Robin Gutman, LPC
Last week I cried in Newark International airport. Twice. I sent two children overseas, on two different days. Our separation in the airport marked the start of their continued growth and independence. It was healthy, joyous, exciting; a natural ‘next step’ in the progression of life. And yet as I turned and walked away at the last point that I could, I was keenly aware of the passage of time that this ritual marked, the change in the dynamics of our relationship, as they are no longer young children living under my roof. Something intangible was shifting, and it was emotional.
When people talk about new beginnings, they most often focus on the hope and excitement that come along with a fresh start.
Graduation, a new house, a new job, marriage, births, a move, the beginning of a new school year- all of these are transitions that we hope would be wonderful and positive. “Congratulations!”, “How wonderful!”, “Best of luck!”, “Mazal tov!” – These are typical comments following the revelation of one of the above mentioned changes.
The part that doesn’t get addressed is where the difficult emotions come into play: grief, loss, nostalgia, sadness, and the like.
Hadassa recently graduated nursing school, which meant that she would be searching for employment in the nursing field. Consequently, that meant leaving her current job as a receptionist in an office environment that she really enjoyed. Her coworkers were kind and considerate, and supportive of her schooling. Hadassah was proud of her academic achievements, looked forward to working in her new field, and still struggled with the thought of leaving her comfortable work environment. Hadassa shared, “I’m just so used to everything here. The routine, the people, the expectations of the job. I am so excited to be a nurse, but I can’t imagine starting all over again.”
Transitions are never easy, and the accompanying anxiety or fear of the unknown can be challenging.
Daniela and Zev were expecting their second baby and they were thrilled! At the same time, they discussed the trepidation they felt about this new amazing responsibility, about the growth of their family unit, and the subsequent changes. They wondered, “How will the new baby fit into the structure that we’ve already created? Will we have enough love for both our children?”
Even good changes can be intimidating, overwhelming, or anxiety provoking.
Rina’s daughter was getting married, and while Rina was delighted and looking forward to the happy occasion, she felt a sense of profound loss for the change this would bring to her family. Things would never be the same, and while Rina acknowledged her daughter’s marriage to be a positive change, she still mourned the loss of her family unit as she knew it. “I wake up at night and cry because she’s leaving our home,” Rina said. “I know this is a dream come true, but I’m really struggling.”
Dual emotions can coexist. As humans, we can feel grateful for positive opportunities and blessings yet that can come along with a dose of worry, and a sense of loss for life as we know it.
Change is difficult, and even ‘good’ change can take us out of our comfort zone. We can become so comfortable with something that we know might not be good for us. Still, we reject changing because fear of the unknown can keep us stuck in our unhelpful habits.
“Ask him for forgiveness? How uncomfortable! It’s fine, we’ll just continue as things are. It’s not that bad.”
“Talk about our emotions? I wouldn’t know how. We just don’t have that kind of connection.”
“I need to find a new job but wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“I really want to move but there are so many neighborhoods out there to choose from.”
These statements sound pretty typical, but here’s the underlying emotion I hear behind them :
“What if he rejects me? I’d rather stay in this strained relationship.”
“I don’t want to be vulnerable. I might get hurt.”
“Change is hard for me. I don’t want to have to prove myself.”
“I don’t like the unknown and I don’t like making decisions. What if I end up worse off than I am now?”
If you have ever become stagnant due to resistance to change, you are not alone. One study done in Britain found that over 80 percent of the nation admit to having major regrets about not adapting to new things in the past, with nearly 75 percent confessing that life would be better if they were more open to change.(free agent.com)
Some contributing factors to resistance to change include:
- Loss of status
- Loss of security
- Peer pressure
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success
Fear and anxiety are prevalent emotions associated with change, but what about grief? It is normal to feel a sense of grief as we experience transitions. While grief is most typically associated with death, I want to suggest that other ideas connected to grief include finality, change, and loss. Grief is an indication that now, with a change that has transpired, things will be different. As humans, we tend to prefer stability and routine. When situations change, we miss the way things used to be. When a new chapter is started, it means that another chapter has ended. So beginnings and endings are more intertwined than one might think!
Some suggestions on how to manage difficult emotions associated with change would be the following:
- When resistance to change does appear, be curious. Identify both the trigger and the resulting feelings.
- Make space for all the emotions, including the sense of grief, sadness, or loss that may come up. Know that this is normal, and it is okay to experience a variety of emotions around new beginnings.
- Focus on the purpose of the change. Remind yourself of what you stand to gain.
Wishing you many positive changes; to new beginnings, and healthy acceptance of all of the emotions they bring.