Recognize the 5 Stages of Life Transitions – Ep 41

What stage of your latest life transition are you in now?

Everyone goes through transitions in their lives. These transitions are sometimes forced on us due to difficult, possibly painful situations, such as a divorce or a layoff. When this happens, the journey we take to come out on the other side looks a lot like the stages of grief.

Building your Rich Life means not only going through these transitions mindfully but also being open to the opportunities that lie on the other side. The stages of a major life transition aren’t linear—sometimes, they aren’t even one-and-done—but almost everyone experiences some version of them.

The good news is that the stages are easy to remember because they’re the same as the ones Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined back in 1969. I’m going to walk you through each one here because identifying which stage you’re in at any given moment can help you understand why you’re reacting a certain way and what you might need in that moment to move toward acceptance and healing.

Let’s dig in.

In the depths of denial

We have a tendency to ruminate in denial for a little bit after we’re dealt a major life blow. It’s a coping mechanism, really: if we can pretend a change isn’t happening or imminent, that gives us more time to gradually come to terms with it and start processing.

Different people sink into their denial in different ways, including burying themselves in work or overconsuming, so as to distract from and numb the reality of the situation. In time, most of us begin to move on from this stage as the emotions we’ve been denying begin to rise up and force us to confront them.

Avoiding with anger

Where denial is a coping mechanism, the anger stage provides us with more of a masking effect, helping us to hide the onslaught of emotions, including a deep pain, that tends to set in. Often, we need an outlet for this anger—which may manifest as bitterness or resentment—so we direct it elsewhere, at the person we currently hold responsible for our position or even an inanimate object. Sure, our rational brains know it’s not on them, but the feelings are too intense to bow to rational thought at this point.

Some people skip over this stage, while others might remain here for a good chunk of time. Eventually, though, rational thought does start to seize back some control and the mask falls away, enabling us to feel the feelings.
Beginning to bargain
It’s completely normal to feel a sense of vulnerability and helplessness when you’re in the midst of a major life transition. Sometimes, it helps to imagine we can regain control or affect the outcome, and that’s where bargaining often comes in.

One almost foolproof way I’ve noticed to identify the bargaining stage is an excessive reliance on “what if” and “if only” statements. Additionally, people with strong spiritual beliefs might promise a higher power just about anything in return for relief from the pain and uncertainty of the situation.

Delving into depression

Where stages like anger and bargaining can feel like movement—we’re actively taking steps, even if they are steps to mask and postpone—depression feels more like quiet inaction. Sometimes, this life transition stage gives us time to work through our feelings in a healthier way. Other times, it amounts to isolation and avoidance.

Depression, whatever its cause, leaves people feeling overwhelmed, foggy, confused, and fatigued, and it might feel like the inevitable landing point for anyone going through a difficult transition. It’s important to remember that while this is a normal, natural part of the process, if you find yourself sinking too deep or staying too long, seeing a doctor or therapist can be a huge benefit.

Acclimating to acceptance

Finally! Acceptance always feels like a light at the end of the tunnel, but that doesn’t mean the journey is over the second we step into it. Acceptance isn’t a sign of having moved past—sometimes it isn’t even particularly uplifting—but it does mean we are beginning to understand what this transition means for our lives.

Try to see acceptance not as a sign of all the bad days behind us but as an indication that things should begin to lean in the good day direction from now on: it’s an upward turn. It’s gradual, so we have to keep being kind to ourselves, but we can start putting the pieces back together now and begin moving forward toward the wonderful opportunities that await.

Whatever the order you pass through these stages, and however often you revisit certain ones along the way, know that the fact that we all experience the stages of major life transitions differently doesn’t make any one experience “wrong” or “bad”. Depending on the situation, your personality, your support system, and many other factors, you might travel through these stages for a few weeks, a few months, or a few years. “Trust the process” might sound trite, but it’s true.

What stage have you determined yourself to be in right now? Be it denial, bargaining, anger, acceptance, or depression, my new Life Transition Stages workbook can help you through with tips and support for every stage. Download your copy today!

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