Change is unavoidable. Sometimes it is planned and other times it is unavoidable, and sometimes, with change comes discomfort and uncertainty.

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 thousands of miles away. The back and forth of life and its 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 dont know how to manage the feelings and thoughts that arise from the change.

Everyone’s experience of change is individual, one person might embrace a change, while another might find it 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.  Increasing your awareness and skills around your capacity to manage change more effectively can result in a positive shift in your experience of 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 and 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 how to express your sexuality. You may be confronted by views held by family, friends or colleagues that initially prevent you from openly identifying or expressing your sexuality. You may feel peer pressure to express your sexuality in a particular way, which might not feel comfortable and is confusing for you.

It is important to give yourself time to work things through.  Sharing your worries with someone you trust, who 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 colleagues. It may take time to establish a position where you have come to terms with your sexuality. It is important not to rush as you sort things out for yourself.  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 should in time, pass.

It is common for many people to experience periods of transition and change in relation to their sexuality over their lifetime.  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 with a counsellor on their experience can be useful in increasing their understanding, decreasing their fears and restarting communication with you.

Inviting your parents, family and/or friends into a counselling session after they have had the opportunity to speak with their own counsellor to explore their fears, can also assist in reconnecting.

Contact Griefline on the national toll-free number to talk through your concerns with a skilled volunteer.

Tips on transitions

How do we separate from things beyond our control?

Negative feelings and thoughts including anger, resentment, fear, denial, blame and despair may result in us feeling engaged and in control of what is happening, 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 about 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.  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 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 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 with less need to focus on the negative thoughts and feelings you have experienced as a result of the change or transition. If you find yourself, wandering back to negative 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. Recognise the difficult truth that transitions and change are all a part of the natural life cycle.  They should be worked through rather than pushed through or jumped over.  Be prepared and get organised for the life transitions you can plan for. For example, plan well ahead for your retirement and seek help to identify the impacts of the changes 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 the national toll-free number, and speak with one of our volunteer counsellors to discuss the different options available nationally.