Endings. The beginning (?!) of a transition.

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The Ending.

From William Bridges‘ book Transitions.

Letting go is hard. We worry that the change was a bad idea.  The difficulty of releasing old selves and old identities makes us think „Can it be that the old thing was somehow (and in spite of everything we thought we knew) right for us and the new thing wrong?“ (11)  Even in happy new circumstances like a new relationship or a job promotion or move to a dream house, there are losses, selves that we lose in the movement toward that new place or space. „We feel these unexpected losses because, to an extent that we seldom realize, we come to identify ourselves with the circumstances of our lives.“ And our circumstances have changed, and to keep up, we have to change. But how, and into what?

When those circumstances change, and our roles and relationships change, we wonder who we are. „Our whole way of being – the personal style that makes you recognizably ‚you‘ and me ‚me‘ – is developed within and adjusted to fit a given life pattern.§ (12).  That life pattern has changed and so the way of being has to change. But into what? Nothing makes sense, all orientation is lost. Who the $%& are we now?

Letting go is ambivalent, ambiguous.  

What skills do we need in our transitions toolkit to get across the „nowhere“ between the painful letting-go of old identities and roles and to trust – OMG trust! – that we are going to land somewhere safe, maybe better, or at least a better fit, than where we left?  New and changed and full of energy again? We outgrew something somehow and what will be the new frame? Meanwhile we are naked and shivering in this outgrown space.

Exercise 1:

Recall all the endings in your life from early childhood onward. Deaths of family members, pets, relocations, changing schools, losing friends, ceasing a hobby or activity, inner losses like losses of trust, innocence, faith, belief. 

Reflect on how you’ve responded to these losses. Do you get busy with something else and ignore it? Do you draw out the process?  Talk endlessly about it, grieve, or distract?  What was your role in the family at loss and change: to be the worrier, the clown, the rebel, or the responsible one?  Have you picked up someone else’s style of ending-coping?  

„Your old mindset is being reactivated in the present whenever something ends in your life.“ (14) What’s important about that is that the feelings around the current ending are not necessarily about the current ending. They may be feelings resonating with situations in the past, like an echo or a chord that is reverberating now.  

Thinking about how you dealt with endings in the past helps be conscious in the current ending.

Some initiate endings. Others are passive and let things happen to them, maybe contributing unconsciously to make change happen but not be responsible for it.  What about at a party: do you leave when you’re tired? Do you try to keep a conversation going in the doorway (or on the phone) long after the moment passed to let it end?  Do you leave without saying goodbye?  Or do you make sure there is plenty of attention to the departure and a specific adios to each person and situation? 

Both versions – slipping out without a goodbye or lingering – are signals that endings cause discomfort and distress.  

What would it feel like to say goodbyes properly at the right moment and then close the door and move on? 

Look at your endings and ask yourself, how often did the ending clear ground for something new? How often was it not a starting point? And when was there baggage remaining from the previous ending that moved in with you to the new beginning? Are there unfinished transitions? If you poke around in those „aborted transition points“ from the past, „as you might explore an old house you once lived in,“ ask whether you might still complete that transition that could bring peace and energy to the current moment. A farewell, a phone call, a letter, letting go of an idea, self-image, mindset, or role. Letting go of a dream you had for yourself or a belief that no longer serves you. Explore these unfinished endings and lighten your load for this current transition.

How do some endings create other endings too? Ending a relationship changes and ends many other relationships. Changing jobs ends relationships, moving houses alters relationships with neighbors, with space and the neighborhood. There are losses. The light does not come in the window the same way anymore. The routine trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night is unfamiliar. 

Here is a list of losses and endings that you might have experienced.

  • Losses of relationships. Also with pets.
  • Changes in home life: people moving in or out of the household or having new jobs, entering or leaving school, relocating, changes in domestic tension.
  • Changes in work life: responsibilities changing, colleagues changing, job changes.
  • Personal changes: changes in hormones, appearance, sleep patterns, health, eating habits.
  • Inner changes: new conciousness about social or political situations, religious changes, values changes, leaving an old dream, taking up a new one, making a decision about who you want to be in the world. 

With all these many kinds of changes, no wonder that we sometimes feel lost.

Exercise 2:

What was the end of childhood for you?  

Shift from dependence to independence.

Shift from being the child of the parents to an own person with a separate identity. A coherent sense of self forms. The task is identitfy formation. Old identity issues are going to emerge at later transitions when this identity formation task did not finish adequately.  Bridges says „most of us didn’t entirely finish the job of resolving identity issues back then.  Consequently, whenever we enter a new transition, some of those old identity issues are going to reemerge.“ (32) 

Exercise 3:

On your own.

„What memories and feelings do you associate with that phrase?“ (33)

Leaving something and then toward finding and fitting into.  „Searching for a place.“

What does this feel like? What is the relationship between this current ending and the phrase, „On your own“?

Bridges, William. Transitions. 2004. Cambridge, MA. Da Capo Press.

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