Embracing transitions is the key to cope with life changes
In my private practice, I work a lot with people who go through changes and transitions. Interestingly, over the last months, I have found myself amidst not one but several changes, unfolding at the same time. I still have a long road ahead of me. But unsurprisingly, this experience made me reflect on transitions and how we can successfully navigate them from a different perspective.
Here is a summary of my key notes that I want to share with you who is currently undergoing a change or going through a transition.
Transition is the process we go through in response to change. In the words of William Bridges, an American author, “Change is situational. Transition is psychological”.
Over the course of our lifetime, we all experience changes, such as:
📌 in our relationships with other people – friendships, partners, marriages, bereavement;
📌 in our careers – promotion, demotion, redundancy, retirement;
📌 in our roles and lifestyle – parenthood, reputation, illness/accidents, relocation
Going through changes is the norm.
Choosing to hope, impossibly, that change will bypass us and let us go on with our lives as before can subjugate us. It can put us “in crisis”, make us clingy to an unhealthy relationship, situation, role/status. Or, even worse, in my view, it just leaves us comfortable and static.
What to do instead?
Choose to embrace transition. Focus on the inner psychological process we go through in order to internalise and come to terms with the change we face, as this can benefit us.
Why choose this path?
This path is a natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the turning points in our path of growth. Also, it is during this phase that we search and develop ways of dealing productively with change.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not in our goals but in our transitions that we find greatness.”
Why do we often resist transition?
External voices, as well as our own mind, appeal to us to continue being the who we have been or the person and labels imposed on us. That is, the “submissive”, the “dependent”, the “strong”, the “dominant”, the “successful”, the “stupid”, the “intelligent”, the “prudent”, the “risk-averse”, the “happy”, the “ugly”, the “young”, the “unfit”… The list goes on, but the message we get is the same: stay the same, don’t change. Repeat.
What do transitions entail?
📌 Transitions begin with an ENDING – accept a symbolic death.
This is the difficult process of letting go of a belief, an assumption, a certain outlook on the world, a way we’ve always been or seen ourselves, a way that others see us, an attitude towards others, a state of mind, a situation, an event, a relationship, a role… Whatever it may be, we need to let ourselves experience the ending.
We are not the first going through this and others telling us this is of no help. We also don’t need others to tell us to stop crying over spilt milk or move on. We already know this. Yet, if we keep fighting our experience it is because we just cant let go of something in this process.
We often view endings as the termination of something. Well, good news guys – we have it backwards. Endings are the first, not the last act of this play.
📌 Transitions continue with a NEUTRAL ZONE – endure the emptiness, confusion and an apparent unproductive time-out.
We can appear to still be “us” by carrying out the activities and keeping up with the responsibilities of our ordinary life, such as paying bills, caring for children, etc. But the important inner work of self-transformation can only happen in the aimless activity of our time alone.
This is a very disconcerting phase because most of us go through it alone and lack guidance and validation so we don’t know whether we are losing our mind or becoming enlightened. At the same time, this is when we have the opportunity (albeit painfully) to understand what is happening to us, integrate what we are going through with the rest of our life, expand our reality and deepen our sense of purpose by deciding what we are going to do about it.
📌 Transitions lead to a new BEGINNING – launch forth again.
The deconstruction of the old outlook, structure, and status-quo can change and renew us. It is somewhere along this line of self-development that we discover what we are made of, who we really are, and what we want.
During this process, we have our “eureka moment”; things make sense again and the path forward opens to us. We find a new sense of freedom and by integrating it with our old identity, it both motivates and grounds us. This is also when we feel entitled to own our new decisions and feel responsible for them.
Genuine beginnings are often aligned with our deep longings, values and needs. Yet, we need to bear in mind that all beginnings are tentative, exploratory and untidy, so it is important we are gentle with ourselves.
How to avoid our own self-sabotage?
Understand what a transition comprises (see above) so we can recognise these phases in our lives.
Always remember that they represent a natural growth process, thus we can endure them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Patapia Tzotzoli founded My Psychology Clinic where she gained her reputation working as Clinical Psychologist with clients on one to one basis in London and worldwide via online therapy. She specialises in adult mental health and couples therapy. Studied at the universities of East London, Oxford and Cambridge and trained at the Institute of Psychiatry where she worked across world-renowned NHS Trusts.
Click here to book an online session or in person with Dr Patapia Tzotzoli at My Psychology Clinic.