Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, has been quoted as saying, “Change is the only constant in life.” In Frankenstein, Mary Shelly wrote, “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” These quotes ring true as we navigate through life. Change is constant: relocation, normal life stage changes, political change, life-style alterations, relocation of family or friends, new job, new home, new school, new team, new baby, children leaving home, marriage, empty nest, divorce, death. Some change is anticipated, some is unexpected. Some personalities embrace change. Others dig in and fight against it.
Change is something that happens to people. Transition is the mental process that people go through in the midst of change, moving from Certainty (the past) to Ambiguity (the in between zone) to Hope (the future). From the moment a change is realized Certainty can turn to confusion, denial, anger, frustration, and reservation. The rush of emotion in this stage is often related to loss. Healthy transition includes acknowledging and identifying the losses, relating closely to normal grief reactions. Movement to the in between zone may include a number of different emotions: excitement, anxiety, anticipation, resistance, confusion, creativity, and skepticism. This Ambiguity can leave one exhausted and drained, feeling disoriented while holding such drastically incongruent emotions. Letting go of anger and frustration and exploring the change can help manage the chaos of the in between zone. Ambivalence, acceptance, purpose, learning, relief, and accomplishment are typical experiences as one internalizes the change and arrives at Hope, the “new normal.” Transitions vary depending on the intensity of the change. The entire process of transition may include emotional, cognitive, and spiritual growth. And multiple transitions of different changes may happen simultaneously.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.” Our goal-oriented culture emphasizes performance and excellence. Yet there seems to be little emphasis on healthy transitions. Developing coping skills and helpful cognitions to hold the competing emotions of transition will serve one well. Even positive change, such as vacations and promotions, hold a vague sense of loss that can be confusing and troubling during transition.
Be aware of the impact of change on your life. Identify and feel the losses. Give yourself and your loved ones permission to grieve the losses. Validate the emotion. Recognize the disorientation and chaos of the in between zone. Be kind to yourself as you let go of the past and take hold of the future. Explore and embrace the new normal. And repeat.
Managing Transitions, W. Bridges
Transition: Understanding and Managing Personal Change, B. Hopson and J. Adams