Transitions (William Bridges)

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I debated posting about this book because it walks that line between Psychology and Self Help. Then I decided that not posting about a book simply because it might be considered a self-help book would be slightly cowardly and majorly contrary to my personal philosophy on openly addressing mental and emotional health in order to reduce the stigma that surrounds it. So here it is: my post on William Bridges’ Transitions. This book was given to me recently during what is certainly a period of transition in my own life — moving from “The Midwest” to “The South,” finishing graduate school and beginning a new job, leaving a community I had become part of and starting over in a city I’d only spent a handful of days in before moving to it…. Suffice it to say, this has been an alternately exciting and terrifying time for me.

So did Bridges’ book help? Hm, how to answer that. On one level, yes, it was interesting to read about this human process of “transitions” and to think about what a transition might mean in a person’s life. It was nice to see in print some of the emotional murkiness I’ve been experiencing and to begin to think about the reasons for and purposes of the darkness that often fills me right now. On another level, meh. Mostly this is because of the book’s slight cheese-factor (as I was forewarned); it’s an older book (originally written in 1979, although this edition was published in 2004 and was definitely overhauled by Bridges) and, as such, parts of it date the book. It’s also because parts of the book, obviously, don’t apply to me. I say “obviously” because the book is not about me and therefore cannot speak directly to my current situation 100% of the time. This is to be expected, and I certainly don’t fault the book for that.

Honestly, I found some very valuable passages in Bridges’ book and I ultimately liked it a good deal. Perhaps the passage that stood out to me the most and really spoke to my current situation is this one:

Disorientation [a phase of transitions] affects not only our sense of space but also our sense of time. […] That often happens in transition, and some of our resistance to going into transition comes from our fear of this emptiness. The problem is not that we don’t want to give up a job or a relationship, or that we can’t let go of our identity or our reality. The problem is that before we can find a new something, we must deal with a time of nothingness. And that prospect awakens old fears and all the old fantasies about death and abandonment. (123)

This sense of expanded time has been part of my experience lately — days feel so long and I often wish they didn’t because they’re also very empty. That “time of nothingness” he talks about is definitely something I’ve been grappling with (that’s why I read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, even though my review barely skims the surface of my personal thoughts on the meaning/lessness of life). So yes, this book was worth reading. It was a quick, easy, engaging read. Bridges is very anecdotal, which always makes non-fiction more interesting for me. Also, he used to be a literature professor, so his many examples drawn from classic poems, dramas, and mythologies resonate with me more than they might for other readers.

The long and short of it is this: if you’re going through a major life transition and are struggling with that transition, this book is probably worth picking up. And it’ll be a quick read. Can’t hurt, right? 🙂

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