Job Seekers of Montclair
Making Sense of This Life Change
We all need strategies for coping with the difficult, painful and confusing times in our lives—times when things change.

Few of us ever really stop to reflect on the waves of change we experience. We don't really know how to move through changes. We try to adjust quickly—move on—get over it and don't permit ourselves to feel the emotions that accompany change.

In the sense that we are all emotional beings, emotions are neither good nor bad. Sadness, anger, anxiety, joy and happiness are all a part of the human experience. Let yourself feel and try not to judge yourself in the process.

Right now, what is your life situation? Stop for a moment and think about the events that have brought change into your life in the past year? What are the areas in your life where change is evident? They might include:

  • Loss of relationships—death of a spouse or loved one, perhaps even a pet; a good friend moved away.
  • Changes at home—a change in marital status, illness, moving to a new town or home, the birth of children or grandchildren, an empty nest.
  • Changes in work and finances—retirement or any change in job status: a decrease or even an increase in income, a lay off, the pressure of loans or mortgages, a block in career mobility.

In his book "TRANSITIONS," Bill Bridges tells us about the three stages we move through as we experience a change or as he calls it—transition. Think about the changes you've experienced or are about to experience. Do you relate to or identify with any of the following stages or emotions?

Stages in Transitions

1. Endings — disengagement or disenchantment. Separating and letting go of an old identify or situation. Breaking old connections. Saying good-bye to a role, person or situation. Feelings of shock, sadness, anger, depression and betrayal may result.
2. Neutral Zone — disorientation and neutrality. Being in limbo. A sense that you are not what you were, yet not knowing who or what you will become. An in-between state that may bring on feelings of emptiness, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty.
3. Beginnings — re-engagement and activity. Taking meaningful action again. Getting involved. Feelings of calm, excitement, energy, relief, gratitude may result.

We move through these stages each time we experience a change. With small changes we may move quickly. For more significant changes the process could take years. And sometimes just as we think we have transitioned to a new beginning, we find ourselves recycling back to anxiety and uncertainty. Transitions are like riding a roller coaster — we feel highs and lows when we least expect it.

As you move through your current life transition, here are some coping strategies you might consider:

1. Take your time — Your outer life can change quickly, but it takes time for your heart to catch up to your head. You cannot rush the inner process. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to grieve for a loss or absorb the intense feelings that change. It is normal.

2. Arrange temporary structures — Set a weekly date with friends, grieve with those you trust, sit quietly and think about the changes that occurred. Take walks, keep a journal, or join an exercise class. When we feel unsettled, we need structure and support to steady us as we free fall.

3. Don't act for the sake of action — Avoid the temptation to do something — anything. Think about what you need to learn here. Complete the transition process; don't abort it through premature action. You need to do the emotional homework. There are no shortcuts. The intensity will subside, but only after you let yourself move through it.

4. Recognize why you are uncomfortable — Distress is a sign that things are changing. Expect anxiety, expect others to be threatened by your changes, expect old fears to be awakened, expect not everyone to understand. All of these are very important to the process.

A life transition is a kind of buried rite of passage. The neutral zone — the time between the old life and the new—is a particularly rich time to reflect...a time of great insights, a time to ask yourself:

Who are you? What are you afraid will happen? What are you attached to that you no longer need? What's next for you?

The next time you "introduce" yourself at a JobSeekers of Montclair meeting, share what you are feeling. It can be a healing experience for you and other attendees who are feeling or have felt similar emotions. No one will be surprised.

In our culture the ending and beginning usually stand side by side with no room for a neutral zone in between. We move from one job to another, one town to another, one relationship to another. Our society is not a one that understands grief, nor does it embrace those who are grieving. We've been taught to "sweep it under the rug and get on with life."

If we don't allow ourselves to move through the transition and acknowledge and feel our emotions rather than bury them, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Unresolved feelings never die. They come up later in life when we least expect it — often at inappropriate times. Permit yourself to "feel" and move through the emotional stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Great figures in our history have groped through the darkness — the neutral zone: Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King — all have benefited from permitting themselves to be unsure and anxious — experiencing loss and uncertainty — before determining their next steps.

This week, think about the changes you have experienced and may yet experience this year. As scary as it might seem, permit yourself to feel the unpleasant as well as the pleasant emotions that accompany change. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do one thing every day that scares you!" It's okay to feel scared or out of control. Acknowledge those feelings and share them with people you trust. It is all part of the human process.

Recommended Reading:
Transition—Making Sense of Life Changes (1980)
The Way of Transition—Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments (2001)

Both titles are by William Bridges. Read them in order. The first explains the stages in each transition we face and the emotions that accompany each stage. The second is a personal account of the author's transitions in life.

© 2002 by Judy Nighland, President of "It Takes All Kinds" in Bloomfield, NJ. Edited by Nancy Mandell.