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You Are Not Alone: Traversing life’s many transitions

“Love and work are the cornerstones to our humanness.”

                                                                              — Sigmund Freud


Portrait Of Senior Friends At Home TogetherThis quote highlights that our roles in life — as a parent, a spouse, an employee — are a large part of what makes us who we are.

So what happens when these roles shift? It can feel as if, all of the sudden, we are forced to take on a new identity that may or may not fit with how we view ourselves.

In today’s blog, Laura Dink, MSMFT, discusses how people spend decades of their life dedicated to pursuing professional and personal goals. Then one day retiring, becoming an in-law, losing a partner, or becoming a grandparent may change a person’s sense of identity. What happens then?

It is difficult to anticipate how we will respond to these developmental milestones. The decision to retire, for example, may be bittersweet. While there may be more time to devote to loved ones and to projects we are passionate about, we may miss the structure of a workday and the financial security employment provided.

While we may be overjoyed that our child has found a partner, we may notice changes (not all for the better) in our parent-child bond. Same goes for the addition of a new generation to our family. In situations like these, we may notice that the parenting wisdom we want to provide our adult children with is not always appreciated — or accepted.

Whether or not these changes are our choice or imposed by someone else also impacts the emotions that arise. But even positive and long-awaited events can create stress and put a strain on the relationships we value most. These transitions can also create feelings of isolation, as we question why we can’t just be happy when joyous occasions happen. Knowing that you want to feel a certain way does not always make it so. The judgments we have about our reactions to change can contribute to self-doubt, anxiety, a depressed mood or a difficult time communicating with others about our needs.

As transitions happen over the lifespan, it is helpful to know that you are not alone. Others are going through the same things you’re experiencing. Some find it helpful to develop strategies for managing the thoughts and emotions that accompany change, be it before, during or after the issues come up. Start by giving the feelings you have a label (i.e. frustration, sorrow, guilt or joy). Recognizing that your feelings are valid can be a helpful next step. Working towards determining which feelings are serving your goals and which may be standing in the way can be a useful practice that you can embark on independently or with the support of other people.

Many find comfort in talking to others, be it a therapist, friends or family. Others find comfort in talking in a group setting. The Family Institute will soon be launching a focus group for people to meet with others and discuss the transitions you are facing and experiencing. What you feel might be helpful to someone else also experiencing changes in their life.


Laura Willig Dink, MSMFT, is a Clinical Program Fellow with The Family Institute. She has a special interest in assisting couples and families transition through major life changes and developmental milestones. She supports couples in all phases of life from courtship, commitment, and the decision of whether to have children through retirement and reflecting on life’s evolving priorities.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. To learn more about our therapy and mental health services, please visit our website.

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