Death as the first stage of transformation

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

cross gravestone against blue sky background

Each of us faces death of some part of our self-identity many times over a lifetime.

Sometimes these deaths are initiated by external events, when the loss of a job, of a significant relationship, or our health may force us into letting go of some part of our self-identity.

Other times, these deaths begin within as some internal shift in how we understand ourselves and our world push us into re-evaluating our identity. These often eventually lead to changes in our external lives as well, as we attempt to bring our internal and external worlds into alignment.

While each of these deaths is painful, each one is also an invitation into the powerful process of transformation. Yet for us to fully enter into the transformation available to us in these times, we must first face this self-death eye to eye and move completely through that death process.

There are two common ways that people get stuck at this stage that make the process of transformation more difficult.

One way people get stuck is to become overwhelmed by the loss involved in this death and refuse to move into the later stages of transformation. This happens most often when the death of some part of one's self-identity has been caused by a painful external event.

It is easy to become stuck in a place of seeing oneself as a victim of what has happened to prompt the ending that we are experiencing. To move through the death process and eventually into the new beginning stage of transformation can feel like a self-betrayal when we find good resulting from what may have been a terrible thing.

It's not easy to allow for the kintsugi gold of healing to take shape when we have become attached to nursing anger or resentment over the broken edges.

The problem with this approach is that the transformation process will continue moving through its usual stages, but rather than being transformed into a better person, we wind up transformed into resentful, angry people whose lives revolve around the death we had wanted to avoid.

The other way people get stuck in this place is to refuse to acknowledge that a death has happened at all. This happens most often when someone has willfully chosen the change that prompted the death or when the change that caused the death was one that would be considered a good thing.

For example, many parents may find that the birth of their first child brings such radical changes to their lives that it begins a transformation process in their self-identity. Although this is a change that they chose and that they consider a good thing, there is also a part of who they were before children that dies in the face of demands of parenthood.

It may feel like betrayal of their love for and delight in their new child to admit that there is any feeling of grief or loss surrounding their old self-identity, so they try to pretend that they are not experiencing that death.

This might also happen with a sought-after promotion, a new marriage, living away from home for the first time, or a desired career change as those changes restructure one's self-identity. To admit that there is some part of a self-identity that has died due to these welcome and chosen changes can be hard to do, but without allowing the death to unfold with full awareness, we can stunt our ability to move as fully into the new self-identity that transformation can bring into being.

Looking back, I can see many times when I blocked the full fruit that I may have gained from any number of major changes in my life by either refusing to admit that some part of my self-identity had died or by staying stuck in resentment over the ending of the-way-things-were. Both approaches blocked me from living into the greatest benefits that transformation could have brought.

As you consider past cases where some part of your self-identity died due to internal or external changes, how well did you face and move through this first stage of transformation? Have you ever fallen into either of these two challenges to the process?

If you are in the midst of a transformation process now, can you identify the part of your self-identity that has died? Are you dealing with that death in a way that will allow you to move into the following stages of transformation as smoothly and as fully as possible? If not, what might you change about your approach to get more from the transformation you are undergoing?

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