Not all transitions look the same. To navigate transitions it helps to identify what kind of transition we are facing.
Every person experiences change circumstances. But how we perceive the change happening to us can determine how we navigate the transition—the changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles. According to some of the thought leaders in life transitions, there are four categories we can put transitions in:
- Anticipated Transitions
- Unanticipated Transitions
- Nonevent Transitions
- Sleeper Transitions
Anticipated Transitions include things that we expect to occur. They include such marker events as graduating from school, entering the workforce, getting married, having a child, beginning retirement. Except for the last one, we have personally experienced all of these changes. It’s easy to find support, examples, and encouragement in these transitions because they are so common and usually considered positive conditions. People usually like to talk about these life events. If they are getting ready to enter into these changes, they are often keen to solicit advice. And if they have experienced them already, they are often quite willing to offer advice.
Unanticipated Transitions are events that aren’t predicted. Three years ago, Mark had a stroke, and while he made a full recovery quickly, it definitely had a psychological and emotional impact on us. We have friends who have worked overseas and were expelled with very short notice from the country which had become their home. Both of our mothers suddenly became widows in their 40s. In 32 minutes in May, 2011, our city, Joplin, was devastated by an F5 tornado. Some of these, while not anticipated by the person going through it, are not uncommon among the population in general (strokes, widowhood). Other unexpected transitions happen to very few people and are improbable (expulsion from a country, natural disaster).
“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”
— Elizabeth Lesser
Nonevent Transitions are those changes we expect to occur but do not. We might talk about them as the “might have been” and “what could have been.” They stem from not experiencing what we think should happen. We may develop these expectations because our culture communicates them, our parents valued them, or we have determined they are important as markers of success or normalcy. We have friends who assumed they would get married in or shortly after college and are still single. We have other friends who looked forward to starting a family only to find out they couldn't have biological children. It’s not uncommon to hear of people who expected to retire in their 60s only to realize they must continue to work due to financial pressures. Nonevent transitions result from unmet expectations, unrealized goals, and lost dreams.
Sleeper Transitions occur gradually and we may not even be aware of they are happening. They might involve becoming gradually addicted to drugs or alcohol, a health issue that worsens over time, a slow decline and distancing in an important relationship, or outgrowing the challenges and responsibilities of a job. These transitions are tricky and can be harder to identify because they happen by slight degrees until we wake up one day and realize things are not as they once were. They have the potential to move us into a better place in our lives once we realize they are happening. They motivate us to find help, end a toxic relationship, or actively look for more challenging opportunities.
By identifying the type of transition we are facing, we can better understand how we feel and make a plan to cope with the transition. We'll talk about that more in future posts.
~Amy Miller, Co-Director of Re-Entry Debriefing
What’s the last Anticipated Transition you faced? What about the last Unanticipated Transition? Or a Nonevent Transition? Have you ever experienced a Sleeper Transition? We’d love to hear from you!