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How to Deal with Change During Major Life Transitions

March 25th, 2019 · adapting to change, how to deal with change

We live in a time of rapid flux, but major life events, especially, can leave us wondering how to deal with change.

how to deal with change

We’re always dealing with rapid changes on an on-going basis in our time. But those changes can become particularly demanding when they’re part of a major life transition.
Just what are these “major life transitions” that we’re talking about? They can be a very wide range of things, good or bad. Here is a very partial list:
  • leaving school or university;
  • retirement;
  • marriage or divorce;
  • children leaving home;
  • changes in job or work environment; and,
  • many other types of major life change…

The Struggle with Uncertainty and Feeling Powerless

A key part of the difficulty that major life transitions create for us stems from the uncertainty they generate. When we go through a major life transition, we may well confront a situation where we can’t be fully sure what will happen.

We know that our mind may well fill in the uncertainty with a great deal of negative foreboding. Modern research has shown that the mind tends to intensely dislike uncertain situations. Evolution has taught us that uncertainty equals danger, and our biology is strongly motivated to avoid uncertain situations — the so called negativity bias identified by U. Penn. Prof. Paul Rozin and others.

Uncertainty biases the brain to expect the worst of possible outcomes. Therefore, anything we can do to build a sense of certainty and control in dealing with a major life transition enhances our sense of “being in the driver’s seat”. That reduces our inward predisposition to pessimism and impotence.

Yet, what about the situations in life where there is genuine uncertainty that simply can’t be managed or controlled away?

How to Manage Change — Accepting the Limits of Our Control

It can be very easy to tell ourselves that we have a major life transition under control, when we’re dealing with it. However, it can be vitally important to recognize when it’s not.

For instance, we may move toward parenthood, divorce or retirement feeling strongly that we have a plan, and that everything is under control. We work hard on carrying our plan out. Yet we may find that there are times when things just don’t follow the plan.

There may be a time when we have to admit that we can’t completely anticipate or control what is happening. To live in denial may ultimately make our situation worse, compounding anxiety and depression.

Being Grounded in What Really Matters

Often the uncertainty created by major life changes can be difficult and painful. Yet, as Jungian James Hollis reminds us, these crises take us into the unexplored parts of ourselves. Often they can lead us to the realization that we have outgrown our old view of ourselves, and the story that we have told ourselves about our lives. They can make us realize that we need a new and different understanding of who we are.

It’s essential to understand and be compassionate with ourselves as we seek to figure out how to deal with change. This is especially true when that change deals with something truly important in our lives, as is always the case with major life transitions.

Working with a depth psychotherapist can be an important way to increase a sense of compassion for yourself, and can also be a positive source of help in the midst of dealing with a major life transition. Depth psychotherapy can bring a renewed understanding of who we are, and can assist with new approaches to the challenges brought by major life changes.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: karludeman (Creative Commons Licence)

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