The most predictable thing about life is that it is always changing. I’m told this is a good thing since it lets me know that I am alive and well…just uncomfortable until I find balance again. Transitions by their very nature provide clarity about relationships, identity, goals and what was. Transitions are a time a discovery and creation. This is precisely why they can hurt so much and seem like the end of everything.
All transitions require us to adapt. We learn new behaviors and thoughts and to jettison others that don’t fit the new situations. Pain comes through our desire to return to the old patterns and our desperate desire to understand the new patterns.
The time we are struggle the most, feel the most pain, is the time we take to move from what Was to what Is.
This journey happens quickly or arduously whether we expected the transition or not. Sometimes our minds are aware of the imminent shift but traversing the new ground is more difficult than anticipated. Other times, our experience of the new “What Is” becomes overwhelming. I often hear these two key phrases from clients:
“I don’t like Transitions!”
“I Don’t Do Transition Well!”
Most humans prefer to stay where they are, in the same situations, unless they really have to shift. We seek stasis, forever refusing the chaos that swirls about us. We like our routines and our objects. We want to know what to expect, how long this will take and what happens if this doesn’t get better. Attempting to reclaim the past can be one of the most damaging coping strategies we have.
A wise man once wrote that we “[know] that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”
Life transitions include but aren’t limited to:
- Death of a Loved One
- Divorce; change in relationship status
- Medical diagnosis
- Change of job and/or home
- Living with addiction
- Living in recovery
- Integrating a new reality
Transitions have a specific set of existential questions that we ask ourselves:
- Who am I now?
- How do I navigate this? What if I can’t figure this out soon enough?
- What did I do wrong?
- Everyone else seems to know what they are doing. Why don’t I?
- There is no going back. How do I move forward?
- How will I ever live without the person I have lost?
- Will I ever get a chance to have that back?
- Why did this happen?
- What does this mean?
- What will people think?
The between time is the most confusing and uncomfortable time. Confusion reigns. Clinicians often help clients navigate the new terrain, normalizing situations and problems solving for others. Since a hallmark of transition is confusion, therapy serves as a safe place where one can explore what needs to shift; what behaviors and thoughts continue to be productive and which behaviors and thoughts need to be adapted or released.