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Transitions – expected and otherwise

 

Recently, after a 12-day trip in Europe I arrived home in Portland, Maine, to unexpectedly find a substantial amount of snow on the ground. A voice inside me screamed, “oh, no, I’m not ready. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.” This was not only a knee-jerk emotional response but a practical one, too. You see, my garden hoses were still out, now inaccessible, buried beneath the snow. This unexpected climatological transition was going to demand more work than usual.

Many transitions, be they emotional or physical, are expected and give us time to prepare, adjust and manage, but some don’t. And even when expected, the adjustment may differ dependent on various conditions or circumstances. For example, research shows that our bodies adjust in time to colder temperatures. However, the same cold temperature experienced at the beginning of winter or at the end feels different. By the end of winter, we have adjusted and so we actually don’t feel as cold.

When transitions are expected, like going off to college or getting married, we are able to prepare and elicit the necessary support. However, the unexpected ones obviously present greater challenges. It is as if we are left flat footed and thus ill prepared. Some transitions require management and swift action–your plane gets cancelled and you have to find accommodations for the night. Some require not just swift action but a more complex readjustment and response as when your work place unexpectedly closes and you must find alternative employment. And then there are those that have a more profound emotional impact such as when a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly dies. Managing this last transition may take a long time and requires faith that the emotional wound will heal and life can get back to “normal.” Action, in this case, requires acceptance and an ability to elicit and receive support.

Many individuals who come to our programs are in the midst of transitions. Some are changing careers, some are undergoing lifestyle or relationship changes, some are seeking more meaning in their lives and in their level of self-awareness. Some just want things (whatever that might be) to be more fulfilling.

Having an optimistic stance supports us to look at what is good or valuable in any situation or relationship. It allows us to cope with the expected and unexpected changes that are the essence of our lives. And, even when transitions elicit disappointment and grief, optimism supports us to persevere and move forward in a positive direction. All our lives are full of transitions–small, insignificant ones and large, life-changing ones. Although we can never guarantee that we will not at times be caught flat footed, we can develop skills and emotional resiliency that provide the ability to face those challenges and learn from them.

Now to find those garden hoses!

Joseph Melnick, PhD

 

 

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