When change happens we often react by attempting to move on or start something new as if nothing has happened. Perversely, this strategy very often makes it harder to let go of the past, not easier.
Major change impacts our lives in three ways. The first two are the change itself and the effect on our circumstances. The biggest impact, and the part we so often neglect, is the process of psychological adaptation to the change.
When our circumstances change the focus tends to be on the physical and practical aspects of the new situation, but we also have to adapt psychologically. This can take weeks, months or even years, and it has little to do with how others see the change.
It is a phase known as transition, an entirely personal process, which involves letting go of how things were, accepting how things are, and anticipating how they will be. It involves adjustment, acknowledgement, and in some cases healing.
Transition is unavoidable and necessary, yet so often, instead of allowing ourselves time to adjust and move towards acceptance, we attempt to hasten the process with plans, distractions and even denial.
It doesn’t matter whether the change is welcome or unwelcome, anticipated or unexpected, transition requires us to take time, and we gradually and naturally adapt. Most of the time.
Sometimes though we get stuck. Unwanted feelings like regret or anger, pain or guilt, cloud our perceptions and push us into denial. As we attempt to ignore our inner needs by refusing to fully acknowledge what we are going through, we simply make matters worse for ourselves.
It takes as long as it takes
The overall message here is; take your time. It’s natural to want to restore a sense of balance and normality when change hits us, but therein lies the problem. Psychological acceptance and adaptation to changed circumstances takes time, but there is no timetable. No matter how often you hear things like “time to move on”, you can’t rush transition. It is an individual process.
The other key point about time is that, if you patient and allow yourself to learn and grow from the experience. Rather than struggling to recreate what was lost, save your strength for what lies ahead. Remember the words of Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”.
Here’s what to do
- Embrace the change by acknowledging that it’s bound to feel odd and that you’ll need time to adjust.
- Honour the past, rather than rejecting it. Whether good or bad, it is something you have lived through and part of your experience, simply accept it. Fighting prolongs the negative feelings.
- If you can’t let it go think of preparing a ritual of thanks and acknowledgement. Sometimes marking the end of one phase makes it possible for us to move more freely to the next.
- Give yourself time, and while you are waiting accept that you’ll feel some ups and downs, be patient.
- Be kind to yourself and avoid pressure to change or ‘get over it’, especially from others.
- Have faith, it will get better. Take care of yourself so that you are ready for opportunity when it comes along.
Bridges, W., (2004), Transitions; Making Sense of Life’s Changes, De Capo Press, Cambridge, MA.
Roose-Evans, J., (1995), Passages of the Soul; Rediscovering the Importance of Rituals in Everyday Life, Element Books, London.