From Job Loss to Divorce, Life Is Filled with Hard Change. Dr. Thema Bryant Has 5 Tools for Moving Forward
Every week, as we carefully put The Sunday Paper together, we look around us to see what people are feeling and experiencing. Giant life changes, particularly in the vein of loss, have been constant. The pandemic is holding its grip while news of layoffs and global strife charge the air. “This has been a challenging time for so many,” says psychologist and minister Dr. Thema Bryant. “From our professional lives to our relationships, identity, community, and belief systems, it’s been a time of shifting, shaking, awakening, and having to make big life decisions.”
Dr. Bryant, who is widely known for her podcast ‘Homecoming’ and subsequent book of the same name, offers people near and far counsel on moving through tough times with strength—so we asked for her insight here. Whether you’re experiencing a grave loss, an unexpected shift, or a fork in the road, we believe Dr. Bryant’s five pieces of wisdom will offer some light.
5 Tips for Moving through Hard Change
#1: Allow Yourself to Feel It All
When we go through immense change or loss, grief and mourning are a part of the process. The same goes for anger. Dr. Bryant says we must allow ourselves to fully experience all of this. “Sometimes we want to jump over the pain into the thriving, and we don't give ourselves permission to feel what we feel,” says Bryant. “When people skip the process or feel they must stay upbeat, that’s when we have that kind of toxic positivity.” Allow yourself to feel everything, even several things at once, says Bryant. “Because the truth is, when the job or relationship falls apart, you might feel surprise, shock, fear, and even some relief."
#2: Lean into Your Learnings
Bryant believes that after hard times we can experience post-traumatic growth—which is about “pulling the wisdom out of the wounds,” she says. You now know some things that you didn't know before, from what you’re capable of, to how you relate to people, to having a greater reverence for time. “So there can be a new appreciation of life, a new knowledge or wisdom, and even growth in your spirituality,” adds Bryant. “We can marvel at ourselves and think, I got through that.”
#3: Nourish Yourself
The famous quote, “we're all just walking each other home” resonates with Bryant. During hard times she asks, “Do you have people who will show up for you and walk with you?” If so, lean on them. And for those who may not have support systems, Bryant says to prioritize self-care.
#4: Rebuild Your Life with Clarity
Sometimes after a great loss, there’s an inclination to put our life pieces together just as they were, even if that’s not what we truly want. Bryant offers examples: “You automatically go to find another job with the same title even though you hated it. Or you go back out dating and now you’re with a new person with the same personality.” To avoid falling into the same patterns, Bryant says to “dream a new dream"—and be open to greater possibility and change.
#5: Note What You Don’t Want to Discover What You Do Want
If you have difficulty imagining or visualizing a new life or dream, Dr. Thema suggests doing a process of elimination. You can start by journaling about what you don't want. “It can be easier to say, well I definitely don't want this and I definitely don't want that,” she says. “Naming what does not align will get you closer to what does align. And that will get you closer to your dream.”
Thema Bryant, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, minister, and the host of The Homecoming Podcast. She is the president-elect of the American Psychological Association. A professor at Pepperdine University, she earned her undergraduate and doctorate degrees in psychology from Duke University and completed her postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School. You can purchase her book Homecoming here. Learn more at drthema.com.
To read our previous conversation with Dr.Thema on reframing loneliness, click here.
Question from the Editor: Do you have other tips for moving through hard change? share with us in the comments.