Winning from Losing: Life Transformation
This is the next post in the series about grief and loss. There is potential for life transformation from inevitable transitions in our life that naturally cause us to feel a sense of loss and grief. The focus is on things we can actively do and changes we can decide to make to adjust to new realities in life as we age.
Getting older, aging every day
We are all getting older every day. There is no doubt about that. And considering the alternative, most of us are pleased that we get the opportunity to do so. While each new day is definitely a gift, there are also inevitable losses that come with the aging process.
For example, even though you have diligently exercised your entire life and feel to be in great shape, you most likely will be smoked by your athletic twenty-something grandchild in a road race. This fact doesn’t diminish the great shape you are in. It just goes to show that your body is no match for your decades-younger grandchild. A “win” is continuing with your commitment to healthy living as you are aging even if you lose a little flexibility or speed.
When the losses add up
Generally, the first losses we notice are minor annoyances. They may even be joked about with family members; needing reading glasses and forgetting why you came into a room. For many people, those are the first signs that age-related changes are occurring. These initial changes generally don’t require much adaptation.
Then over time, we may notice that we have difficulty hearing and as a result, limit the number of social engagements we attend. Next, we may find ourselves looking forward to an afternoon nap after a walk that formerly would have been considered a short stroll. We make dinner and notice it’s a struggle to get the lid off the jar. We gradually find we stop going out at night because it’s too hard to see in the dark. We may even find we avoid going upstairs during the day because the stairs seem so steep and hard to maneuver. And when did the bathtub get so high and challenging to step into? Eventually we may get to the point where many of our friends have moved away or passed away, and our social life isn’t quite what it was.
As more and more of these losses adding up, we may begin to feel the loss of control and independence we begin to experience manifests in feelings of sadness, uselessness or frustration. Just as with most things in life, it’s not what happens to you, but what you tell yourself about what happens to you that determines how you experience the aging process. This is an important way to turn losing into winning. Learning to accept the inevitable changes as part of the normal tide of life results in much less suffering than fighting and cursing the changes at every turn.
The path to acceptance
That being said, it is normal to feel a wide variety of emotions on the path towards acceptance of age-related losses. Some of the possible emotions that may arise are fear of the loss of independence and of needing help from others. Many of us find it much easier to help others than to accept help ourselves. This is especially true if our self image is of an independent person who enjoyed giving to others throughout life. One way to turn this around to a win is to remind yourself how much satisfaction you received from helping others. By allowing others to help you, you are giving them the gift of experiencing that same satisfaction.
The mask of anger
Anger is another emotion that may arise when age-related losses appear. People experiencing anger can be very hard on their friends and family and may find that they alienate the people that they care the most about.
Anger is a secondary emotion and often the anger masks the underlying discomfort that the person is experiencing about the changes that are occurring. Understanding this concept helps to explain the anger. And hopefully it allows friends and family to develop compassion for the angry person, as well as, for the angry person to develop it for him or herself. Not understanding and using this concept can actually be a lose – lose. Both you and your loved ones can turn that into a win by making the decision to focus on acceptance and positive change.
We have been changing and evolving throughout our lives. With each change we need to adapt to a new sense of who we are and how we see ourselves. For example, when we leave our parent’s home and begin to work, we shift our inner orientation from a dependent child to a responsible adult. Similar shifts come with marriage, parenthood, grandparent-hood, retirement, divorce, remarriage, death of family members, etc.
Each change in our life circumstances causes us to redefine our sense of self. The same is true of the aging process. If we continue to see ourselves as the high-level executive, top athlete, or busy mother that may have defined our younger years, we will suffer when our reality doesn’t match the experience of our current situation.
Three Phases of Life Transitions
According to William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, each successful transition we go through in life requires three phases: an ending, a neutral zone which is often characterized by a period of confusion and distress, and a new winning beginning. According to Bridges, transitions are key times in the natural process of development and self-renewal. Through understanding and accepting that change is inevitable, we can stop fighting the changes that are occurring and move peacefully into our next phase of life. By acknowledging the ending of the old way of being, we take the first steps to accepting our new way of life.
Coming to terms with the fact that her aching knees will no longer allow her to run is a challenging ending for a person who has seen herself as a runner all her life. Acknowledging that that activity will no longer be part of her identity frees her to discover what is next. Although she will likely go through an uncomfortable period of distress while in the “neutral zone”, allowing herself the time to process the loss will likely result in a blossoming of a new won interest or hobby.
For example, she may discover that although she can no longer run, she still loves being out in nature. Her new slower pace may allow her to discover hiking, or bird watching. Her involvement in one or both of these activities could lead to new learning, a new passion, new friends, and travel to places she may have never otherwise visited.
Even the man who is confined to his bed and has lost his ability to read his beloved books may find the peace and contentment that comes from sitting quietly, listening to audio books, and being present to what is happening in the moment.
And that’s the Point – Winning from Losing
The point is that every ending, even the ones that are unplanned or unwanted have the potential to lead to our growth and development. If you are experiencing a loss, allow yourself to feel the sadness and disappointment, sit quietly not knowing what is coming next and prepare yourself for the next great chapter that is unfolding.
Gail Tomarchio, MA, LPC, BCC, Director of Wellness Initiatives, is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Board-Certified Coach, and a certified yoga instructor. She is passionate about health and wellness and about helping others overcome their self-perceived limitations to live their most authentic life. Her expertise comes from years of studying human behavior, the Dimensions of Wellness, positive psychology, and habit change and integrating this into every aspect of her work. In addition to program development, counseling and coaching, Gail has presented workshops on various wellness topics, written articles for wellness newsletters and an article on the positive role of mindfulness in the workplace, published in CDHC Solutions, a magazine for employee health professionals. She formerly hosted a radio show on B101 Philadelphia, discussing health related issues.
This post is another example of how Gail authentically speaks and writes from her heart and her experience. Through her studies, research and career, she has helped many people to understand and accept life changes. She has dedicated herself to living mindfully and is committed to guiding others toward vitality, independence, growth and resilience.
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