Life Transitions

Life transitions are challenging because they force us to let go of the familiar and face the future with a feeling of vulnerability. Most life transitions begin with a string of losses:

• The loss of a role

• The loss of a person

• The loss of a place

• The loss of your sense of where you fit in the world

Any significant loss makes most people feel fearful and anxious. Since your future may now be filled with questions, it is normal to feel afraid. We live in a culture that has taught us to be very uncomfortable with uncertainty, so we are anxious when our lives are disrupted. On the positive side, these transitions give us a chance to learn about our strengths and to explore what we really want out of life. This time of reflection can result in a sense of renewal, stability, and a new equilibrium.

A life transition can be positive or negative, planned or unexpected. Some transitions happen without warning, and they may be quite dramatic, as in cases of accidents, death, divorce, job loss, or serious illness. Other life transitions come from positive experiences such as getting married, going away to college, starting a new job, moving to a new city, or giving birth to a child. Even though events like these are usually planned and anticipated, they can be just as life-altering as the unexpected events. Whether positive or negative, life transitions cause us to leave behind the familiar and force us to adjust to new ways of living, at least temporarily. They can leave us feeling completely unprepared and we may be thrown into a personal crisis, feeling shocked, angry, sad, and withdrawn.

Examples of Life Transitions

Life transitions can include any of the following:

• Accidents

• Buying a house

• Changing jobs

• Divorce

• Getting married

• Having a baby

• Leaving for college

• Relocation

• Retirement

• Selling a house

• Serious illness

• Significant loss (of a person, job, pet, or anything important)

• Starting a career

Stages of Life Transitions

Successfully moving through a life transition usually means experiencing the following stages:

1. Experience a range of negative feelings (anger, anxiety, confusion, numbness, self-doubt).

2. Feel a loss of self-esteem.

3. Begin to accept the change.

4. Acknowledge that you need to let go of the past and accept the future.

5. Begin to feel hopeful about the future.

6. Feel increased self-esteem.

7. Develop an optimistic view of the future.

The process of moving through a transition does not always proceed in order, in these nice, predictable stages. People usually move through the process in different ways, often cycling back and forth among the stages.

Having a good understanding of life transitions and developing the necessary coping skills will allow you to move through the transitions with more ease and a sense of well-being.