Life is about transitions.
The display of energy to go through transitions can be psychically and somatically loaded. In the midst of transitions, the complexity of psychological states are also changing. For instance, transitions may be experienced as a steady flow of change and, at times, as stagnation where one may feel “paralyzed” and “chained.”
Transitions may represent the loss of communal life, family, friends and support system.
In some cases, the loss of a known environment and the atmosphere of ritual, religiosity, language, customs, and cultural traits are all part of one’s identity.
There is a parallel process of loss: a sense of identity and self-representation, and of contact with known community. In addition, multiple losses may increase feelings of not belonging.
The rupture of one’s sense of identity through multiple losses may trigger feelings of disorientation. In this sense, the loss of continuity is disorienting and brings about ambiguous feelings.
To capture the “dwelling” experience of being in paradoxes, I find it useful to describe this psychological state of disorientation as a state of being in “in-between-ness” — in the middle of change, not here nor there.
The emotional distress from a loss of prospects and not knowing what to do in the midst of change often increases depression and anxiety.
If one is psychologically “not here, nor there,” it impacts relationships and one’s capacity to build intimacy. In addition, decision-making processes can be particularly painful. In times of change, the feeling of displacement increases loneliness and difficulties in being able to socialize and network professionally.
It is helpful for people going through life transitions to share their experiences with others who have gone through similar transitions. Sharing may help you “to brave the wilderness of uncertainty (…)” (Brené Brown, Sept 11, 2017). This shared experience facilitates the mourning process and supports the dynamics of meaning–making of life events, relationships, and the self.
Meaning – making – reflections on life transitions
When faced with the psychological distress of transitions, psychotherapy can help people bridge ambiguous feelings, integrate their new experience, and find meaning. In the psychological experience of “in-between-ness,” there is also a longing for integration, an internal and external experience of feeling at home and belonging.
I believe that the experience of facing the unknown in times of change may serve as a catalyst to experience a new way of being and perceiving the world.
It is through the mourning process that integration into a new state of being may occur. In “reframing and reorganizing the chaos and the uncertainty” (Zittoun, Duveen, Gillespie, Ivinson, and Psalds , 2003), the psyche forms a new whole. In psychological terms, changes may foster a “psychic birth.” This way, to overcome the challenges of transitions, the therapeutic encounter can help people develop their capacity for “intrapsychic negotiations,” becoming themselves their own “moderators” in times of disruption.
Overall, in my work as a clinician, I am invested in facilitating the process of meaning making. It is through the integration of our past and present, known and unknown, ambiguities, paradoxes, and differences and similarities that we are able to integrate the split parts of ourselves and “retexture the template” our internal and external life. It is through the process of meaning making that one is able to understand their life experience and “move on.”
As the poet David Whyte says,
“What if the world is holding its breath – waiting for you to take the place that only you can fill?”
About the Author
Nadia Thalji, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Fellow and Psychological Assistant at Well Clinic. In her words, “Finding meaning can make a significant difference in your life and impact your sense of well-being.”