“I need to make a change.” “Something needs to change.” “I don’t know what to change.”
In order for a change to happen, there are 3 phases to go through, according to William Bridges’ book Transitions. The first is an ending, then comes a muddled-up period of things like confusion, growth, and uncertainty which gives way to the third phase, a beginning.
Today, let’s start with endings. We often are so focused on the fact that we are transitioning TO something that we forget to start by looking at what is ending. When we ignore what is ending, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity for closure.
Sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to grieve an ending because we think it is shameful or unproductive or otherwise frowned upon. We may already be in the beginning phase of something wonderful and, therefore, think it is pointless to look back. For example, when a woman enters motherhood she may be unprepared for some of the feelings that arise once the reality of the responsibility of a child sets in. She may not be willing to admit that she cries for the freedom she once had, or envies her childless friends who stop by for a visit and then head out for an evening of exciting plans. This is very confusing for someone who always wanted to be a mother, and who is in love with this sweet little being. BUT AN ENDING LEFT UNEXAMINED NEVER GOES AWAY!! Until the sadness over her loss of freedom is confronted, it will only start popping up in other areas of her life for years to come.
Another example is the transition of a long-anticipated career move. A fabulous promotion or an entirely novel and exciting career is a great beginning. But let’s look at what could have possibly ended. Maybe this promotion means travelling on alternate weekends which could end a tradition of Friday family movie nights. Or a new career could mean working solo from a home office instead of in a building filled with colleagues and friends. Though the shift is full of enormous potential, there is something to say good-bye to.
Even if we are leaving behind a totally undesirable situation (an abusive relationship, a rough neighbourhood or an uninspiring job) our bodies and minds need to come to terms with this change in daily routine. Human beings have this way of becoming so conformed to a state that movements in this state (be they tremors or ground-breaking quakes) can do a number on us. Acknowledging the goodbye is beneficial; an unresolved ending will show up over and over again.
In general, we tend to deal with endings in characteristic ways. Some of us (me included) are clingers – holding on to the goodbye and then looking back constantly over our shoulders. Others are avoiders – they take off before the word “goodbye” can even be uttered. One way isn’t better than the other; they both have pros and cons.
When I say I’m a clinger, this is what I mean. When I was a toddler and a young child, I cried every time someone left our house after a gathering. I had to say goodbye to every room of every house I lived in when we moved (and we moved a lot). I have had a tough time letting go of friendships that have morphed into distant acquaintances. I am hyper-sensitive to changes in seasons, noting with hawk-like intensity the change in daylight, the changes in the earth and temperature differences. I used to get anxious about ringing in the new year; in fact, I never was keen about going out and celebrating it because it was such an odd feeling to be standing on the brink of a brand new calendar year and to leave behind 365 days of another year. These are just a few examples off the top of my head.
The good news is this has settled down! I don’t cry now when people leave my house. I may wish the event didn’t have to end but I have learned to quickly turn that around by planning another one! The last house I moved out of I said a “thank you and goodbye” at the front door, appreciative of all it had given me. But no tears. The changes in seasons still make me feel unsettled for a period but looking forward to plans I make usually squelches the yuckies. And committing to my goals and watching my children grow make new years more welcome.
Understanding how I deal with endings is a tool I use to navigate my transitions. I can look at the great parts of how I say goodbye and help myself deal with the rest of it. That’s why I’m encouraging you to do the same.
For today’s task, think about (and write about if you can) the way YOU say goodbye. How do YOU say goodbye – to relationships, to seasons, to celebratory occasions, to homes…to anything, really? Go as far back into your childhood as you can – think about major events (parents’ divorce, moving homes, graduating high school etc) and minor events (haircuts, switching grocery stores etc). Ask yourself:
- How have I dealt with endings in the past?
- How do I deal with goodbyes now?
- What are some of the benefits that I see in how I end things?
- What might not be serving me in my goodbye process?
I hope this task is as revealing for you as it was for me! If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. You can comment below or click here to send me an email.