By Leia Francisco
We are living with change bombardment. The reshaping of social, political, and institutional norms in turn fuels personal transitions—changes in life circumstances, roles, relationships, and beliefs. These transitions shape our stories.
In the last few years, the speed and number of changes have grown dramatically, and, as a futurist once predicted, our “focusing mechanisms” can hardly keep up. In transition coaching, I help people understand their transitions as the emotional responses to any significant change, each transition being unique in its impact and the time needed to work through it. Transitions also can ping off each other: a job loss affects a health issue, which in turn may affect finances, a family relationship, and so on. These multiple transitions invite us to focus on what is most important, a process that can be facilitated through recognizing its meaning story.
It is normal to feel bewildered and exhausted by transitions, though others may not see our challenges as we soldier on in our daily lives. One tool that helps with transition isolation is reaching out for support, not only from people but from things like nature, music, and animals. Support grounds us amid conflicting emotions. It affirms and energizes us. When asked to list available supports, people usually express to me their surprise at how many supports they can call upon.
It helps to ask for support from a transition team of individuals who bring different insights into a specific situation. And we all have a team of powerful archetypes ready to help at any point in a transition. Because transitions temporarily break the narrative thread in our lives, the twelve archetypes described in Carol Pearson’s What Stories Are You Living? provide a narrative structure with characters who have lived through change.
Building a Relationship With Transition Archetypes
If people are curious about archetypes as transition guides, they usually gather general information about archetypes. Many are intuitively drawn to one or two archetypes and their mythic figures, which they can adapt to their own transition story. As one client said to me, “I always thought archetypes were ancient history. Now I see them as contemporaries.” Looking at their transitions through the lens of archetypes offers people a new perspective on how they can proceed.
I encourage clients to write about archetypes in their transitions, engaging in a dialogue with the archetype or describing their transitions in that archetype’s voice. Writing is an invaluable tool in archetype work. It accesses parts of the brain we don’t access ordinarily, and writing objectifies the archetypal story so that individuals can see new possibilities. Writing captures your dreams and imagination, and the Creator can help turn your words on the page into things like starting a business, improving a relationship, or redesigning an environment.
Phases of Transitions
The overlapping phases of transition have existed since human kind began. We let go,wander in the in-between, and eventually start a new chapter.
The first phase of a transition temporarily disrupts our story as we let go of things that no longer work or are no longer important. Some psychological endings (endings and letting go are essential terms in my transition work) take longer than others. When I moved from the Washington, DC area to the hill country of Texas, I let go of the old geography (including snow and traffic snarls), but it took me longer to let go of a deeply satisfying career. Releasing an old identity can be particularly difficult because we have not yet evolved a new one.
In letting go, a person might consider a role model, real or fictional, who experienced endings and triumphed over difficult changes. Maybe it is the ancestor who left a country and culture to build a new life or a heroic character like Spider-Man or Wonder Woman. And then there is Odysseus, who left his homeland and family for ten years and then returned, only to face more harsh changes. At some point in letting go, the Realist reminds us to get our feet on the ground and move toward the next phase of our transition.
In phase two of transition, our psychological journey moves to the in-between space. The word “liminal” refers to the threshold between the old and the new. It is here that the old order deconstructs, the old boundaries dissolve. We are free to wander. The paradox is that we experience a roller coaster of reactions, from fear, anger, the blahs, to hope, excitement, and imagination. We may feel suspended or out sync with the world but hold onto the knowledge that there will be opportunity for transformation and renewal.
I see this as a time of rich archetypal support and questioning. The Seeker asks us, “How do you want to show up in the world?” The Idealist asks, “As you move to the next chapter, what values will guide you?” And the Creator asks, “What wild ideas have you had lately?” The Magician is always present in the in-between, asking, “What are the possibilities?” Hecate, the goddess ofthe crossroads, might travel with you, carrying her torch to light the way in the dark. In my transitions, she walks by my side.
Because the in-between is so fertile, some archetypes may surprise you. My Warrior was an active archetype in my former career but took a back seat until a recent transition, when it suddenly reemerged with much needed warrior spirit. In a health challenge, facing the unknown, I called upon the Warrior’s courage.
Phase three of a transition is the new way of being and doing. As the poet John O’Donohue wrote, “Your courage kindled, you stand on new ground.”
The new way builds slowly. We do not so much move into the “new normal” as create it. A new home, retirement, financial shifts, a loss of a loved one have been woven into my story.
In creating the new way, any of us can turn to the archetypes. Our Sage helps us gather data to enact our goals. Our Seeker counsels us to explore new opportunities.We might even want to check some of our less used archetypes. A challenging transition is shifting to the role of caregiver for a family member. The Caregiver may feel anxious about these responsibilities or even resistant to this role. We can visit the Caregiver to adapt wisdom,compassion, and problem-solving to help us with this transition.
Our stories reveal a natural alliance of transitions and archetypes. Once we make the archetypes our own, they serve as light bearers who offer us courage and hope.
Leia Francisco is a transition coach and the author of Writing Through Transitions: A Guide for Transforming Life Changes.
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