I've been asked a number of times this week, why it is that celebrity's like Katy Perry and Russell Brand and Sinead O'Conner (albeit that she's back with her husband now) seem to find taking the decision to separate and divorce far quicker than others. I've tried to answer this here.
In my experience, deciding to make a change or what I call "Crossing Rubicons" is inevitably stressful for many people, because we don’t know what we’ll need to deal with on the other side.
But we make it worse for ourselves. We avoid crossing our Rubicons because of what I call "Catastrophic Fantasies".
Our catastrophic fantasies are catastrophic because we always think the worst (“If I leave him or her I will never meet anyone again”, ‘I can’t cope with doing everything myself’) and fantasies because they rarely happen. Chances are, if you take the risk, you will meet someone else and be far happier; you can and will cope on your own and very likely enjoy the peace and simplicity of it all!
One major Catastrophic Fantasy that blocks many people is the fear of hurting people or invoking their disapproval. Consequently, they hold themselves back rather than take the risk of being honest.
I was watching the film 'While you were sleeping' yesterday and in it, there's a perfect example of this. Bill Pullman's character, Jack would like to start his own business making furniture but fears telling his father because he thinks his father will be devastated. He tells Sandra Bullock's character, Lucy, that the business used to be called 'Callaghan & Sons' before his brother, Peter, went to law school. Then it changed to 'Callaghan & Son' and if he left, it would just be 'Callaghan's' and he doesn't want to hurt his father in this way.
Eventually, Lucy persuades him to pluck up the courage and tell is dad. And all his father was concerned about on hearing the news was that he hadn't told him sooner because he could have sold the business for twice the value and gone on a cruise with Jack's mother!
Can you imagine what a waste of life he'd have had if he'd avoided crossing his Rubicon of telling his dad for fear that it would kill him, only to find years later that his dad would actually have loved it if Jack start his own business thereby freed him to sell his own and enjoy the proceeds.
Some of you may well have seen the film and recognised that this is how we hold ourselves back in life. With catastrophic fantasies like "I can't tell him or her or them because it'll kill them."
A client of mine, let's call him David, could not tell his parents that he wanted to marry a woman of a different religion, Jessica, for fear that it would ‘kill them’ and that they’d reject him forever. Instead, he chose to live secretly with Jessica, only his friends knowing. He denied Jessica and himself children, as that would have been too much of a lie to live with, creating great tension. Every so often, David was tempted to tell his parents, but the stress at the thought of their reaction always prevented him. Until, finally after his mother’s death and when he was well into his 50’s he owned up to his father.
His father’s reaction both stunned and devastated him and Jessica. His father was thrilled that he had found someone to love and said that his mother would have been thrilled too. All she worried about and prayed for was that her son would find a good woman who loved him and could have his children – her grandchildren – for him. What a waste of life. All because he imagined catastrophe.
This is a gross example of how the fear created by catastrophic fantasies stops people being authentic and crossing their Rubicons. People spend days, weeks, nights worrying when most of the time their worries are unfounded. How many times have you suffered a tense evening and disturbed night worrying about what will happen the next day, at home or at work, and in the event, nothing bad happened? In the words of Mark Twain:
‘I have known many great troubles but most of them rarely happened’1
Overcoming catastrophic fantasies and either leaving for pastures new or staying yet demand new ground rules can be dangerous. But the model of ‘Crossing Rubicon’s’ reminds us that so too can continuing to live an inauthentic, unfulfilled life.
The reason why celebrities may find it easier to separate or divorce is that within their environment, people are more likely to accept separation divorce as the norm. And so celebrities do not suffer, in this particular area of their life, with the catastrophic fantasies that most people do: Will I be a hero or a villain? Will I be better off or worse off? Will I be popular or ostracised?
Jack shows us that unless you take the risk of telling people what's on your mind, chances are all you'll get it more of the same. And of more of the same is wasting your life, or making you ill, then really you have no choice but to cross your Rubicon, see what's on the other side and deal with that. Either way is stressful, but the stress you'll suffer by making a change - as Jack shows us in While you were sleeping - gives you a chance of a meaningful, more satisfying and fulfilled life.