Our lives are full of changes, some fast and highly significant, some so slow they are barely noticeable. Going through these changes, whether positive or negative, in a healthy way can be challenging. This is the first of two articles dealing with the slower, developmental, natural transitions of life. The second article will look at sudden changes, the ones that blindside us, such as accidents and sudden death.
Examples of Life Transitions
Sheila, mother to five children, feels unexpectedly weepy when her last child leaves home for college. She feels silly for being so emotional and puzzled at how strong her feelings of grief are. This mom is going through a developmental change—the empty nest–that is celebrated and anticipated, and yet she feels loss.
Bud and Cheryl are finally ready to do all the projects they had planned for retirement: travel to see their kids, volunteer at their church, work together on family genealogy. Instead Bud finds himself feeling blue, has a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings and is irritable at Cheryl. She is frustrated, and can’t understand that he is bewildered by the feelings he has. They are at a great place in life, the changes they are going through are all positive and Bud seems to have lost his place.
Bud and Cheryl, and Sheila are all dealing with gradual life transitions. Bud is showing depression after retiring, Cheryl doesn’t know how to cope and Sheila is grieving her children’s changing dependence on her.
Natural Life Transitions: An Overview
What are some of these natural life changes? The list starts at puberty, then through early adulthood, career choice (and changes, since people may change careers several times in their lives), marriage, possibly divorce, relationship changes, childrearing, empty nest, retirement and the transitions that accompany aging. All these are part of the natural life cycle, yet can carry a great emotional load. Even though life events can be planned and prepared for, the effects often destabilize and bewilder us for a time.How can each of these people in change get a better view on their current situation?
Acknowledge the Transition
Identifying what is happening is a powerful first step that creates space to examine what is happening; and deal with consequences and emotional effects. Admitting that change has happened doesn’t mean accepting it totally, but it moves a person past denial. Besides naming a life change or transition, some reflection on the transition is useful; such as marking it with a ceremony. Many ethnic cultures and some religious traditions joyfully mark the transition to adulthood, such as the Jewish ceremony of Bar mitzvah or Bat mitzvah (for girls). Families can create their own traditions, such as a father giving his daughter flowers when she first menstruates, recognizing and celebrating her new status, and indirectly helping her at a difficult stage.
Bud and Cheryl can talk over the unexpected bewildering changes his retirement has brought to their lives. They can name his depression, and seek counseling to map out this “speed bump” in their life plans. Sheila can reflect on what no kids in the home means and begin reflecting on the next stage of her life, both as a mom and a woman.
Allow Space to Grieve
Most life transitions involve losses of some kind. There can be loss of a role. Sheila’s children no longer need her in the same ways they did before, and her role as a mom is shifting. Bud no longer has the definition of place and person that came with his career as an executive. Other losses in life transitions can be the loss of a person in your life, through death, moving away, or ruptured relationships. One can lose a geographical place, such as when a family’s grandparents move from their home to an assisted living facility. Both the family mourns the loss of that setting for their grandparents, and the grandparents themselves mourn the move away from familiarity and stability to a time and place where they will do less and need more. Other kinds of loss are those of career change, relocation, or a change in how one fits in one’s world.
Many changes we experience have an element of grieving the old parts of our life even while welcoming the new. Allowing oneself to really grieve what is passing away is healthy—this can involve naming how your life is changing, listing what is left behind, and actually saying goodbye. Don’t force the grief to be over. Be prepared for sudden reminders of what is different now. Recognizing and welcoming the reminders, though sad, is how we can go through the grief process.
Christian Counseling For Life Transitions
These are just a few measures to help you work through the transitions you may be facing in your life; for more consideration, please see the next article in this series. If you are struggling through a natural transition, do not face the challenges alone. A professional Christian counselor can help you to process and grow through any transitions that are preventing you from thriving and moving forward. Using Christian principles and proven therapeutic techniques, we can partner with you on your journey to healing and wholeness. I would be delighted to help you acknowledge your transition and begin the grieving process so that you can grow and learn from your experience.
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