary way of determining where we are at in comparison. We’ve been taught that competition — and getting to the top no matter what it costs us (or those around us) — is the number one objective in life.
If we could view everything in front of us as a projection showing us the direction of our next step, maybe we’d see the end of war, the end of greed and the end of a life full of ill-heath and misery.
We’d be aligned with the things that are important to us, and simply let go of the things that aren’t. We’d be happy for everyone’s achievements while still chasing our own. We’d move to living life from a place of abundance for all, instead of lack and competition for scarce resources.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
I owe her an apology!
Her TEDx talk opened my eyes to an unconscious bias I was carrying. It taught me a lot about how we form our thoughts on auto-pilot and assign blame in situations we know nothing about.
We may be ‘just one individual’, and we may be entitled to our opinion, but we are also responsible for the consequences that openly airing our opinion may bring.
It’s not good enough to say our piece, and then walk away from any destruction that is caused. It’s not enough to wash our hands and hide behind a statement of ‘they live their life in the public domain … they should be used to it’.
We are responsible for our words. We are responsible for what we do with them. We are responsible for the wounds that they can cause.
I grew up with the phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’ resonating throughout my childhood. Perhaps such a statement may have been relevant when the worst public punishment was a few hours in the stockade, but the world we live in now provides platforms for words to be weaponized.
There are too many people being severely wounded because words can follow them everywhere and invade every corner of their world now. There are too many lives being lost, far too young, because opinions aren’t consciously created and words are flung without any thought.
And worse, those words live on in the digital domain forever. Words flung at one another on the school playground or in the workplace before the advent of social media are mostly forgotten to history … but not any more. They persist, and emerge again and again as someone’s weapon of choice.
Monica taught me that the way I was allowing my opinions to be formed wasn’t in alignment with who I AM as a person. Because of her, I learned to consciously form my opinions and to be very careful — and respectful — with the way that they are shared with the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I spend a lot of time in the online space and am frequently sought as an expert for media across all channels. I share a lot of my work through my online platforms that readers can access by connecting with me:
Website Link: https://www.sheiqlife.com/
Free Email Series: https://www.sheiqlife.com/7-steps-email-series/
Organisational Health & Wellness Kit: https://sheiqlife.com/product/organisational-health-wellness-planning-kit/
I also have an online program to assist busy professional women reduce stress and beat burnout that can be accessed here: https://sheiqlife.com/kiss-fbpw/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!