Life Transitions

Life transitions occur at every stage of life, from youth through old age.  Life’s impermanence is recognized, yet not recognized. It often takes us by surprise and throws us off our stride. While we are usually able to negotiate these transitions by ourselves, sometimes these situations overwhelm us and we need counseling to get through them. Graduation from high school or college, marriage, divorce, moving to a new area, health problems, and getting older are just a few of these life transitions.  In her 27 years of practice, Dr. Firestein has helped many individuals, couples, and families through these transitions as well as navigating many of these herself. There is no shame in asking for help at times of significant life change.

Whether you are looking for a psychotherapist that is able to provide depression treatment or a counselor that will simply listen to you, Dr. Beth Firestein is here to help. Contact Dr. Firestein today for your free 15 minute consultation.

Dr. Firestein writes a monthly Q & A column for the Healthline magazine which is a separate magazine inserted into the Reporter Herald on the 3rd Thursday of each month.  It is called Uncommon Sense.  Here are some sample questions and answers from previous columns addressing topics of psychological interest to many of the clients she sees in her practice.

Question: Dr. Beth, I am about to graduate from high school in a month or so and I have no idea what I want to do after high school.  I’ve been a pretty good student (mostly As and Bs and a C now and then).   I always thought I would go to college right away and my parents definitely assume that I will, but I am tired of being in school and want to take a break and just get a job and have fun for a while. I have mentioned this idea to my Mom and Dad and they think it is a terrible idea. They are willing to pay for my college education now, but they said they might not pay for it if I don’t go right away. What should I do?

Answer: I hear this question from a lot of young people I talk to and the answers are as individual as the graduates and their parents.  There is a lot to be said for continuing your college education right after high school. For one thing, you are already in the habit of going to school and studying. Believe me, that is a habit it can be pretty easy to get out of!  For many people, the summer after high school is an exciting time to cut loose and play and that can make going back to school (junior college or college) either harder or easier to take, depending on your personality. Many young people find that college is a lot less restrictive than high school, even if you still have to study a lot. Going to class 2-3 times a week can feel freeing compared to going to high school classes all day every day of the week.

On the other hand, a lot of young people find themselves in your position—burned out on school and unclear about what they want to study or become professionally.  Sometimes delaying school can be a good move.  There is no point in wasting your parents’ money.  If you are not going to attend college right off the bat, I strongly recommend getting a steady part- or full-time job while you are deciding what to do.  You can have your summer of fun and then start to earn some money and get work experience.  If possible, move into a place of your own with a friend. Your parents will respect your decision more if you demonstrate your independence and personal responsibility.  Maybe you can negotiate with them to pay for your education when you attend college if they do not have to support you financially in the meantime.

There are also alternatives that are not so black and white.  You can go to junior college or a local university and work part-time so that you knock the general studies courses out of the way without having to commit to a major before you know what you want to do.  This keeps your hand in with studying and going to school while still allowing you to earn some money of your own (though what you will earn is usually not enough to support living in your own place). Some people want to travel, have adventures or move to a new area and establish work and some independence. These can also be good choices if you are ready for them.

I do recommend continuing college within 1-3 years after you finish high school even if you do take time off.  It is easy to get stuck in a dead end job and then lose the motivation or discipline to get yourself out of the rut.  Especially if you want your parents to support you in your education, don’t wait too long to take them up on the offer!

If you discuss your plans with your parents, it is much more likely that they will get behind you and support you in whatever you want to do (within reason, of course). They might even be willing to provide you with some financial support along the way—or at least keep you on their health insurance. Even with the tough job market college graduates face these days, the economy is improving and more opportunities are likely to become available in the near future. One thing is for certain, the vast majority of people with college educations make more money than people that do not have college degrees. While that may not be your top priority now, I can pretty much guarantee you that it will matter to you in the future.  Congratulations on your upcoming graduation and I wish you the best, whatever you decide.

Question: Dear Dr. Beth, I have been divorced for several years, and while I have dated some I have not had a boyfriend or anyone serious in my life. My family and friends think this is weird and constantly ask me why I am not serious about finding someone to spend my life with. I am OK on my own and I don’t feel like I need that in my life right now. Is it a difference in our generation? I don’t want to be rude or mean to them, but I am tired of the constant hounding and nagging about “settling down”.

Answer: It sounds like you are a rather emotionally independent woman who knows what she wants—and knows what she doesn’t want.  If you are in a place in your life for whatever reason that you prefer not to date or be in a serious relationship that is totally OK.  You don’t want to be in a relationship (or looking for one) right now and you don’t want to be hassled for that decision

There are lots of reasons why people want to be in a serious relationship and lots of reasons why they prefer not to be. There are good and bad reasons to be in a relationship and good and bad reasons not to be in one.

People want to be in relationships for many positive reasons:  companionship, someone with whom to share life’s joys and sorrows, the greater ease of life that can come from being part of a “team”.  Love, physical affection and having someone in your corner when life is hard are other good reasons for being in a relationship.

More problematic reasons are not feeling that you are OK or can be happy without another person, wanting to be completely taken care of financially or emotionally and expecting another person to “save you” from life or from your own aloneness.  Mainly these are problematic because they don’t work and they don’t solve the underlying problems in yourself that leads to those needs in the first place.

There are also good and bad reasons not to be in a relationship. Dating takes a lot of energy and can be a roller-coaster of hope and disappointment. Sometimes we just don’t have the emotional reserves or we’re just not up for it. Other good reasons for not being in a relationship are having the desire to enjoy being independent and self-sufficient or even to prove to yourself that you can be.  When you feel comfortable being on your own being with someone is a choice, not an act of desperation. Perhaps the best reason of all is that you don’t want to be in a relationship. If you are in a relationship and don’t want to be, how satisfying can that possibly be for you or your partner?

Not-so-good reasons for not being in a relationship include wanting to be in a relationship but feeling stopped by fear or not feeling worthy or deserving.  Or if you feel stuck because it has been a few years and you are not yet over your former partner then you should address this issue and get free of that emotional suffering. Similarly, if you are avoiding dating because of social anxiety or confidence problems, these too can be addressed. Avoidance is not the solution.

Regarding the problem of being nagged by others who care about you, this is best handled directly. You can say something straightforward, such as “It makes me feel bad when you frequently ask me these questions. Please don’t do that.”  Or you can use humor, as long as it is not biting or too sarcastic. You have the right to your own decisions and you may or may not wish to share your personal reasons with anyone; that is completely up to you, so It’s OK to politely tell others to butt out.

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