Mastering Life's Major Changes-The Art of Transition

So many of the women I talk with, both in my personal life and my psychotherapy practice, are facing life changes and possible transitions at the moment. We're talking significant, B-I-G life changes such as relocation, divorce, marriage, children arriving, children leaving, children returning, new health diagnosis, trauma, the death of someone close to you, addictions, significant financial loss or gain and much more.  You would think with so many of us feeling a little lost and disconnected, we would be reaching out to others in the same boat.  But, this is not the case. Somehow, the challenge of moving yourself or entire family across the country or deciding to end your marriage, with or without kids in tow has become too normal and easy to talk about openly and honestly with friends and even family.  This is not to say we don't mention how stressed we are, but the idea of letting anyone know how much difficulty we are having, that we can't adjust and "handle things" is apparently not currently acceptable.  We do chat about our pressures, but are quick to add "But, I'll be o.k., I'll get through this" or "this is doable, I'm just stressing today" or the ubiquitous "I'm fine, I'm just worried about so and so...", and don't forget, "it's getting better:))!"(when it's not).  Have we women come to believe that we can and should handle just about anything without being vulnerable, raw and honest about needing support? Look, having treated many clients with patterns of substance use and addiction, fear, shame and stigma are not new to me.  Yet, I find the code of silence around "moving on" from a jarring change in life truly heartbreaking. When did we all become Wonder Women?

Personally, I have always embraced change. It helped me to redirect my attention and energy when my current situation wasn't going well. Most of my 20's and 30's and 40's was a bumpy, messy, chaotic ride. I did many wonderful things and lived-- what I've come to see is a fruitful and interesting life. But, I had become stuck in a wicked cycle.  Lucky for me, things started to shift in 2009 when I attempted to truly embrace sobriety and recovery for the first time.  After another roller-coaster year of ups and downs that didn’t get me anywhere, but feeling frustrated and more alone, I started my formal education on change and transition. in July 2010, I entered residential treatment for alcohol (and benzodiazepines, but I didn't know that when I checked in). It was through the process of learning the skills of recovery that I learned that my pattern in life was to enact change in my life to take me away from what was driving my need for change. 

Change is not transition, change ignites transition. As the American author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, William Bridges emphasized "--a transition is a psychological process of adapting to change. Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation or self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won't work, because it doesn't 'take'."

Change is driven to a reach a goal, but transitions start with letting go of what no longer fits or is adequate to the life stage you are in”.
William Bridges

He goes on to define transition as being made up of three parts: the experience of and ending, bidding farewell or letting go of the past, the "neutral zone" where the past is gone but the new isn't fully present, and making the new beginning, feeling at home with the new.

Let's say, you have just relocated to a new city( as I personally have, moving to Peachtree City from Minneapolis last April).  The Change is the relocation itself which involves all the preparation, packing (ugh!) and making the trip.  The Transition is all the confusion, distress and the 1100 other feelings you go through. Changes are always unique to the situation in which they take place, but Transitions are remarkably similar from one to another, from person to person.

Transition is:

  • Internal
  • Psychological
  • Experienced-based
  • Defined by Process
  • Always take Time

Change is:

  • External
  • Situational
  • Event-based
  • Defined by Outcome 
  • Can Occur Quickly


How do we figure out how to move from change to transition? 

Mr. Bridges states that most important growth happens in the Neutral/in-between zone. The folks who do well here have good resources and strong elements of CUSP:

Control- Find things to do that help you feel more in control of their situation. This does not mean controlling all aspects, but minding your feelings of helplessness.

Understand-Learn about the transition process and the reason you are making the change.  Many super smart people have done a ton of research around this, like Mr. Bridges. 

Support-Ask for help. If you do not have a solid support system, it may be time to get one. (check out the link below.)

Purpose-Develop a clearer sense of purpose in order to make better decisions.

I truly feel blessed with how change and then transition required me to learn how to envision my fullest self.  The gift of allowing others walk with you as you grow into the life you always wanted, but never imagined. 

Living life from the inside out. 


Get support during your transition and find ways to relieve worries and build better-coping skills. Join the Women in Transition Group meeting every Sunday at noon!

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