Changes and transitions: dealing with emotions

"Transitions are almost always signs of growth, but they can bring feelings of loss. To get somewhere new, we may have to leave somewhere else behind." - Fred Rogers 

Transitions = Grief Process

This semester is a time of transition for me.  How about you?  Transition is always, as Fred Rogers said, a kind of loss.  I’m giving up some things and gaining other things (like becoming a certified supervisor).  Maybe, like me, you are getting older, and are changing the way you handle activities and responsibilities.

Expats, people who I often hang out with, experience loss through transition quite often.  The simplest kind is an example:  guests, family and friends, come and then go, sometimes multiple times a year.  Then. There is a grief process.  But there are more kinds of changes: job transitions, moving, saying goodbye to old - or newly made - friends.  Lots of times my expat friends must suddenly move away.  Sometimes we do not realize the goodbye has happened until after people are gone and we have to work backwards through our mourning process.

A matter of life, and death

Unfortunately, life happens to all of us, and that means death, as well.  For me, I have been faced with death a lot lately.  These situations are heavy transitions, full of grief; the mourning is much deeper, much longer.

Whatever the transition, whether small or heavy, we must work through the stages of grief based on the Kubler-Ross Model, so that we can really function well in life.  This means we much actually face the situation, the feelings of anger, disbelief, the deep sadness we might feel, so that we can begin to try and live again. It’s won’t be a linear process, but a back and for of all those emotions.  Emotions are good; they are what make us human.  We shouldn’t be afraid to cry with our friends who are mourning.  In fact it may encourage them, and even help them feel that we are a “small part” of their grief process.  When you have a transition, take your time and feel your feelings when you grieve a loss.

Lessons learned

The lesson for my friends as expats is that all of us have to work through our grief.  A lot of our anger that we experience may not really about the immediate situation, but might be about the grief of Life-change:  moving away from home, losing identity (especially for trailing spouses), having to say goodbye to yet another friend. These are a few good examples of reasons to stop and grieve, stop and feel, stop and reflect.  

Then, of course, there is the transition that everyone experiences from time to time., such as job change, family constellation change, retirement, and so on.  All those need to be worked through, even smaller changes: change from school to work, or even a job promotion, or a change of work space.

Therefore, when you are surprised by your anger or sadness regarding a transition, stop and reflect.  Work through the emotion and discover the reason, so that you might be a more effective, not a reactive, person.  But remember that the transitions, as Mr. Rogers said, are also signs of growth, so be reassured.

Have a great week, despite your changes and transitions.

Patricia Jehle