In the simplest terms, transition is change. In a broader sense however, transitions are life’s way of asking us to reexamine our present way of being. These transitions can be predictable such as a child leaving for college or marriage, or they can be unpredictable, such as the sudden death of a loved one or a traumatic accident. Whatever the degree or intensity of the event, every transition we experience has one thing in common. It forces us to make changes to our existing life. And with change, comes resistance. A major life transition literally closes one chapter of our life, and starts a new one, putting us in a new place and direction that we have not walked before. It is often a very difficult adjustment as we endure intense feelings of fear, doubt, and uncertainty.
When Life Changes
Transitions typically mark an ending followed by a time of self-reflection, which hopefully, leads to a new beginning or outlook on life. Every life transition asks us to let go of a past way of thinking or doing. By doing so, we are given the opportunity to replace the old way of being with something new. During the transitional period however, we usually feel uncomfortable, almost disconnected with our environment and even ourselves. While this is natural to some extent, if you can’t move through this phase, these feelings can often overwhelm you, sending you spinning out of control into emotional turmoil. Many times, people turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to numb the anxiety and stress of these transitional times. Admittedly, life isn’t always fair, but often the most good comes out what seems at the time to be a completely overwhelming experience. Whatever the transition, counseling with a professional counselor is an excellent opportunity to help you take stock of your life and move forward into your new beginning with less pain and resistance.
Transitions are difficult because we unconsciously or even consciously resist change. As humans it seems like every fiber of our being is innately programmed to resist anything new or unknown to us, most likely a result of our basic self-preservation instinct. Whether we realize it or not, even good changes like winning the lottery, can cause us to feel stressed and uneasy. On some level, we are simply not comfortable with the unknown.
Retirement for example is supposed to be a wonderful time for us. It is a time when we can finally relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor. For many people though, retirement is the most stressful time of their lives. This life transition is beyond the scope of our known behavior patterns and way of thinking. Suddenly, not having to get up everyday and leave for work by seven each morning leaves us feeling completely lost. For years, we create an entire persona revolving around our job title and what kind of person that makes us. As a result, retirement can create all kinds of self-esteem and identity issues and if left unresolved, they can lead to depression and physical illness.
New parents enter another kind of transitional period from the moment they conceive. They are no longer just a couple; they are now parents and everything that comes along with that title. People treat you differently, you see yourself in a new light and once the baby comes, everyday is a transitional period in itself. This can send one or both parents into emotional discord as they try to work out the new parameters of parenthood and marriage. If you are successful, parenthood can become one of the most significant transitions of your life. If you resist however, the marriage is likely to fail miserably and require help from a counsellor.
Empty Nest Syndrome is another common transitional period for mothers. Once they have raised their children and they leave to make their own lives, a mother can feel disconnected with who she is. After eighteen years as a mother, it is hard to just form a completely new self-identity. Many mothers therefore, can become depressed and withdraw from life and their spouse instead of opening themselves up to the many opportunities this transition has to offer – like time to finally take a long, hot bubble bath without constant knocking on the bathroom door.
Change is inevitable. Life is going to happen whether we want it to or not. This is not to say that transition is easy. On the contrary, transitions can be the most difficult experiences of our life. But they are experiences and as such, we must go through them to get to the other side. If we put our heads in the sand and try to ignore or resist these unavoidable changes, we will only prolong them and often times, make them harder to endure. When you are unable to work through a transition and it starts to affect your daily life, causing problems in your relationships, at work or it begins to affect you emotionally or physically; it is time to get outside help.
We will never be able to stop change from happening to us, but we can learn to stop fighting it. Counselors can teach us how to accept change and move on in life. Sometimes all we need is a supportive ear to guide us through the transitional period. Whether it is a positive change or one that causes monumental grief in our lives, the process is the same. We must first learn to let go of what was and then look at what is and can be. Counselling can teach us how to do this is a safe and supportive environment.
Throughout our life we are faced with change and the resulting effects on life around us. Change is a regular part of our daily life whether it is a new coworker joining the company, a family member getting married, or a new activity we incorporate into our life. There are times however, where change is the result of a major life transition and our ability to adapt to the new environment is beyond our skill level. Counselling offers individuals or families a process to work through what this life change means. Questions such as “How will I relate to people now that I am retired and am unemployed” or “What will I do now that my children have left home” are addressed and the answers worked into how the future is experienced and lived.
Often when faced with a change we look for ways to incorporate this into the life we are leading. In the case of a major life transition, Values-Based Counseling helps to determine how the life we are leading will adapt to this foundational shift. This can cause questions for people as to who they are and how they identify themselves. In the situation of children moving out of the family home, although you will always remain a parent, your immediate circle of influence has shifted. Making sure there are nutritious meals, that your children are home safe each night, and being there on a daily basis to encourage them has shifted. You may now be faced with a lot of idle time to fill, and the voids that are left may leave you feeling helpless, or unproductive. Your counselor is here to help identify these issues and the other adjustment issues as you move forward through the many life transitions that help to create the person we are today.
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