Life Transitions: Gaining by Losing
We don’t talk enough about the grief that comes with growth. There’s a societal narrative of ‘focus only on the positive’ which dismisses the growing pains of life transitions.
A new life stage is a wonderful world full of magic and possibility, such as having a baby or retirement. It is also confusing and, at times, lonely.
The degree of grief varies as everyone’s path is different, but it’s likely we all experience some sense of loss when we move from one stage of life to another. This is because in every transition there is an ongoing "goodbye" of a previous way of being, while stepping into the vast unknown.
Life’s passages are marked with gains and losses on the way to the next life stage.
At birth, we lose the comfort and security of the womb to gain life itself.
When we walk, we lose the security of being held to gain the independence of movement.
When we talk, we lose people anticipating and meeting your needs to gain the ability to communicate and verbally connect with others.
Starting school, we lose the constant care by a parent to gain an education, school friends, and mentors.
Becoming adults, we lose the carefreeness of childhood, and gain financial independence.
After marriage, we lose some of our independence to gain the warmth of partnership.
After having kids, we lose time, independence, money and energy to gain a whole new human being we love.
Being retired we lose youth, friends from work, dreams not accomplished, income, productivity to gain freedom from responsibility and freedom to focus on ourselves. We gain the freedom of not being bound to a strict schedule. We lose the familiarity of structure that work provides.
In all these stages, to gain we have to lose. Every loss has a subsequent gain attached to it. These are necessary losses or losses of maturation.
In the therapy room, one can find necessary losses too.
A young adult losing the illusion of their parent as the hero who could do no wrong, to eventually gain acceptance of their parent as a fallible human being. The loss of the parent they wished and thought they had, to gain compassion and understanding of the parent they do have. The gain of seeing the raw humanness of their parent.
A teenager, losing the beliefs they had attached to love after their first heartbreak. The loss of naivety and innocence. They gain awareness that people you love can let you down and some aren’t as careful with their hearts as imagined. They eventually gain the ability to discern who’s a good fit for them and what they need romantically.
A young professional, losing the idealism and black-and-white rules that graduate school filled them with. They discover not everyone plays by the rules. They gain an understanding of what kind of professional they want to be and what values drive them. They gain an understanding of a grey world.
Another loss-and-gain that takes place in the therapy room, is the loss of our blind spots for gaining insight. A person loses the comfort they found with dysfunctional patterns of coping, as they gain awareness of the healthier alternatives available to them. They grieve that things are changing in their internal landscape, but they stand to eventually gain mental well-being from this loss.
As we transition to the next life stage, it is important to grieve the losses as we celebrate the gains.
How would it be to take a moment to hold and honour the conflicting emotions that are churning within us. To make room for the duality and complexity of being human.
Take comfort in the fact that these losses are a necessary part of growth and have gains attached to them. Give yourself permission to miss how things used to be before, allow yourself to say goodbye. It is only then, that you can fully make room for and embrace the newness that awaits you.