Series: Coping with Transitions in Life
“It isn’t so much that hard times are coming; the change observed is mostly soft times going” ~ Groucho Marx (cited in The New International Websters Pocket Quotation Dictionary, 1997: 36)
Transition is often seen as being synonymous with change. Transition as a term tends to have a more organic quality to it (as distinct from a mechanical quality), reflecting in human terms a change in a person’s life situation and journey through life. Transition can also mean something different to being transformed, although transformation can and often does occur for many people. Not everyone becomes transformed into someone positive and new because of changing situations or circumstances.
Some people cling desperately to the world that they know, to their habits and patterns of thinking and behaviour, even if the world and many people in it are changing around them. They are likely to have lots of difficult problems in life, including social and emotional ones. Some people have change suddenly thrust upon them so much so that they have little time to effectively adapt and harness their individual resources. Some people thrive with change, and some may even lead change for themselves and others.
Transition and change are an inevitable part of human lives. Our lives are ever changing especially in our highly technological, highly communicable, and consumerist world. In any case our physical bodies are constantly changing from birth until death with regeneration and degeneration a cyclical part of our existence. Recent research indicates that even our brains are ever changing adapting in response our experiences of the world around us and also gradually deteriorating as we age.
Some transitions or change can be quite sudden or unexpected and can be stressful (e.g., death of a spouse or child) or exciting (e.g., finding out you are pregnant or gaining an award or a prize). Some transitions can be gradual, almost unnoticeable or insidious. Even with a change that is exciting or wonderful, change can still be stressful (e.g., problems with a pregnancy, change in workload).
Adjustments in one’s life are often needed, and this can be uncomfortable especially if adjustments need to be made quickly. Some people are scared of losing control of their life situation when a change or transition occurs. Roles and responsibilities can change — a new mother or father suddenly have this little baby to cope with for example, and work involves caring and nurturing and protecting — changing nappies, making decisions about cloth or disposable nappies and the effects on the environment, feeding, burping, comforting and cuddling, strollers, travelling arrangements are just a few of the things that new parents suddenly become confronted with.
Many people who retire hold wonderful fantasies about moving to the coast, leisure and travelling. However unless they have a strong financial base, a reduction in money may require a reduction in existing lifestyle and certainly the more extravagant of their dreams. Farmers too have difficulties in retirement transition and intergenerational transfer of their farms. Often family tensions become almost intolerable as farm succession issues go to court and family members are pitched against one another. Similar transition issues also occur in family businesses.
Obviously major transitions occur for all people throughout life including various transitions during childhood development, transition from a child to adolescence, then young adulthood, middle age, old age and older old age. Women also experience menopause in particular in their 40’s and 50’s, and changes in behaviour and thinking occur for many women in addition to physical problems such as ‘hot flushes’ and osteoporosis.
Men have been particularly susceptible to cardiovascular diseases and prostate cancer as they age into their 50’s and 60’s and to prevent the risk, major changes are required in their lifestyles including altering factors such as diet, exercise, tobacco use, and ensuring regular health checks and so on. Some people have made almost miraculous changes from being say a criminal to a respectable member of a community.
In this series, we investigate the psychological and emotional impact of change; outline both effective and ineffective options to cope with it; and explore two case studies of people who have effectively deal with transitions in their lives.