The past version of you who experienced it. Often when we’re hit with loss and change, we didn’t see it coming… and even if we did, we couldn’t truly anticipate how it would make us feel and how it would change our lives. After change or loss, you and your life aren’t the same anymore.
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 Dr. Cailin O’Hara.
Dr. Cailin O’Hara, DACM, LAc, Dipl OM, is a nationally board-certified doctor of Chinese medicine, speaker, and intuitive life and business coach. She operates a private practice in Phoenix, AZ, for the treatment of anxiety and trauma and an international coaching platform for sensitive, empathic types seeking guidance in life, relationships, and business development. Her passion is helping everyone she can learn to trust and love themselves as the basis for healing and creating a life they love.
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?
I grew up as a happy kid from the Philadelphia area- albeit a high-achieving perfectionist! I rode horses and studied music in my free time, which I loved immensely, and had ambitions to become a veterinarian. As I approached my teens, my mental health took a significant downturn. I developed a virtually untreatable eating disorder for which I was ultimately hospitalized (it saved my life!). Afterward, I absolutely knew I’d go on to help people with their mental health one day. In my 20s I dove into my healing journey, exploring meditation, spirituality, trauma recovery and natural medicine. I later received both my masters and doctorate degrees in Chinese medicine, which put me on this incredible path I live today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I first heard it as I was embarking on my own healing journey back in 2011 and was learning about the power of my attention and focus to help me heal my body and mind. I hung it on my wall to remind myself to be intentional about what I focused on and to practice keeping my attention on positive perspectives, my inevitable healing, and my ideal future. I now live what I once imagined for myself!
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.
Aside from my quick mind, I’d say it’s how passionate I am, the amount of trust I have, and self-compassion.
I care deeply- I’m a very passionate person. It inspires and motivates me to keep going, which fuels my creativity and vision. I connect with that feeling of inspiration as often as I can every day. It’s something I can come back to no matter what happens that lights me up and reminds me of my feeling of purpose. If I can’t find that feeling of passion in myself for whatever reason, I’ll read a book or listen to something uplifting.
Speaking of passion, I do what I feel called and led to do. I don’t do things because it’s what I’m “supposed” to do, what others do, what I feel obligated to do, etc. I practice trusting myself, my intuition and higher guidance to create my life. What I envision for myself eventually becomes the life I live! This has required a lot of courage and belief in myself, but I would not be anywhere close to where I am today if I didn’t live from trust and intuition.
And most of all, I have a lot of compassion and love for myself. I try to be my best friend with encouraging words and positive perspectives. Our minds can be so overwhelming and negative, so I have developed an ongoing practice for many years of connecting with myself with love. I check in with myself every morning; I listen to my feelings throughout the day; I reframe negative thoughts as I notice them. It’s the foundation for all the good in my life.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. 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.
What you may need to heal…
1) The past version of you who experienced it. Often when we’re hit with loss and change, we didn’t see it coming… and even if we did, we couldn’t truly anticipate how it would make us feel and how it would change our lives. After change or loss, you and your life aren’t the same anymore.
The old you that this happened to has a whole range of feelings that we’ll address next, but acknowledging this part of you and what he/she has gone through can be very healing and help you to integrate the experience. Acknowledging our past selves can help us feel more connected, present and validated. Imagine… there was the old version of you, going about life, having no clue about what you know now, and then gets hit with a major loss or change. In this case, I would ask myself… “what does this past version of me need to know or hear to feel comforted and less overwhelmed?”
2) The aching pain. We feel our feelings in our bodies… and it hurts us. Your chest may be tight; your body may feel heavy; perhaps you can’t sleep, or no amount of sleep matters. Grief, despair, loneliness, shame, fear… it all shows up in our bodies. The last thing we want to do is feel it because it can be so painful. That’s normal, but resisting these feelings makes it harder for them to move and sort themselves out.
I often describe it like the feeling you get when you’re on a roller coaster approaching the highest point before a hill. It’s that slow climb, and you have that feeling of “GET ME OFF OF THIS RIDE!” But before you know it, you’re sailing rapidly down the other side, and it’s over in a handful of seconds. That’s what it can be like as we approach our feelings and try to feel them- scary at first, but on the other side, there is relief. Certainly, seek out whatever help you need to move through your feelings, but practicing opening your heart to the parts of you that are hurting can be the most therapeutic thing you do. These feelings need your attention and awareness in order to transform into something new.
A recommendation I’d make is to set aside some time to be alone. Relax. Close your eyes. Put your hand on your on your heart with as much love as you can muster. Ask if there are any feelings that would like to be felt. Give yourself permission to feel, and give yourself as much compassion as you can through the experience.
3) Wanting to go back in time. Did that really happen? How can this be happening? How can I undo this? How can I fix this? These may be some of the thoughts you’ve had… and they’re painful ones. You may feel powerless or regretful, looking back and speculating what you could have done differently. Wishing you could change things, regretting what has come to pass, blaming yourself or others, feeling guilty… it keeps you stuck and in enduring pain.
It’s worth trying to see things in a way that gives YOU some peace and relief. Instead of dwelling in the past, I recommend acknowledging the thoughts and feelings as they come, with the help of a professional as needed, and then reworking them into more gentle, compassionate stories that soothe you. Keep in mind: the reason we do this is to be KIND to ourselves so we can feel better, just like we would be toward a friend or family member we love. We need this compassion so we can unburden ourselves and heal.
As an example, if you’re feeling lost in regret, you could notice the feelings and observe the stories in your head about it; then you could rework it gently into something like, “it makes sense I feel this way because X happened, but it’s really hurting me to keep thinking this. How else could I think about this that feels less heavy, stressful or intense?”
4) The need for security. We come to rely on things for a sense of security- relationships, jobs, homes, education, identity, etc. When things change, especially dramatically or abruptly, we can feel extremely unstable and catapulted into the unknown. This can make us feel highly anxious, on edge, worried. It can also have the opposite effect of numbing us so we don’t feel our feelings. In either case, we’re faced with an existential conundrum or crisis: What is security? What can we rely on? Are we safe? How do we trust life? For example, if you were relying on someone or something as your sense of security and it was suddenly no longer in your life, what would you do? It can send you into a terrible, even terrifying, spin. We saw this quite markedly with the COVID19 pandemic.
We all seek security, but much of what we use to feel secure is external to us. I believe genuine healing around this is a) to embrace that we live in the unknown, b) to know for sure that we don’t have to control anything because it’s not our job or purpose and c) that to feel truly secure we must find a way to give that feeling of security to ourselves regardless of external circumstances.
5) The relationship you have with your life. When things change, we are in unfamiliar territory. We can feel derailed, unsure, confused. Perhaps what you wanted doesn’t feel possible now. Perhaps your belief systems or timelines have changed. Perhaps you don’t know what to plan for or expect or even where to go from here. We have a relationship with our life- it is something we engage with through our ideas, decisions, and actions.
Your life may look different to you after loss and change. Your desires, ambitions and life philosophies may shift or become ambiguous. For example, if you were planning on starting a family, but your partner left unexpectedly, what do you do? Everything looks different. You may feel at odds with your life because of this. Healing the “relationship” with your life begins with coming into acceptance about the way things are and allowing your new ideas and conclusions to inform what to do next… one step at a time. Trust and have patience with yourself as you are essentially regenerating into something new during this phase of your healing.
Let’s discuss this in more specific terms. After the dust settles, what coping mechanisms would you suggest to deal with the pain of the loss or change?
First, be easy on yourself. Try not to pressure yourself to feel, do, or think differently. Instead, meet yourself exactly where you are, with however you may be feeling, and try not to judge it. Practice being there for yourself like you would for someone else- check in with yourself, make space for your feelings, and encourage yourself with genuine support. We do so much better when we’re nurtured, and it’s important that you try to offer this to yourself every day.
Distractions can be therapeutic if we use them intentionally as self-care. Watching TV, doing a puzzle, taking a nap, or eating a snack you enjoy can all be therapeutic ways of self-soothing if done purposefully. Otherwise, we can get stuck in a loop of feeling guilty for distracting ourselves, not being “productive,” eating what we “shouldn’t” have, etc. This means you could sit down in front of the TV with the intention of letting it soothe and relax you while saying something to yourself like, “Hey, you need a break. Let yourself have it and try to enjoy what you can.” Distractions used in this way can help break up the intensity of your feelings.
I also recommend listening to audiobooks or podcasts that inspire you or help you make sense of how you’re feeling. They require minimal effort to pay attention to and you may hear something that helps you shift your perspective a bit. Even the slightest degree of relief in how you feel matters in the long run.
How can one learn to to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
After change and loss, all we’re left with is how it made us feel. The events that created how we feel are over and in the past. So, this means that healing isn’t about changing the past- it’s about taking care of our feelings in the present moment. Understanding this can help you “let go” as you focus on tending to yourself in the here and now instead of ruminating over the past.
One suggestion I often make to clients is to imagine the version of them who has already let go and healed. What are they like? How do they feel? What are they doing with their life? And what wisdom would they share with you about how to heal and move forward? Try writing out the answer. Asking ourselves questions like this can put us in touch with what we need to know to move forward. But keep in mind that healing has no timeline, so there’s no need to force or rush it. Every step you take in your healing adds up, even if it doesn’t look like it at the time.
Aside from letting go, what can one do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
As I mentioned earlier, releasing any pressure you are putting on yourself will help. If you feel relief, you’re on the right track. I also always recommend becoming the compassionate observer of your feelings and interacting with them from that perspective. I often give the example: if a child was having a temper tantrum on the floor, you wouldn’t get down on the floor and freak out, too, would you? You also wouldn’t kick the child in the side and tell him to be quiet. But we do that with ourselves all the time! Either we feel our feelings and think to ourselves, “yea, you’re right, you’re totally worthless, keep crying,” or we deny our feelings and think, “shut up, you’re so weak.” Neither of these approaches work.
Intentionally acknowledge your feelings as a compassionate observer, validate them, and ask what kind of support they need. For example, “Hi grief. I see you. It makes sense you’re feeling this way because of what happened. I totally get it. Let me know what you need or how I can help you. I may not know what to do, so be patient with me as I try to help you.”
How can one eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation?
I actually don’t believe we have to reframe them into a positive. Sometimes we can see a higher meaning in what happens, but sometimes we can’t make “sense” of it or tell a positive story about it. There are some circumstances where it could feel impossible to, in fact. An example of this would be a tragedy, like the loss of a child. I think it’s more about creating normalcy and support around sadness, grief, loss, etc. These feelings are normal responses.
Life can bring us all kinds of experiences- some we welcome and some we would never wish on anyone. If there is a higher purpose or positive spin you can put on it, that is wonderful. If not, that’s ok, too. For all the things I’ve gone through and for what my clients have, too, I have found it’s never been about telling a positive story to make ourselves feel better. It’s about acknowledging and healing our pain, feeling supported and loved by ourselves and others, and integrating our experiences as we evolve and grow through our lives.
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?
Hands down, it’s the movement of cultivating genuine self-love and self-compassion. What you offer yourself, you can give the world. And the world, ultimately, needs the highest level of love.
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 would love to meet either Esther Hicks (Abraham Hicks) or Deepak Chopra. They have been two of the most influential people in my healing and thriving. I’ve inundated myself with their teachings for years, which I credit with helping me make my mind a happier place and bringing my dreams to reality year after year.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit www.cailinohara.com where you’ll find links to my social media, podcasts, articles, courses and ways to work with me.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!