Updated: Nov 8, 2021
Breathe. We will explain how it works in this article, and maybe you can figure it out for yourself.
Changes are a constant in life. We know that some Life Changes can put us into Transition, but are we aware of it, and do we know how to recognise it early on?
Let us begin with the differences between the two concepts and how they interrelate. Life Changes are situational shifts in work or life that takes from 3-6 months to adjust to the alterations in our living space (read more in the post “Can We Really Sit Through Change?”). A Transition is a type of change, and it is a process over time. It includes not only the common Life Changes such as graduation, job entry, marriage, divorce, living together, job changes, moves, childbirth, bereavement, retirement, or a career change (among others). But, also, subtle changes, such as the loss of career and life aspirations, life dreams or the no-occurrence of expected life events, such as a career promotion that tends to never come through or not finding a partner or not experiencing childbirth or parenting when those wanted by the individual. In other words, a Transition necessitates “the abandonment of one set of assumptions and the development of a fresh set to enable the individual to cope with the new altered space” (Parker, 1971), alongside alterations in social relationships will take place. Indeed, it is a process that can take months to years to complete for effective adaptation.
Briefly, a Transition is a psychological process with its own pace, dependent on individual differences. We must not generalise it. Instead, we must respect each experience as unique, holding space for people to go through it. A Transition is the effect of significant changes, to the individual, in relationships, routines, assumptions and roles, as a consequence of a stressful Life Change(s) (life event or non-event). It presupposes personal discontinuity, identity change, acquisition of new assumptions, new behaviours or behavioural adjustments to novel situations with both positive effects and negative consequences. Metaphorically, a Transition can be compared to rebirth. It describes the process of letting go of the way life used to be, to then start a journey to create a new identity and life chapter.
Bridges Transition Model
William Bridges describes Transitions periods as lifelong processes of “endings and beginnings, with emptiness and germination in between” (Bridges 2004, p. 174) essential to human growth, frequently in adulthood and far often deeper than imagined. A Transition is a psychological process of disengagement from the old to the new and then embracing and identifying oneself with the new identity. Bridges’ Transition Model points out that Transitions have three overlapping phases: Endings, Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings. Interestingly, Transitions begin with Endings.
“Endings” are the clearing process of “letting go” of the old, externally and internally within the connections that define us as “who we are”, so we can embrace the new. Bridges argued people tend to avoid them out of fear; because there is a sense of falling apart, as it awakens memories of hurt and shame from the past, whereas Brammer & Abrego (1981) refer to it as potentially traumatic. We also argue that it is so, in part because up to now individuals had to go through the experience all alone in the dark, as scientific literature about adult development is insufficiently widespread and culture has suppressed its importance. So we have ended up unware and uninformed about this massive human process.
The experience of “Endings” comprises five aspects: 1) disengagement, 2) dismantling, 3) disidentification, 4) disenchantment and 5) disorientation. For example, divorce, death, job change, move, illness and other events, disengage us from the environment in which we have known ourselves. Dismantling is what initiates the Transitions process. Once removed from the social and interpersonal contexts that gave us a sense of identity; ahead remains the “dismantling” of old habits, behaviours and the fashions that made us who we are. This implies a process of mourning and confusion. The disidentification process is the inner side of the previous, as losing ways of defining ourselves towards a new identity can be often distressing and a source of panic. Disenchantment signifies a limbo between two worlds and the realization that one’s reality has been somehow an illusion. Many Transitions also begin with disenchantment. The lesson from this aspect is not about learning the new, but about unlearning that a significant part of one’s reality was its own “illusionary” construction. Therefore, the disenchanted person moves on, recognizing that the old views had their own time however inadequate to the new future. Finally, disorientation is full of meaning but only recognised when in retrospective. People are often lost, confused and without a sense of direction. It’s a time of emptiness and nothingness that activates old fears and fantasies about death and abandonment (p. 123).
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
II. The Neutral Zone
The second phase of this model is the “Neutral Zone”. The “Neutral zone” is a time of chaos and aloneness, but also renewal. It is where inner reorientation and realignment from one life phase to another occurs. For self-transformation, people tend to have the need to be alone and away from distractions. This is a phase of emptiness, when in between the old and the new life, some people experience certain types of awareness that makes them wonder if they are going crazy or becoming enlightened, although either way they are not available to discuss it with anyone. Lack of guidance or validation of this process is experienced as fearful and uneasy times but nonetheless, dismissing this aspect is to miss the chance for an expanded sense of reality as to develop a more profound sense of purpose. It is a time to review and organise the past as much as it is to discover what one really wants. On the bright side, this is also the space where the new self grows.
The Neutral zone is a temporary time of chaos, aloneness, and renewal, where inner reorientation and realignment from one life phase to another occurs. It is actually where the true Transitions occurs. The Transitions process will be concluded with a New Beginning.
III. “New Beginnings”
“New Beginnings” start genuinely from within, psychologically the return to oneself involves the integration of old elements with the new identity for a new chapter in life. The successful completion of the Transitions process presupposes the individual to create a New Life Purpose and a New Identity. With it the acquisition of new assumptions, new behaviours, new relationships and routines.
CAN YOU RELATE?
When did your last Transition take place? Can you identify the three overlapping stages of Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginning from your own experience?
It may seem complex, but Transitions are probably the most significant developmental challenge we go through as adult individuals. They are unavoidable, stress-inducing experiences that, unsupported, defy the individual’s functioning, health, and sense of self-worth! Despite this, going through it can result in an opportunity to actualize our Human Potential.
However difficult, a Transitions has an evolutionary function, it is a developmental task that human beings endure and upon which the successful outcome of the process is genuinely creating: 1) a New Identity and 2) a New Life Purpose to the next chapter of your life, which must be encouraged, supported and reinforced. We believe you can make it happen no matter how challeging it is.
SO HOW DO WE BEGIN?
New Beginnings will take place only after going through the turmoil of Endings and emptiness of the Neutral Zone phases. They cannot be made to happen by word or act because it is an organic process that must be nurtured, it has its own pace and does not comply with implementation schedules. New beginnings cannot be forced, they can only be encouraged, supported and reinforced. You will be ready for one once you are ready to make the emotional commitment to do things in a new way and start seeing yourself as a new person. In essence, New Beginnings involve new understandings, new values, new attitudes, new assumptions, a new purpose and all that will sustain the new identity. Regardless, we will walk with you all along fostering your development and self-agency.
Beginnings may take place slowly, but if overlooked completely, new beginnings sometimes fail to take place at all, and people get lost wandering around somewhere in the ‘emptiness’ and ‘chaos’ of the Neutral Zone. The negative outcomes are the risks of psychological declines, which can compromise your life outcomes and ultimately your Full Potential as you are not actively searching to achieve it. Instead, we waste years struggling emotionally and cognitively with the 'unknown' – see a few examples.
- To name a few risks of psychological declines: severe crisis, errors, accidents, stress, anxiety and depression, low career prospects or unemployment, human dysfunction (e.g. addictions), or entering broken relationships, poor mental health and wellbeing, illness and disability, and poor decision-making which all together compromises functioning, good development and positive outlooks of life.
THE (MUCH-NEEDED) SUPPORT THROUGH A TRANSITION PROCESS
First, it is important you feel you have someone who understands what you are going through and helps you re-signify the experiences throughout the three phases – usually unknown up to then as new levels of awareness arise out of a Transition. Typically, societies have not spoken openly about nor have prepared us for it and remain as such. We will guide you throughout your process step-by-step, always fostering your Self-agency, which decreases stress and anxiety and puts you in control of your life. Our understanding is that people are not sick, they are just growing up towards health, and therefore, with guidance, they are the ones to make their own choices and informed decisions.
The overall process requires we assist you on how to:
Go through Endings acting intentionally to prevent the risks of psychological declines
Find out what your New Purpose is, based on a reflective study of your intrinsic values, potentialities and talents during the Neutral Zone
Design a Picture of what life is meant to become
Make action plans and a life plan
Implement your action plans with continued guidance to support effective decision-making toward your full potential
By working together, we break it down for you, step-by-step, simplifying it creatively along the way and honouring your needs, wants, and opportunities. Our support helps you manage effectively your Transition, after all this is your life and your legacy!
We want to ensure you are fully functioning, capable of effective decision-making toward your full potential in the new chapter of your life, a Healthy Person. That’s why we designed Life Change and Transitions Interventions Programmes, Psychometric Test, and Learning Events for both Individuals and Organisations.
Check out our Intervention Programme Manage Life Transitions - and arrange a FREE 30-minute consultation today to learn how we will support you.
Get specialised professional support for optimal functioning.
Learn new skills and be in control of your change process.
Make effective decisions for exceptional outcomes.
Reach your full potential.
Private and Confidential. We understand how sensitive it is to talk about it and experience it.
We recommend you our free eBook on The Healthy Person (get it here). In this believe-IN eBook, we discuss The Healthy Person characteristics alongside three difficulties that human beings must transcend to become healthier, based on Abraham H. Maslow research legacy and how those relate to Life Changes and Transitions.
To download your Free eBook Now, click here.
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