This article was recently shared with me and was written by John Wittington. I have found it to be an incredibly insightful resource to share with clients. I hope you enjoy it too.
Unresolved endings create powerful and challenging dynamics that travel forwards with us into other places and spaces.
People who leave their jobs with unresolved feelings connected to the joy of belonging, exhaustion from over-giving, regret for loss of place or sadness from exclusion may find ways of repeating the pattern elsewhere if they have not attended to the primary emotions. They may also leave the shadow of the pattern in the system they have just left.
Similarly, people who marry a second time without inner contact with the love they once felt for their first partner may find themselves repeating this cycle. Who and what comes first has precedence in relationship systems and has to be given its place, with respect for what was gained, what was given and what was lost.
Life is full of endings, many of which can lead to complex fields of emotion in individuals and entanglements in wider relationship systems.
“You cannot say hello until you say goodbye.”
– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
The end of a role or the end of your belonging in a business is often a significantly more powerful event than is anticipated or allowed for. Limiting dynamics arising from endings in our professional lives may come from many sources, including:
- The end of your belonging and place in an organisation through restructure, redundancy, rejection, or retirement
- The end of a whole business system (in a merger, failure or other organisational trauma)
- The end of a client, colleague or customer relationship that’s been joyful and/or traumatic
- The end of a career in your particular field, whether of your own volition or others’
Organisations themselves are greatly influenced by incomplete endings, which set up limiting dynamics in individuals and often across the wider system. When new people join a company, occupying a role that has been vacated in a hurry or without real respect for the contribution made by the previous role-holder, the new person may struggle to perform. The role itself and its place in the system are somehow burdened by an unresolved leaving. Soon the new occupant is caught in a similar pattern and may struggle to occupy their authority, feel drawn to leave or are ejected. And so the pattern repeats and deepens – in the individual and in the organisation.
Poorly managed, disrespectful endings lead to difficulties for the one who leaves – fear of belonging safely again, difficulties with personal energy and/or professional competence and feelings of isolation or lingering sadness at the loss of belonging – and those that remain – usually shown as a lack of psychological safety in role.
A system, a community of belonging, will always attempt to ‘re-member’ who and what has been excluded in an attempt to balance the system.
Business leaders often believe, or hope, that the more they pay someone to leave and not talk about the past, the more the past will be resolved. However, secrets, unacknowledged contributions and events slow human relationship systems down and make it harder and harder to survive, let alone thrive.
We very often bring our unmet needs to belong into organisational systems, along with our unresolved endings and losses from our childhood. These can resource or burden us and also create dynamics that can influence the whole organisation and its culture.
Career and organisational endings need to be attended to with as much care and focus as joinings – where there are often processes, rituals, information, dialogue and guidance.
“If we rush past endings we are rushing through one of the most subtle but important transitions in life and of work.”
Life is never predictable and even in planned or longed for endings there can be complex dynamics that emerge in individuals and wider systems. Some of the common inflection points include:
- The end of an intimate relationship or marriage, especially if sudden or managed without respect for what was
- Life changes and transitions in your children’s lives
- Preparing for, or recovering from, the end of your parent’s or other family member’s life
- The impact of the end of a social system, as with BREXIT
Life is full of endings, and taking care of them each and all is important if we want to live life fully.
The past needs to stay where it belongs, in the past. However, believing you can achieve that by ‘forgetting’ or excluding people who have belonged or events that have happened doesn’t work or lead to vitality, energy or balance in relationship systems.
You cannot move into something new if your past is present as you look to the future.
Many people say that they don’t like endings and so try and avoid them. Others feel they can ‘walk away’ from painful endings and not look back. In fact, both of these coping mechanisms can have a limiting effect on relationship systems as endings always need considered attention if they are truly to be at an end.
To understand the importance of respectful, mindful endings and leavings we can benefit from understanding the importance of joining and belonging.
Joining and Belonging
Human beings have an innate drive to belong in systems, relationship systems, partnerships, teams, communities. Many would argue that the need to bond and belong is the deepest need we have as human beings.
After all, we are born into a family system, then grow up and mature within multiple other systems: countries, cultures, education and perhaps religious systems. Then we find a place in organisational systems and may also move through more countries, cultures and business systems several times. We are likely to have been in intimate relationships of different kinds, each one in which we find a place alongside another human being.
In all these relationships we tune into the unspoken rules, as our inner compass tracks to see how they align with our reference points around belonging. We soon know what we must or must not do or say to protect our belonging.
Bringing our Belongings to an End
When our time in a relationship system, a community of belonging, comes to an end – whether it was planned or comes as a shock – it always has an impact, limiting or resourcing. Taking care to separate in a way that strengthens and enables us, the systems we leave and those we join, is crucial if we are to lead a full and less entangled life.
The past – what it has given us and what we have given it – must be honoured. When we pause and notice what we have received and what we have gained, as well as what we are able to leave behind, we can live and work with freedom and vitality.
We must understand what joining and belonging truly means to us if we are to live, lead and leave with freedom.
What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.
(Source: www.lifeloveleadership.com – John Wittington 2021)