Transcript from 6/14/12 blog talk radio show A Fine Time for Healing, Transitions in Life
Transitions in Life
Written by Randi G. Fine
Life is a series of beginnings and endings. Seasons change; trees blossom and then go barren, flowers bloom and then go dormant, day turns to night, years begin and they end, we are born and we die.
Endings are not sudden, nor are beginnings. They come about through the process of transition. Transitions, the uncertain spaces between the beginnings and endings of change, the pauses and processes of life, are inevitable.
Life does not exist without transition; it conveys us through the stages of life. Many processes of transition are subtle, occurring fluently and without our awareness. Our bodies and minds easily acclimate to them. But change, whether good or bad, can also be very difficult. We feel off kilter when the comfort of the familiar and convenient becomes the discomfort of the unfamiliar and inconvenient, when we are forced to adjust our lives in ways that seem foreign to us.
We each view the transitions that occur in our lives differently. The way we perceive them is based on a variety of factors; our personalities, life experiences, emotional fortitude, coping skills, habitual behaviors, life styles, age, economic status, and more.
Transitions are stressful for everyone, but for those who are creatures of habit and very resistant to change, transitions may be extraordinarily so. Those who look forward to and welcome change more easily adjust to the process that goes along with it.
My husband and I are opposites in regard to our comfort level with change. I call him an “Old dog,” as in the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog, new tricks.” At the mention of change he digs his heels in and instantly becomes anxious–and not in a good way. I on the other hand get bored with the “same ol’, same ol’ very easily. I love that life is full of changes and surprises. That does not mean that transitions don’t make me uncomfortable—they do. But while they are emotional and stressful for me, faith and hindsight assure me that everything will work out for the best. I look forward to a new blossom on the rose of life. Though we are different in the way we view change, somehow we balance each other out. He grounds me and I give him a sense of adventure.
Couples go through many transitions as they mature in their years together. Their values, decisions, and choices as individuals and as a couple will change through the years. They must be willing and ready to accept, respect, readjust, and re-balance as each person navigates through their own stages and experiences of life at their own pace and in their own way. Some transitions, like getting married, moving in together, having a baby, making career decisions, buying a house, or relocating are navigated jointly. Both people will have different points of view and must work together to compromise a happy medium. The skills that they apply to make these transitions flow will strengthen the relationship, making future transitions a little easier to go through. Don’t be caught off guard when stressful events occur in your relationship. You might as well anticipate them because they are definitely going to happen.
It is normal to feel vulnerable, fearful, inadequate, and disoriented when the big question mark representing your future looms large in front of you. But transitions serve a very important purpose in our lives; they are opportunities for us to learn, grow, and gain new understanding of ourselves. They show us what we are made of, what our strengths and weaknesses, assets and liabilities are, so we can evaluate our lives and set new goals. They allow us to edit the story of our lives and give ourselves a new beginning.
Change may be voluntary and welcomed, but it may also be involuntary and unwelcomed. I would venture to say that unexpected, involuntary, unplanned, and unanticipated transitions are experienced in the most devastating ways. Unwelcomed transitions might begin with the death of a loved one, the loss or death of a pet, a painful separation or divorce, a financial or job loss, the loss of a home, an accident, or an illness. Unprepared for this types of transition these events typically leave us with feelings of shock, anger, denial, depression, betrayal, fear, insecurity, abandonment, and a whole host of other negative emotions.
Expected, voluntary, planned, and anticipated transitions come about at specific times in our lives. Though planned, the feelings leading up to them are still are anxiety producing. Common anticipated transitions begin with graduation, retirement, a welcomed change in job or career, going away to college, getting married, having a baby, the first day of school, moving to a new home, or a young adult moving out on their own.
Some transitions come about unexpectedly but are the result of a welcomed change such as a job transfer, the start of a new relationship, a promotion, or relocation to another city. Some transitions are anticipated and expected, but are involuntary such as aging, declining health, the loss of a role as occurs with empty nest syndrome, or an anticipated job loss.
Children make anticipated transitions throughout their stages of development, but according to Dr. Daniel Levinson, so do adults. Dr. Levinson, a retired professor of psychology at Yale who is now deceased, developed the well-regarded “Levinson’s theory,” a comprehensive theory of the stages of adult development. The ages that are shown for each stage fluctuate; we are all different and so is the way we progress through life’s stages. And though Levinson’s progression is linear, we do not move from one stage to another in that fashion. We may revisit previous stages as life presents us with unexpected events.
To successfully move through each stage we must allow ourselves to experience the emotions that go along with it, be accepting of the changes that are occurring, and be willing to let go of the past.
According to Dr. Levinson, the first stage of transition, called “Autonomy/Tentative Choices,” happens from ages 18-26. At this young adult stage we are developing a sense of who we are as a person, independent from our parents and childhood peers. We are defining ourselves as individuals, initiating an independent lifestyle, testing out new friendships, peer groups, and romantic interests, and changing our focus from our family to our peers. The commitments we make at this stage are tentative with the awareness that we can change our minds in the future.
The second stage, called “Young Adult Transition,” occurs between ages 27 and 31. This is a time of disquietude. At this stage we question our sense of self, who we want to become, and what we want from life. We evaluate the choices we tentatively made in the previous stage, deciding whether or not to maintain them or change them, with a sense that the time of our carefree youth is quickly running out. We begin making commitments and connections, and sorting through our relationships, deciding which ones we will hold onto.
The third stage, called “Making Commitments,” occurs between ages 32 and 40. This is a stage of calm as we establish a more permanent sense of self. We implement the choices made in the previous stage; who we want to become and which direction to take in life. We feel a sense of mastery of our profession and focus our efforts on accomplishment. We make deeper commitments in our connections to society and community. Our relationship commitments to friends, peers, and romantic interests become more permanent.
The fourth stage, called, “Mid-Life Transition,” occurs between ages 41 and 48. This is a stage of discontentment, boredom, disillusionment, and rebalancing. We take a hard look at ourselves, questioning whether or not we achieved what we set out to do in life. Now half-way through life, we are coming to terms with our mortality. We focus less on our values and more on making up for whatever and whoever we neglected, wanting to make the best out of the next part of our lives. We re-assess the perception we have of ourselves, evaluate his values, and revise our priorities. We no longer feel the need to conform to peer, cultural, and societal pressure.
This stage is more commonly referred to as, “Midlife Crisis,” a natural maturing process first identified by Carl Jung. Though Levinson estimated the age of mid-life transition to be between the ages of 41 and 48, a midlife crisis might occur anywhere from about age 37 through the 50s. Due to the processes of life that may occur during this time of life, the difficulty of this stage may be compounded by simultaneous transitions such as divorce, bereavement over the loss of a parent, friend, or loved one, or worry over accumulated debt.
It becomes a crisis when we don’t understand the process and cannot come to terms with changes such as our aging appearance. When this happens we may find ourselves stuck, depressed, and frustrated. Dealing with this transition in an unhealthy way may cause us to do damaging things and make irrational choices that we may eventually regret.
At this stage, men typically feel the need to prove their worth, achievements, and job performance while trying to appear more youthful and successful. The stereotypical mid-life crisis male typically goes out and buys a sports car, though that is certainly not true in all cases. But they also soften their macho side and begin embracing more feminine interests like cooking, or artistic endeavors.
Women, typically defined by their roles and relationships, begin reevaluating their performance in their roles as mother, wife, or partner. Realizing that they have put in the majority of their time raising children or being devoted to a career, and are now free to make choices, they feel the urge to pursue the dreams they had previously shelved. Feeling that they have paid their dues, they focus more on satisfying their selves.
If you are in this transition, take notice of any negative changes arising from the difficulty of it. Are you suffering from depression and the symptoms that go along with it such as change in eating habits, fatigue, sleeping pattern changes, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, or obvious indications like thoughts of suicide? Are you suffering minor physical ailments that have no explanation? Deal with these symptoms as soon as possible, before you lose control or something terrible happens. Consider consulting a therapist to help guide you through the process.
When dealt with in a healthy manner, mid-life transition can be a time of tremendous growth. Support from close friends and loved ones will help us more easily navigate our way through the process.
The fifth stage, called “Leaving a Legacy,” occurs between ages 49 and 65. At the peak of our maturity, this has the potential to be one of the most productive stages. At this stage we focus on values that mean the most in the scheme of life. We are driven to make the best out of the time we have left by helping others, and we feel compelled to leave a positive legacy. We let go of our false ego and accept ourselves as worthwhile, regardless of our weaknesses. We feel less compelled to impress others and more compelled to make things better for them. We engage in deeper and more productive relationships with family, friends, and are driven to make contributions to society.
The sixth and last stage, called “Spiritual Denouement,” occurs from ages 66 and beyond. This is a stage of completion and fine-tuning. At this stage we are completing our spiritual development and the development of the person we wish to become. We come to terms with the limitations of ourselves and our mortality, recognizing that life is only a part of existence and accepting that there is greater spiritual wisdom. And with that acceptance we become more willing to submit ourselves to the will of the higher power we believe in. As we prepare to leave our mark on the world we have a strong desire to pass the wealth of wisdom we have gained onto others. We have become more tolerant, accepting, and respectful of the diversity of others and have a greater sense of community.
You don’t have to understand the stages of growth to know that we get older, gain experience, and our wisdom matures. As we age we further our growth as a person. But what exactly are we striving for? Is our time on the Earth all there is? Are reasoning, sophistication, intellect, and experience merely accumulated until we cease to exist?
Transition plays a huge part in our spiritual growth. We are spiritual beings living in physical bodies, here to progress our souls. There is a much bigger picture and ultimate goal for our pain and efforts in the physical world. It is not about money, expertise, or recognition. The progresses we make and the people we help as we go through the stages of life propel our spiritual growth forward. If we don’t change we don’t grow.
We not only transition in life, we transition between lives. Birth is a transition, death is a transition, our journey to the other side some call heaven is a transition. From our efforts on the other side our souls transition to different levels of consciousness until they reach perfection.
Transition is the way the Universe gives you the lessons you need to learn and keeps you on the path that is best for you. Faith plays a huge part in it. Believing that you are never alone and that you always have divine guidance will carry you when you find it hard to carry yourself. Have faith in the perfection of the Universe. As difficult as life sometimes seem, understand that there is a greater plan for everything that happens.
Yes, transition is uncomfortable and difficult but nothing in life would exist without it. Transitions have beginnings and ends. You just have to push your way through the fog until you reach the end of each one. The end will always come, followed by a new beginning. You cannot possibly know what is in store for you, but hindsight of your past will assure you that everything will work out for the best. The confusion will pass, your clarity will be restored, and your vitality for living will return.
Change is an inevitable reality for all of us; it will come whether you are prepared for it or not. It is just another one of life’s challenges. Accept that you will feel insecure and uncomfortable while in the process. Acceptance of your reality is what will get you through it. A transition can either flow through its course or turn into a crisis. It is what you make it. Resistance and avoidance only hinder the process and get you stuck. Flexibility is necessary.
Though we cannot always choose our circumstances, we can choose how we deal with them. We can be a victim of circumstance and give away our personal power, or we can make the best of the hand we are dealt, and steer the course of our lives. If you are one who tends to take the victim stance, stop saying “why me” and feeling sorry for yourself. You are not the only one going through a painful transition. Life has not singled you out to be punished. Make the choice to lose the victim mentality and take responsibility for the way you live your life.
If you have always resisted change, shift your way of thinking about it. Embrace transition as a positive process that you can trust, an opportunity for rebirth. Life has a way of always working out, though it may take time to see the positive outcome. You can choose to have a positive outlook, to welcome change as a growth opportunity, even if you don’t understand he reasons behind the transition or are unprepared for the process. There is much in life that we do not understand. It is the big picture that counts.
When faced with the unknown it is natural to feel as if you have lost control of your life. That is because you probably have, but you have only lost control of certain aspects of it. Start by recognizing one small aspect of yourself or your life that you do have control over and exercise that control. Be sure to keep some things consistent. These strategies will help in re-balancing the loss of equilibrium you feel and give you back some of the power that you feel you have lost.
The way change is dealt with is different for each person and each transition. No two experiences will be the same. There is no manual. But there are strategies you can apply that will make the process more manageable and less stressful.
You cannot accept your situation unless you acknowledge your feelings and face your fears. Journaling is a wonderful way to express what you are feeling inside. Reflection and writing on a regular basis will help to reduce the confusion you feel, help you identify your fears, and help you reclaim the power your thoughts have over you.
Spend time alone to learn about yourself and gain self-awareness. This is the time to figure out what your needs are and who you would like to become. Take care of yourself, body, mind, and spirit; eat well, exercise, rest, and do things you enjoy.
Observe your life from the outside looking in. What is the overall picture of what is happening? Ask yourself what the worst thing that can happen is. Often your fears take on a life of their own causing you to lose perspective. Take a step back; get out of your own head for a few minutes. Take a rational approach.
Change your attitude from dread to anticipation. Understand that the comfort of old routines is only temporary. Take a new perspective; look at change as an opportunity for rebirth and growth. Try to find something positive about whatever situation you are in. Ask yourself what the potential opportunities that can come from it are and focus on them. Look back at your past to see how situations beyond your control ultimately benefitted you.
The most important and probably most difficult part of the process is taking the first step toward accomplishment. After you begin, take it a small step at a time. Just put one foot in front of the other and propel yourself forward, no matter how insignificant the effort may seem.
Set manageable short term and long term goals for yourself, and then celebrate when you reach them. Give yourself credit for the progress you make. Identify any resources available to you that will help you through the process.
Before you can embrace the new you have to let go of the old. Create an event to mark the end of the past and the start of a new beginning. Make a ritual of saying goodbye to people, situations, or places that will no longer be a part of your life. Be willing to let old identities, roles, and routines that no longer serve a purpose in your life go.
Allow yourself to imagine the future as you hope it will be. Seek inspiration through books, blogs, radio shows like this one, and special interest groups.
Don’t be afraid to humble yourself and ask for help. Share your feelings with those who are truly supportive of you, unconditionally accept you, and encourage you. You may need people you can emotionally lean on for awhile, people who will patiently listen to you as you obsess over the same feelings and frustrations over and over—people who will affirm what you are feeling and are willing to share their own experiences and positive outcomes to offer you a more positive viewpoint.
Find an accountability partner—someone who we keep you on track, encourage you, and bring you back to reality when you stray. This is person you will share your plans and goals with who will motivate you to keep moving forward. Choose someone you can trust to be brutally honest and give you a dose of tough love whenever you need it.
Progressing forward in a healthy way is critical to the process. You may need the help of a financial counselor or mental health professionals to guide you.
Think about the many transitions you have passed through in your life. Realize that they have delivered you to this moment. You made it through the best and you made it through the worst…and you are still here to talk about it. How did you deal with past changes? What would you do different? What have you learned as a result of transition and how has it transformed you?
Be proud of where you have come from, the strength you mustered in the past that got you through hard times, and the wisdom you gained as a result. That wisdom will be tremendously helpful in your ongoing life and it will certainly speed up your soul’s evolution. That is after all our ultimate goal.
Know that you would not be here if you did not have the capacity to handle life’s challenges. It is said that only the bravest souls choose to come to Earth school.
You may be experiencing transitions now and you certainly will be in the future. There will be periods of smooth sailing and there will be times of hardship. Sometimes you will easily stroll down the path of life and sometimes you will veer off course.
Transitions are not indications of failure; they are opportunities for growth, renewal, and rebirth. They allow us to become the best we can possibly be.
Look to all the future holds for you because that is where you are headed…and have faith.
To listen to the recording of this show please go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/randi-fine/2012/06/14/transitions-in-life