NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life

Nothing ever stays the same indefinitely in life.  If you think back on your life over time, you realize how many changes you went through.  Change is inevitable and it can be hard, so preparing emotionally for major changes makes sense (see my articles Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your LifeMidlife Transitions - Part 2: Living the Life You Want to LiveMaking Changes: Overcoming Ambivalence, Fear of Change and Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone).

Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life

There are some changes that happen so suddenly that you might not get a chance to prepare for them emotionally:  A sudden job loss, an unexpected medical problem or the unexpected betrayal of a friend.  But there are many expected changes, like going to college, starting your first job, getting married or retiring that you can prepare for emotionally.

Basic Steps to Preparing For Major Changes in Your Life:
  • Acknowledge to yourself that change can be difficult and that you might be emotionally challenged in unexpected ways.
  • Know that it's normal to feel some anxiety about change.
  • Assess your situation and get as much information as you can before you make the change.
  • Get input and support from trusted friends, family members and people who have gone through this type of change before.
  • Weigh your options.
  • Make a decision and come up with a plan.
  • Take responsibility for making a decision and seeing it through.
  • Take extra care of yourself and expect that the decision making process and the change might take more of a toll on you than you expect, even when it's a change that you consider to be positive.
  • After the change has taken place, reassess your plan and make any necessary changes.
  • Maintain contact with your emotional support system.
  • Get help in therapy if the change is overwhelming or brings up unresolved issues from the past.

Fictionalized Vignette About Preparing Emotionally For a Major Change

Tom and his wife, Helen, had been talking about retirement for several years.

When they first started talking about it five years before, it seemed like it was a long way off.  But now that they were a year away from retirement, it suddenly seemed to loom large for Tom.

They had already decided that they would remain in New York City because they loved the city, especially the cultural events.  They also had most of their family and friends in New York, so they didn't want to leave.

Helen decided that she would get more involved in a charity where she already volunteered.  After retirement, she could spend more time doing what she loved.

Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life

But Tom wasn't sure what he wanted to do.  He knew that he would enjoy the first few weeks of being able to relax, but he also knew that he would get bored after a while if he just hung around the apartment.

He had already gone to his financial advisor, so he was clear on what their financial situation would be.  He had also looked into their health benefits plan and social security benefits, so that was taken care of already.

He just wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his time, and the more he thought about it, the more worried he got.

His other worry was that he associated retirement with death because his father died shortly after he retired.

Even though he was in good health and younger than his father when he retired, Tom still couldn't get this fear out of his mind.

He talked to his friends and family members, who were either retired or close to retirement.  After talking to them, he felt better for a short time, but then his fear would creep up on him again and cause him to lose sleep.

In the past, Tom had a good experience with psychotherapy, so he decided to return to his former therapist to deal with his anxiety and indecision.

As soon as he sat in his therapist's office, he remembered how comforted he felt in the past during their prior sessions, so he was glad that he returned to her rather than seeking out another therapist.  But he wondered if she would be able to help him with his current fear.

As they talked about how he associated retirement with death, Tom remembered how worn out and tired his father was by the time he retired.  Working a physically taxing job, his father looked at least 10 years older than his actual age.  The job had taken a toll on his health and he died less than a year later, which was devastating for Tom.

When he was last in therapy, Tom came for overcome a specific phobia he had about flying, so he had never talked much about his relationship with his father during his prior therapy sessions.

As he talked about his father's physically demanding job and his subsequent death soon after retirement, Tom broke down in tears unexpectedly.  He was upset about the loss and the fact that his father didn't get a chance to enjoy his retirement.

Then, he verbalized a thought that he had never been consciously aware of before:  If his father didn't get to enjoy his retirement, why should he deserve to enjoy his upcoming retirement?

The overwhelming feelings of guilt and sadness surprised Tom.  Now, he was beginning to understand why he was having difficulty planning what he might want to do with his free time:  Not only was he afraid of death, which was related to his father's death, but he also didn't feel that he deserved to enjoy his retirement because of his father's experience.

Tom thought he had grieved the loss of his father a long time ago, but he felt the loss again as if it happened yesterday.

He had taken care of the practical aspects of his retirement, but he couldn't overcome the feeling that he was undeserving.  And he only realized that he felt this way once he began talking to his therapist.

Tom's therapist helped him to understand that major life changes could bring up issues from the past.  She also explained that Tom was experiencing his grief for his father on another level where Tom had an unconscious identification with his father (see my article: An Unconscious Identification With a Loved One Can Create an Obstacle to Change).

Over time, Tom expressed how he wished he could have done something to spare his father from death.  Until now, Tom had blocked out these feelings about his father's death.  Now, he realized that these feelings that he blocked out for so long were coming up and creating obstacles for him.

Tom also felt guilty that his father worked so hard to put him through college, and maybe if he didn't work so hard, he might have lived longer.  But he also knew that his father was so proud when Tom graduated college, especially since Tom's father never had an opportunity to go to college.

Tom's therapist encouraged Tom to keep a journal between psychotherapy sessions to capture any thoughts, feelings or dreams that might come up (see my article:  The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions).

He found writing in the journal especially useful because it deepened his understanding of his problems, and he was able to bring in his journal to the next session to talk to his therapist.

During his therapy sessions, Tom realized that he was only remembering the hard times that his father had and not the good time that he had with Tom and Tom's mother.

When he realized that he was mostly focused on his father's hardships to the exclusion of the happy times, Tom decided to write about his father's life.  So, between sessions he wrote short stories about his father, and he shared his writing with his therapist during each session.

As Tom wrote about his father, he realized that his father had many happy times in his life.  He also felt closer to his father than he had felt in a long time.

As he worked through the loss of his father on this deeper level, Tom began to feel lighter.  He no longer felt afraid of dying after he retired because he was able to separate his upcoming experience from his father's.

Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life

Tom allowed himself to start thinking about what he would want to do after he retired.  He knew that he didn't want to spend his time playing golf or going to the casino, as some of his friends did.  He wanted something much more meaningful.

As he was considering the possibilities, he received a notice in the mail that the local elementary school was looking for volunteers for their reading program and a light went off in his head:  He loved little children and he loved reading, so this would be perfect for him.

As Tom talked about volunteering for the reading program in his therapy session, he felt a new sense of energy and enthusiasm.  He also realized that he no longer felt guilty about his father.  In fact, he knew his father would be proud of him for working with children.

Whenever you're facing a major change in your life, there are usually practical considerations to address.  But there also emotional issues to address as well.

No matter what type of change you're planning for, the practical considerations might be straightforward or, at least, there might be logical steps to follow.  But preparing emotionally can be more challenging, especially if there are issues that might be unconscious, as they were for Tom in the fictionalized vignette.

These unconscious emotional issues, which can be challenging, are often difficult to resolve on your own.

Getting Help in Therapy
When faced with a major change, whether it's one your chose or one that has been suddenly placed before you, you might be challenged in unexpected ways.

Even when you recognize that some of your fears are irrational, that's often not enough to banish those fears.

Sometimes the support of loved ones isn't enough or you might not feel comfortable talking to them about the emotional obstacles that are in your way.

Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a skilled psychotherapist, who can help you to overcome those fears.

Being able to face your fears and deal with them in the light of day can be a freeing and transformational experience, so don't hesitate to get help in therapy.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to prepare emotionally for major changes and to overcome emotional obstacles.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.