Difficult Life Transitions


In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.from Dante Alighieri, Inferno

None of us will avoid having to cope with difficult life transitions. In fact, transitions don’t even have to be negative in order to be difficult. The simple fact that we are human renders us predisposed towards viewing any new situation with a certain amount of anxiety and discomfort. Life transitions force us to “reboot” our habits, routines, and expectations. When we have eagerly anticipated the transition, such as in getting married, becoming a new parent, or getting a new job, we might be surprised and dismayed to discover that we are struggling to adjust to the changes. Unplanned, negative and sudden changes are jarring in their own right.

Some types of difficult life transitions

  • marriage
  • breakup or divorce
  • retirement
  • becoming a parent
  • infertility
  • empty nest syndrome
  • getting tenure
  • not getting tenure
  • becoming ill or disabled
  • reaching a “milestone” age (eg., 30, 40, 50…)
  • getting a new job
  • losing a job
  • moving across town or cross-country
  • graduation

Each of these transitions, both the positive and the negative, requires us to let go of a prior mode of living and to embrace something that is new and unfamiliar. We can feel as though the rug has been pulled out from beneath our feet, and we often struggle before we regain a comfortable and solid footing.

What attitude we have about the changes we are facing can make an enormous difference in how smoothly and quickly we adjust. Sometimes people get stuck in thoughts such as “This shouldn’t have happened,” or “This isn’t fair,” or “I can’t cope with this.” Denial, anger, and despair create suffering that gets heaped on top of the already-difficult change. Therapy can help you defuse from these types of thoughts so you don’t weigh yourself down carrying them or create new havoc in your life through unhealthy attempts to avoid or numb them out.