The 5 Stages of Grief - Harold/Lloyd Improv Rejection Edition
1. Denial and Isolation
The first reaction to learning that you are not on a Harold/Lloyd team is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. We look at the list of names and say "wow, they really misspelled my name, it almost looks like Sasha… oh, it is Sasha." This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. Why didn’t my scene partner make me look better? Why didn’t anybody walk on and heighten the scene? Nobody took the chair off from the previous scene, that really effed me up. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our friends who made teams. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us, to go be on a Harold/Lloyd team. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.
Remember, grieving is a personal process that has no time limit, nor one “right” way to do it.
Nate Dern, who helped chose the teams, might become a convenient target. Improv professionals deal with rejection every day. That does not make them immune to the suffering of their students or to those who grieve for them.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
If only I had taken another 501…
If only I had taken classes at the PIT or Magnet…
If only I had performed more on an indie team…
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the rejection. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs of classes and booking venues. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others in our indie improv teams that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our short-term improv dreams and aspirations. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Not getting placed on a team may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.
Coping with improv rejection is a ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. Lots of people on current Harold teams know what you are going through. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
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