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5 Stages of Endings and Why They're So Painful

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

An ending initiates life transitions. You end one stage of life and move to another. Endings can be planned or sudden and heartbreaking.

We see some endings coming. We have time to imagine ourselves in a different future situation and ponder the pros and cons of what could happen. These transitions can be painful but are easier to overcome and adapt. Examples of these endings are:

  • Getting married

  • Becoming parents

  • Teenagers leaving for college

  • A career change

  • Moving house

Major transitions are more painful, like:

  • Losing a job

  • Moving to another city or country

  • Significant loss

  • Serious illness

  • Divorce

The 5 Stages of Endings

  • First stage is withdrawal: refusal of the new life, perhaps even denying what's happening. Longing to go back to the old self. Common emotions are despair, pain, loneliness, resistance.

  • Second stage is de-structure of the comfort zone: Nothing in your life feels the same. The situation is uncomfortable, but there are attempts to readjust and make space for new needs. Emotions around this stage are helplessness, fears about the future, emptiness as the loss becomes tangible.

  • Third stage is the re-structure of the self: There is a beginning of acceptance around not being who one used to be. The role performed previously in the society or family has changed, Thoughts about what one can become next arise slowly. Emotions around this stage are resentment, disbelief, betrayal, anger. The event becomes more real, but there is still non-acceptance.

  • Fourth stage is confusion: There are still difficulties letting go of the old life and refusing to embrace the new. There is insecurity about how to move on as the new self is someone unknown. Feelings around this stage are mainly insecurity, grief and vulnerability. At the same time, positive feelings begin to show up, like hope and acceptance.

  • Fifth stage is realisation: There is still some pain in this stage, but there is also inner growth and acceptance around the traumatic event and the new role. Thoughts are about the future are more consistent and not so scary anymore. Emotions are more positive; now there is a willingness to move on, and there is more trust in the ability to face the future, openness toward changes and people.

These stages can be interchanging, overlapping, and often repeat themselves until you're ready for the next phase. It is a challenging time, and it will often feel like a rollercoaster. Extra self-care and patience is needed throughout this time.

How long do these stages go for? This depends on many factors including;

• Nature of transition

• Acceptance of the ending

• Support network

• Personal motivation

• Spirituality

• Ability to cope with change

• Experience in dealing with transition

• Recognize the benefits of change

• Openness to different perspective

Now you have a clearer idea of the transitions stages; you may be wondering why they are so painful?

The experience of some transitions is very close to a loss. One part of us dies, and a new self emerges. It's painful because we grieve for the imposed loss of the old self, and we don't know how to be in the new one.

We're not taught how to deal with transitions or difficult emotions like despair, anger, guilt, and loneliness, and we innately avoid pain. This is supported by a culture that sees suffering as a sign of weakness. Fortunately, this is slowly changing. Transitions will always cause distress, but feeling accepted, practising self-compassion, knowing one is not alone, will make the process less painful.

Accept to be with your emotions, even when they are painful.

When you feel these negative feelings, you may think there is something wrong with you. But there's nothing wrong with you. All emotions have a place within you. And they're there to tell you something:

  • When we feel foggy or unable to think, our mind tells us to slow down and take one step at a time. Don't push. Wait. Be patient.

  • When you feel pain, this is a sign you need to take care of yourself. You may need to cry for hours, go for a walk, or listen to music. Self-soothing is different for everyone.

These activities won't get rid of the pain, but they will help you process it. Listen to the signals your brain is sending your body.

It takes time, but trust you will feel better. You will slowly learn how to build a new life and be again confident in yourself. You got this. Trust your journey.

Are you going through a life transition? I offer free 30-minute video calls to new clients. Talking helps. Get in touch.

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