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How To Learn From Life’s Transitions

How To Learn From Life’s Transitions

Many of us have a list in our minds of the things we want, and most of us go through life trying to get these things. Sometimes we rely on our beliefs as a roadmap on this journey –follow these rules and you’ll be enlightened, be happier and have healthier relationships. I used to think that there was a secret recipe to life, and when things are going great, I do tend to think I have it all figured out. However, reality eventually sets in when we realize that’s not always the case, and when that reality hits, we turn inwards and think that something is wrong with us because if nothing was wrong, we’d be getting what we want. Right?

When life isn’t easy or when we are dealing with a major transition we often look for the ‘bad guy’ and sometimes blame ourselves or our partners instead of turning towards each other or asking for help. An all-too-common negative dialogue emerges where we think, “I must be a bad person or a failure because [insert reasons here].”

That ‘looking for the bad guy tendency arises during periods of transition when we are overwhelmed, scared, or uncertain. However, I want to remind some of you that transitions are hard because they are opportunities for growth and growth is hard.

“Life opens up opportunities to you, and you either take them or you stay afraid of taking them.” — Jim Carrey

Marina Keegan wrote a wonderful article on her perspective of what her university experience meant for her. Although graduating university, much like starting university, can be a difficult period of transition; it is both natural and expected. It should, in fact, be something we aim for.

Some transitions are marked as natural development for many of us unless interrupted and then problems can emerge with some sort of pathology. Some transitions happen unexpectedly: loss of child, being diagnosed with Cancer, losing one’s job. Then sometimes that “find the bad guy tendency” arises and we need to deal with it.

No matter the type of transition you are struggling with, I find it helps to take a moment to breathe and reflect on what is happening before moving forward. Whatever that new you or situation looks like: Stop, Breathe, and, Reflect. By reflecting we help clarify how far we have come and it helps to recognize our own strengths and areas of growth and future growth. Reflection can also allow us a time to see if we are moving in a direction that corresponds with our values. Many of us fail to reflect and end up having a life based on being reactive and non reflective vs living life inline with our values.

Some tips to help navigate transitions and avoid ‘finding the bad guy’ tendency:

1. Go back to get to the future

Sometimes we need to think about passed struggles we have dealt with and how we overcame them. What skills or resources you’ve used that helped or didn’t help you. And then think about your current situation and see if these same character strengths or skills may help you deal with your current situation. Con with this technique: some people keep using the same strategies and don’t try to develop new ones.

2. Remember to ABC which means: Always Be Curious.

Things that help us be curious is having an open mind. Another thing that helps us to be curious is asking ourselves questions that force us to think about alternative solutions and ways of doing things. Noticing emotions and really questioning where they are coming from and what they are telling us may help us deal with the current situation. Con with technique: Overusing this technique so that you end up navel gazing and it prevents you from taking the leap or making a choice.

3. Learn to ride the Wave

You may not be able to change your course or whatever event you are dealing with and you may need to grab onto some coping skills and hold tight. Some may find learning mindfulness or learning to connect with the support system as 2 ways that help people ride the wave when dealing with a particularly hard transition. Con: Some people will ride the wave and end back at the same place they started at. When dealing with transitions sometimes we have to accept things will not go back to how they use to be.

Moving from one of life’s milestones to the next can be exciting, but if you are struggling with it, remember that it is a normal reaction and there are ways of managing it. For example, if you are unhappy with your job and are thinking of taking a leap to something new, you may be interested in Barbara Hagerty’s article here that talks about the upside of making a mid-life transition. If you like the article I would suggest you read her book, Life Reimagined. Instead of relying on finding the bad guy try one of the above techniques, read Barbara’s article or book and see if it helps or perhaps considering booking a session to process your life transition in counselling.

How To Take Care Of Yourself And Others

How To Take Care Of Yourself And Others

Having driven across Canada (most of it, still haven’t been to Newfoundland) I often equate being in a relationship to taking a road trip. Sometimes they are long or short, bumpy, frustrating and other times can be a pure sense of joy, spectacular, quite fun—the terrain isn’t always the same. So, when taking a road trip (i.e. being in a relationship) with your partner who has mental illness (e.g. depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder) one of the things I advocate for is that you gas up your car! That means you need to learn how to take care of yourself before you can take a successful road trip. But how do you gas up your car?

  1. Educate yourself on your partner’s mental illness. Get a map before you start on a road trip!
  2. Talk to your partner about what you see and get a window into their world as well as your own. Create a self-written owner’s manual for you and for your relationship!
  3. Understand the triggers that impact you in the relationship. Know your blind spots!
  4. Learn how to become emotionally regulated. Learn how to merge onto the highway or slow down at stop signs!
  5. Sometimes we need to set boundaries. We can often put our needs aside (and feel guilty if we don’t) in wanting to help our loved ones all the time. However, if we don’t take time for ourselves that can lead to burnout. Learn how to stay in your lane!
  6. Put gas in your tank. This is where we need to learn to become self-nourishing and figure out what helps us cope. Telling your partner “you’re crazy,” “just snap out of it,” “you’re overreacting,” or fighting fire with fire (i.e. anger with anger) becomes tiring, fruitless, and counterproductive. One of the reasons for these conflicts is that we’ve become emotionally drained and frustrated—our gas tank is low or empty—and we just want our partner to stop whatever negative behaviour they are engaging in. But if it was that easy, of course, they would have already stopped it!

Some questions to ask yourself and the next steps to take:

  1. What do I do to take care of myself?
  2. Is what I am doing right now helping me?
  3. What would I like to be doing to take care of myself that I am not? How much enjoyment would that activity give me? How much energy would that activity cost me? Is this activity for a long-term or short-term benefit?
  4. What could get in the way of achieving my goals and how could I overcome these obstacles?
  5. What are the thoughts, activities, or situations that are emptying my gas tank?

Share these answers with your partner and encourage them to make their own list so you can learn how to help and support each other. Learn to be each other’s co-pilot on this journey! Don’t forget to check in with your partner and yourself to see how you are doing. Regular maintenance is important! Booking a session with a therapist may be a wonderful way to keep your car on the road!