Major Transitions in Life

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Major life transitions and change

Change is unavoidable, it is the nature of being human, whether it is being part of a family, an intimate relationship, the workforce, school, university, friendships or the myriad of other changes which occur close to us or occur thousands of miles away. The back and forth of life and the multiple transitions, means that at times, we may not even be aware of the change.

Change is sometimes carefully planned and at other times it is completely unexpected. There are times when we look forward to change with great joyful anticipation and there may be other times when we think about change with dread and fear. There are also times, when you may avoid change, it may feel too unexpected, unfamiliar, too painful or overwhelming and you may feel that you do not know how to manage the feelings and thoughts that arise from the change or the idea of change.

Everyone’s experience of change is individual, with some people embracing a change, which may be experienced by another person as hard and unfamiliar. 

What are some of the major life transitions?

  • Adolescence
  • Parenthood
  • Separation or divorce
  • Young adulthood
  • Marriage 
  • First serious relationship
  • Moving home
  • Changing jobs
  • Moving country, state or community
  • Sexuality
  • Late adulthood
  • Betrayal
  • Retirement
  • Death and illness
  • Mid-life changes (e.g. menopause)
  • Disability

Some changes can result in feelings and thoughts of grief, loss or relief. For example, for some women, the experience of menopause can result in the realisation that they will never have a child, for others it may mean the liberation from the fear of pregnancy. In understanding how you manage change and increasing your awareness and skills around your capacity to manage change more effectively can result in a shift in how you experience the change.

There are some changes that we have no control over and this may include events, changes to our health, our relationships, illness and death. It can also include people around us, who we may consistently hope will change but do not. The things, which we have no control over may support feelings and thoughts of anger, jealousy, despair, resentment, amongst other thoughts or feelings. These responses do not work in our favour but lead us to feel stuck and only more fearful or resentful of the things, we cannot change. The only thing which we have control over is how we manage change ourselves. 

Sexuality

Learning about, becoming comfortable with and expressing your sexuality often takes time for everyone. Sexual orientation is diverse and there are many different types. It can feel confusing, complicated and uncomfortable when beginning to work out and express your sexuality. You may be aware that the views held by family, friends or colleagues may initially prevent you from openly identifying and/or expressing your sexuality. You may feel peer pressure to express your sexuality in a particular way, which may not feel comfortable and is confusing for you.

It is important that you give yourself time to work things through and sharing you worries with someone you trust and who you know is not going to judge you, can feel comforting and reassuring. Once you come to terms with your sexuality, it can be liberating. You can feel re-engaged with the people around you, which feels positive and energising. Sexuality is a central part of who we are and is a part of how we express ourselves in the world.

There may be times when trying to make sense of your sexuality can feel confusing and part of the journey may be experienced as the push to break away from family, friends and collogues. It may take time in taking up a position in which you have come to terms with your sexuality. It is important that you take the time to sort things out for yourself and look after yourself (inclusive of your health and your wellbeing), as self care can be easily forgotten when people are experiencing significant change or transitions in their lives

The journey in coming to terms with your sexuality is different for everyone. It is important to know that many negative feelings and thoughts will pass, once you have come to terms with your sexuality. It is common for many people to experience periods of transition and change in relation to their sexuality over their lifetime and during these times, the following may be experienced:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Anger
  • Loss of confidence
  • Grief
  • Loss
  • Shame
  • Distress
  • Stress
  • Confusion
  • Denial
  • Increased drug and/or alcohol use
  • Feeling isolated

What can help during these times

Sharing your thoughts and feelings with a person you trust, is not judgmental and who understands.

It may be helpful to catch up with your GP or a health service to organise an appointment with a counsellor, who can work through your worries and concerns with you.

If you feel like there is a breakdown in communication with family and/or friends, encouraging them to work through what they are experiencing with a counsellor can be useful in increasing their understanding, decreasing their fears and restarting communication with each other.

Inviting your parents, family and/or friends into a counselling session following them having the opportunity to speak with a counsellor to explore their fears, can also assist in reconnecting.

Contact GriefLine on the respective state hotline number to talk through your concerns with a skilled volunteer counsellor.

Tips on transitions

How do we separate from things beyond our control?

Feelings of anger, resentment, fear, denial, blame, despair and other negative feelings or thoughts may result in us feeling engaged with what is happening and, in this way, may also lead to us feeling or thinking that we have some sort of control, but the opposite is true. 

Step one

Allowing yourself to sit with the knowledge that this is outside of your control. If you find yourself drifting back to thinking what you could have done differently or engaging with strong negative thoughts or feelings, bring yourself back to the knowledge that this is outside of your control and continue to allow yourself the freedom of this knowledge. During this time, allow yourself to engage in an activity, which you enjoy, reading, gaming, going for a walk, swimming, cooking, catching up with friends or whatever you enjoy and brings you pleasure. This activity re-connects you with the things in your life that you do have control over.

Step two

Once you have had the opportunity to try out step one, then ask yourself, what are the things which you could take responsibility for in this situation where you feel you don’t have control. They may be very small things, which you may have overlooked as a result of what has felt like the enormity of the transition or the change. Start tracking all the small changes you can make and the small changes you have control over. Remind yourself of the other transitions and changes you have worked through in the past. 

Step three

Some people find it useful to keep a journal and write down the small changes they are making and achieving. The more small changes you make, the less stuck you will feel and the more you will have less need to focus on the negative thoughts and feels you have experienced as a result of the change or transition. If you find yourself, wandering back to these feelings or thoughts, bring yourself back to the positives, which you have achieved.  Remind yourself of the changes you have worked through in the past and write these down as a reminder of your strength to cope, work through and make sense of things in the past, which were originally difficult or complicated.

Grief and loss

There will be some transitions and changes, which result in grief and loss. Allow yourself to sit with these feelings and thoughts of grief and loss and don’t push them away or deny them. 

Connect with friends or colleagues who you know will be supportive. Recognising the difficult truth that transitions and change are all a part of the natural life cycle and to be worked through rather than thinking of it as a hurdle, which has to be pushed through. Be prepared. For those life transitions you can plan for get organised and well prepared. For example, this may mean planning well ahead for your retirement or seeking help to look at the impact the change might have on your well-being.

View transitions as new life stages and an opportunity to learn and grow, find out more about yourself and those around you. 

If you are struggling and feeling a sense of loss and grief about the changes or are wanting to work through these thoughts and feelings, contact GriefLine through your local state hotline number, and speak with one of our volunteer counsellors to discuss the different options available nationally

GriefLine provides anonymous and confidential telephone support. Please call the the GriefLine Helpline in your local state.