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Life Transitions: Why Are Changes So Painful?

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Changes initiate life transitions. Life transitions define the end of one stage of life and the beginning of another. Whether planned or sudden, endings can be a painful confrontation between what used to be and what is still longed for.

You will find that it is necessary to let things go;

simply for the reason that they are heavy

C. Joybell C

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

  • Getting married

  • Becoming parents

  • Teenagers leaving for college

  • A career change

  • Moving house

On the other side, some changes happen suddenly, leaving us with a lost sense of self and deep fear about the future. These sudden changes move us out of our comfort zone, and from that moment, life will be experienced before and after the event. The following are examples of what can be experienced as major transitions:

  • Losing a job

  • Significant loss

  • Serious illness

  • Divorce

  • Natural disasters

The journey is on

Change is painful,

but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don't belong.

Mandy Hale

The 5 Stages of Endings

  • The first stage is withdrawal. This stage is characterised by a firm refusal of the new life, perhaps denying what's happening and a longing to return to the old self. 

  • The second stage is de-structing 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.

  • The third stage is the re-structure of the self: There is a beginning of acceptance of the change. The role performed previously in the society or family has changed and is now less daunting. Thoughts about solutions to make the future more bearable arise slowly. 

  • The fourth stage is confusion: There are still difficulties in 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 who has yet to be discovered. 

  • The fifth stage is realisation: Pain is still experienced in this stage, but there is also inner growth and acceptance of the event and the changes. Thoughts about the future are more consistent and not so scary anymore. 

The process, however, is far from being linear. The stages can be interchanging and overlapping, often repeating 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 are needed throughout this time.


The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself,

unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over,

you cannot move forward.

Steve Maraboli

How long do these stages go for?

This depends on many factors, including:

• Nature of transition

• Psychological flexibility

• Support network

• Personal motivation

• Spirituality

• Ability to cope with change

• Experience in dealing with previous transition

• Recognize the benefits of change

• Openness to different perspectives

Why do difficult changes feel so painful?

Here are the three main reasons:

  1. Transitions are experienced and processed like a loss. One part of us dies, and a new self emerges. It's painful because we grieve for the loss of the old self while not fully understanding how to accept the new self.

  2. Emotional education is often neglected 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, and having appropriate support will make the process less painful.

  3. The body and mind connection is undeniable. When there is emotional pain, the part of the body connected to the pain can be easily located if one pays attention and listens to their feelings. Emotional stress highly influences health in general. Many diseases are connected to suppressed emotions and stress.

Mindfulness yoga

Some of us think holding on makes us strong,

but sometimes it is letting go.

Hermann Hesse

Acceptance of every emotion, even when it feels painful.

When feeling these negative emotions, one may think something is wrong with themBut there's nothing wrong. All emotions have a place within you. And they're there to tell something and need their space to express.

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

If you feel you need help to overcome a difficult time and don't have someone you feel you can talk to, reach out. Contact a helpline, a support group, or a professional. Your GP or a counsellor can make a difference in your wellbeing. 

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