Written by Francine Baffa, LICSW, BCBA-D
Edited by Joe DeNoon
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” ~Seneca
Buddhists view impermanence as one of their essential doctrines and recognize that all things are in a constant state of flux. Embracing this mindset helps us flow with change and move in transition. However, it also helps to recognize that transition is phased and has distinct stages. In the last blog, fellow LCSW Wall introduced us to the concept of transition and ways to assist us in moving forward. To parallel this theme, I would like to unpack the stages of transition. William Bridges defined a model that identifies these three stages:
- Ending, Losing, and Letting Go.
- The Neutral Zone.
- The New Beginning.
Similar to the manner in which one processes grief, everyone goes through these phases at their own pace. For example, those who are comfortable with the change will likely move ahead to stage three more quickly, while others will linger at stages one or two. Each stage is characterized by different emotions and ability to adapt to a new norm. This model can be applied to many of life’s pivotal moments—marriage, birth of child, medical diagnosis, career shift, empty nesting, global crisis—the list goes on. Knowing more about each of these stages and how we can encourage others, and even ourselves, to move forward with more ease and less resistance is key to the journey to what lies ahead.
Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
This initial stage of transition presents at the onset of change, the pivotal deviation from what was, and is often marked with resistance and emotional upheaval. In this stage, one may feel something is being forced upon them and a total lack of control; it is a demand to leave their comfort zone. Emotions that arise include fear, anger, denial, and disorientation.
It is important that one works to accept this resistance, and to understand the related emotions. As a clinician, I want to allow people time to reflect on the current situation rather than simply demand that they let go of it. Encourage open communication and listen empathetically. Help them analyze pros and cons of each state. We often fear what we do not understand, so the more you can help validate and examine all aspects of what the change may bring, the more ease you bring to the situation.
Stage 2: The Neutral Zone
This stage is characterized by confusion and impatience. One wants answers as they move from the old to the new. Think of this phase as the bridge between the old and the new. Feelings that arise include resentment, anxiety, or skepticism of the change. As unsettling as this phase is, it also holds within it creative renewal and rebirth. How can we bring light to this new opportunity? Having a guide during this time is important, as this can feel like drifting. What the change is and where one is headed may be unclear during the neutral zone, but we must know that it’s OK to feel lost or directionless. The internal GPS is recalibrating. Remembering that those feelings are only temporary and not forever is vital to feeling tethered.
Stage 3: The New Beginning
The last transition stage is a time of acceptance and energy. As one begins to adopt the change, it’s essential that there are plans and scaffolds in place that support this change over time.
Focus on being a guide. Do not push people through to stage three. IInstead, do what you can to guide them positively and sensitively through the change process.
Bridges’ Transition Model highlights the feelings that people go through during change.
The model highlights the difference between change and transition. Change happens to people. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it’s what happens in people’s minds when facing and experiencing change.
From Managing Transitions by William Bridges with Susan Bridges, copyright [©] 1991, 2003, 2009, 2017. Reprinted by permission of Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.