Take a look at this diagram of the physical flow of progress when an individual has a shock due to some kind of loss. (Click on the image for a larger version.) You can see that the flow moves in a very specific, and possibly surprising, manner…
1. Shock (denial) — an emotionally painful loss of understanding (intellectual energy) leaving one unable to do much of anything and very much disconnected from reality
2. Anger — an automatic, emotionally charged, and intellectually misinformed reaction confronting the original disturbance with an opposing force
3. Bargaining — an emotionally aggressive, and still mostly intellectually uninformed, attempt to have things returned to past conditions
4. Depression — an emotionally empty discarding of unrealistic intellectual theories that have been proven useless
5. Resolution (Acceptance) — once empty of the unuseful ideas, an external boost of a little more energy of a more positive sort leads to an emotionally powerful, intellectually reinvigorated and more realistic change in tactics that incorporates the reality of what has happened into one’s plans for one’s own ideal direction in life
6. Joy — an emotional and intellectual peak that leaves one a little bit closer to where one wants to be in life
Two steps forward and one step back is indeed an accurate way to describe the life process, at least from intellectual perspective.
In the expansionary process of moving forward, we often get hit by forces far stronger than we planned for, needed, or can even effectively deal with. So we have to contract again, going “backwards” in some sense. Most of the time a small step backwards is sufficient for us to regain our stability and balance, and be ready to find a use for whatever is thrust upon us, or to find a way around it. Occasionally, if we’ve ended up with a overwhelmingly challenging overabundance of something — physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual — that we can’t work with or around, and it becomes a serious toxicity, we might need to take many, many, many steps backwards before our balance can be restored.
People may not understand this process of expansion and contraction that comes with major turbulence in one’s life. They might not realize that your anger and subsequent temporary stepping back is crucial to your long term progress. And they may not realize that the relative sizes of the different stages will vary drastically depending on even the tiniest differences in circumstances (the strength of the shock and the usefulness of the resources available to you for healing) leading to one situation taking one individual years to complete the process, and another individual, with a superficially similar situation taking just minutes to heal. This lack of understanding is yet another challenge you might face sometimes, but, perhaps seeing this information here, during a more intellectually positive moment in time, will help solve that problem reasonably effectively. Knowing that denial, defensiveness, making unreasonable demands, and eventually the total loss of the ability to think clearly and relate to others on a personal level are all necessary and normal parts of the healing~growth process which must happen before one becomes open to, and capable of creating a new solution for going forward that works more fully with the reality of things.
The scientific reason this process looks like this loopy motion is due to physics, in general, and fluid dynamics, more specifically. This is the pattern of movement of a human-sized object in a society-shaped fluid when disturbed by the force of a wave. The laws of physics~nature remind us that as much as we like to think we’re in charge of our lives, we’re actually very much living our lives within a very, very vast ocean of life that’s chock full of all kinds of forces waving us around in all directions, and the best we can do is to learn how to ride those waves to wherever we most want to go…