Lost in transition: Coping with life's big changes

We’re told life often resembles a rollercoaster, promising exhilarating highs and daunting lows. But what happens when the ride halts suddenly, or the track veers unexpectedly? Or worse, disappears completely? Big changes and life transitions can be abrupt and shocking. Once the dust settles, we can be left feeling sorrow, loneliness, and hopelessness, with many questions lingering. What does this new landscape mean for me? How do I navigate it and find my way back to familiarity? Is it even possible to do so?


In this article, I delve into how life transitions can upheave our beliefs about ourselves and the world. I'll explore how grief extends beyond bereavement, touching many aspects of our lives, including unrecognised forms of grief. Ultimately, I discuss the wisdom gained from embracing grief and the transformative lessons it imparts.

Understanding life transitions

Embracing life transitions

Life transitions are integral to the human experience, shaping our journey from infancy to elderhood. Each stage – from leaving home to pursuing career aspirations and starting families – challenges our sense of stability and reshapes our lives. As we age, transitions like retirement bring new perspectives and adjustments, illustrating the ongoing evolution of our lives.

Unexpected challenges

However, life often surprises us with transitions we didn’t foresee. Job loss or career setbacks can suddenly destabilise our financial stability and professional identity. Serious health conditions disrupt our physical and emotional well-being, altering daily routines and future plans. Divorce, infertility, and childlessness are stark realities that reshape our expectations of family and future. Relocation to a new city or country can disrupt social connections and cultural familiarity, leaving us feeling isolated and adrift.

Unseen grief

These unexpected transitions often trigger profound feelings of loss and grief, which may not be recognised by society at large. Anxiety about the uncertain future, sadness over what’s been lost and self-doubt amidst unfamiliar territory are common emotional responses. The lack of societal acknowledgement can exacerbate these feelings, leaving us feeling isolated in our struggle.

What is disenfranchised grief?

Understanding disenfranchised grief

When discussing grief, it’s often associated solely with bereavement — the loss of a loved one through death. However, grief encompasses a broader range of experiences.

Disenfranchised grief occurs when we face a significant loss that isn’t openly acknowledged, socially validated, or publicly mourned. This lack of recognition complicates the grieving process and delays healing, leaving us unsupported and misunderstood.

Examples of disenfranchised grief

Examples of situations that may lead to disenfranchised grief include job loss, retirement, the end of a non-marital relationship, infertility, miscarriage, the loss of a pet, or experiences of trauma that others may not acknowledge as significant.

Emotional impact

The emotional toll of disenfranchised grief is profound. It often evokes feelings of isolation, sadness, anger, and a profound sense of injustice. These emotions stem from society’s failure to validate our loss, leaving us to navigate grief alone.

Impact on social connection

As social beings our need for belonging and community is innate. Disenfranchised grief disrupts this natural support system, exacerbating feelings of isolation and loneliness. It can lead to a prolonged struggle for closure, persistent longing, and difficulty finding meaning from the loss.

Challenges to well-being

Without societal acknowledgement, we may question the validity of our grief experience and our place in society. This uncertainty impacts overall well-being and self-perception, highlighting the importance of community acceptance in navigating grief and loss.

Why do we feel lost?

Navigating loss of identity

Perhaps the most profound loss we face is the loss of self - the death of who we once were or the person we aspired to become. When we lose ourselves, how do we rediscover our identity?

Impact of identity loss

Feeling lost often stems from losing our sense of identity and future aspirations. For instance, losing a corporate career not only means losing a job but also the associated status and identity. Similarly, experiencing childlessness can shatter dreams of parenthood and the identity tied to that role. Uncertainty about the future and a perceived loss of control intensify these emotions, fostering anxiety and emotional distress as we question our roles, values, and sense of self amidst profound change.

Influence of social expectations

Social expectations profoundly shape our perception and handling of life transitions. Cultural norms and media representations can enforce unrealistic timelines for recovery or adaptation, which may clash with our need for time to process emotions. The pressure to swiftly adapt, especially amid unrecognised grief, amplifies feelings of isolation and alienation.

Acknowledging unspoken grief

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted, "There is no grief like the grief that does not speak." Unacknowledged grief, hidden or suppressed, burdens us deeply, reinforcing feelings of isolation and hindering healing. Openly sharing our experiences and seeking supportive communities can alleviate this burden, fostering acceptance and understanding.

Coping strategies

Acknowledging and validating your feelings

When our losses during life transitions go unrecognised or misunderstood, and our grief is met with silence, it can feel profoundly isolating. Acknowledging and validating our own feelings is essential for emotional well-being and healing. Self-acknowledgement means recognising the validity and depth of our emotions as legitimate responses to significant life changes. By practising self-compassion, we acknowledge the impact of loss on our identity, aspirations, and sense of security, fostering resilience and enabling us to connect with others.

Opening up and sharing with trusted individuals

Experiencing disenfranchised grief can make finding a supportive network challenging. However, opening up to trusted individuals about our feelings can be transformative. Sharing our experiences and emotions educates others about the nuances of disenfranchised grief, bridging the gap between internal struggles and external perceptions. This process fosters deeper understanding, empathy, and meaningful support.

Building a supportive network

Beyond personal relationships, seeking peer support organisations or online communities connects us with individuals who share similar experiences. These groups provide a safe space to share stories, exchange coping strategies, and receive validation without fear of judgment.

Setting boundaries and practicing self-care

During grief and significant life transitions, setting boundaries is crucial for self-care. Establishing boundaries protects emotional energy and preserves well-being amidst challenges. Prioritise physical health through nutritious eating, regular exercise, and adequate rest. Nurturing mental well-being with activities like journaling, mindfulness, or creative pursuits fosters resilience and clarity. Self-care allows for experimentation to find what works best for individual healing and maintaining balance.

Seeking professional help

Remember, seeking professional help from counsellors or therapists is a valid option when coping feels overwhelming. Professionals provide a supportive environment to explore emotions, gain clarity, and develop personalised coping strategies tailored to unique circumstances. Counselling can be invaluable in navigating difficult transitions and emerging stronger.

Moving forward

Embracing life transitions

Life transitions, though challenging, offer opportunities for profound personal growth and resilience. Each transition marks not just an end but a beginning of new possibilities, fostering strengths and insights we didn’t know we possessed.

Finding renewal and purpose

Looking towards the future, accepting and adapting to change opens doors to new meaning and opportunities. Whether forging new relationships, exploring different careers, or discovering passions, the journey forward is rich with potential.

Acknowledging and processing grief

It’s essential to acknowledge and process our emotions during transitions. Give yourself time to grieve – it’s a natural response to loss. Integrating these feelings allows us to embrace change authentically, leading to resilience and personal growth.

Reflecting and sharing

Reflect on how your experiences have shaped you and share your journey with others. Sharing can provide encouragement and solidarity, especially during challenging times.

Seeking support

Seeking support from friends, family, or professionals is a sign of strength. Embrace life’s transitions with an open heart, knowing each step forward demonstrates resilience and growth.

Life transitions, though often difficult, offer unique opportunities for personal growth and resilience. These changes can deeply impact our sense of self, leading to unrecognised feelings of grief and loss. It's essential to acknowledge our emotions, seek support, and practice self-care to navigate these times.

Feeling lost is normal. Embrace change and fully process your emotions to find new meaning and purpose. Remember, seeking help and leaning on others is OK. Your journey through life's transitions is a testament to your strength and growth.

If this article resonates with you and you would like support, reach out and book a free introductory call with me.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bracknell RG12 & Ascot SL5
Written by Samantha Cooke, Integrative Counsellor, MBACP, Dip. Counselling
Bracknell RG12 & Ascot SL5

Samantha Cooke is an integrative counsellor and a Registered Member of the BACP. She specialises in supporting clients through life’s transitions, helping them rediscover their inner spark, find enthusiasm in life again, and regain confidence.

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