Transition as Death: 4 Steps to Healing Old Losses

Transitions are about death and rebirth. We don’t usually think of change in such drastic terms, and part of the reason our lives and emotional states can become so disrupted is because of our distance from death, from mourning and celebration, from chaos. 

As defined by William Bridges, in Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, a change is the actual thing that shifts in your life: divorce, getting fired, a promotion, pregnancy, moving homes, graduating from college. Transition is the emotional and mental experience that accompanies the change; the inner “reorientation” that we go through. Every transition involves an ending, a period of chaos, and a beginning. In this post, we will deal with loss. 

We often move through life without acknowledging that we’ve lost something in a transition. Even if the transition feels positive, like a new job, new home, or new relationship, we’re losing an old identity in the shift. Bridges says that “those who [choose] to make the changes that put them into transition [tend] to minimize the importance of endings; it [is] almost as if the act of acknowledging an ending as painful [is] an admission that the change triggering the transition [is] a mistake" (9). Conversely, if the change is sudden and not born out of choice, it is harder to acknowledge that there could be a positive new beginning around the corner.

Our circumstances, way of being, and the way we live become our identity. When a change occurs, there is a shift in our circumstances and we lose part of our identity. That change has potential to spur a whole set of transformations we initially fail to see. For example, in a new relationship, while we may be excited about sharing our life with another special someone, we now have a new priority that didn’t exist before. We have to consider someone else’s needs and desires. We have to allot our time differently, perhaps de-prioritizing friend or solo time. We have to discuss day-to-day and big life decisions with our partner, where previously, we only considered ourselves.

We can mourn these things. We can admit that they are upsetting to us. If we don’t, they can continue to affect us when present moment happenings unconsciously remind us of hurts of the past. 

Step 1: Identify transitions from childhood to now

Categories of transitions could be: 

  • Physical
  • Relational
  • Places
  • Groups
  • Interests
  • Responsibilities
  • Jobs
  • Beliefs

Step 2: Notice patterns in how you deal with endings

  • Were you sad for a long time?
  • Did you pretend nothing happened?
  • Did you prepare yourself by distancing yourself from people? 
  • Did the end feel abrupt? 
  • Did the change feel gradual and unimportant?
  • Did you feel active in the change?
  • Did you feel like events happened to you?

Step 3: Explore which endings still feel tender, emotional, or open

Go through your list and notice where you’re still holding on to a person, feeling, place, etc.

Step 4: Acknowledge and heal hurts from the past

  • Write a letter to someone no longer in your life and throw it away
  • Make a phone call to an ex
  • Write an obituary for your old job 
  • Visit a place, like the house you grew up in
  • Meditate on how you’ve transformed in positive ways
  • Write in your journal about your sadness, compassion, or nostalgia for childhood
  • Listen to a song that reminds you of a time in your past

If you feel that a transition is holding you back or negatively affecting your life, consider attending one of my workshops or working with me one-on-one. Message me to see if more personalized counseling is right for you.