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The Value of Bad News

Image of storm clouds. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, bad news, Katherine Broadway

Bad News Is Bad


It Is a Fact of Life

Last week, I wrote about Nora and the painful truth she had to face about her husband's financial habits. Her story did not end there. The next week, she received bad news about her health. An EKG at her yearly physical revealed that an irregularity discovered the previous year had gotten worse. On top of that, results of another test suggested she might need surgery.

For Nora, this was a terrible blow. Her sense of power and safety was centered on her physical health. She called herself “militantly healthy.” What she meant by that was that her body had to prove to her she was sick. She had been extremely healthy her entire life and there were few illness she had not been able to fight her way through. The previous year, she had been able to deny the problem indicated by the EKG because it was “not that bad”. Now, there was no denying the situation because in one year, it had gotten worse.

Bad News Is Bad

Let me be clear: bad news is bad. When you receive bad news there is nothing good or valuable in it at the moment, or for a while after that. It disrupts your life – sometimes for a short time, or it can change the course of your life.

However, it's worth remembering that every experience has the potential to contain some value. It may not be the value we want or think we need, but there is a way to find the possibility for good in the event. It takes time for this to happen, sometimes years.

A New Beginning from Bad News

Allen worked in his family business all his life. He started at 14 doing odd jobs for the company. By 40, he had created his own division and it was making 15% more profit than any other division. Even so, he was unfulfilled and felt that his contributions were constantly overlooked or discounted. It turned out that he was right: his father fired him.

Allen created a solution. He started his own company, and over a period of four years, it became a leader in his field. He felt a sense of accomplishment and pride in his work that he had never experienced while working for his father. Getting fired was bad news, but it was the catalyst that propelled him into creating a satisfying life.

What Bad News Can Do For You in the Long-Term:

1. Bad news can alert you that something is wrong in your life:

Allen knew that he was not satisfied with his work, but he could not get himself free. Being fired released him from a situation that was stifling him.

Lynn is an area division head for her company. She is in charge of hiring area managers. She had a difficult manager resign abruptly. This was very bad news for her. She had invested her time in training this man and had high hopes for him. She was disappointed, angry and anxious. To her surprise, she quickly found a replacement for the position. Her new hire turned out to be motivated, talented and enthusiastic about the job. Lynn realized that she had convinced herself she needed this employee, when what she needed to do was to cut her losses and move forward.

2. Bad news can shake your world up enough that you see things you have been denying:

Nora needed to face the reality of her age and her health issues. While her life was not in danger, staying in denial over it all could have led to significant problems.

John, on the other hand, did not listen to the signs his body was giving him or to his doctor's advice. What could have been taken care of with an operation turned into a crisis and several years of recovery.

3. Bad news can cause you to re-evaluate what is important in your life:

When Nora heard about her heart condition, she immediately thought about what this would mean in her life. She realized that she needed to reduce her stress. She knew that she was going to have to decide what was important and what had to be removed from her life. The bad news helped her put things into perspective.

4. Bad news can cause you to take a deeper look at who you are:

Nora was vaguely aware that she did not want to accept illness in her life, but she kept pushing that knowledge away. As she accepted that she had a health issue, she asked herself why she was so afraid of being sick. It was during this time that she came to realize that she equated being sick with being vulnerable, and that it made her feel threatened. When she was growing up there was no one to protect her and take care of her. She could not accept vulnerability and weakness and survive.

The value in bad news can only be seen if you are willing to look at what is happening long enough to understand where it can take you. It can prompt you to consider what you value at this particular stage in your life, as well as what you are willing to give up, and the price you are willing to pay for that choice. You must then take action to move in that direction.

Have you received bad news and find yourself overwhelmed by the stress and difficult feelings that come with it? There is some value in your experience and I would like to help you find it. Call me at: 919-881-2001.


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