Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Coping

How To Deal With the Emotional Upheaval of Relocation

A decision to relocate and the process of accomplishing a move impacts the entire family. Often the person whose job is changing weighs the plusses and minuses of the two positions in question. However, when he or she does not take into account the psychology of a transition, the family’s adjustment to a potential move can be lengthier and more painful.

Change is an event. Transition, on the other hand, is the psychological process that people of all ages go through when a major change occurs in their lives. The following strategies will enable people who are relocating to help themselves and each member of the family accomplish a successful transition.

1. Understand and expect the emotional roller coaster caused by major life change.

If you are moving to a new job and/or a new location, you can expect the gamut of emotions...e.g., the numbness of denial, anxiety and fear, anger that can harden into bitterness, depression, and grief. Don’t be alarmed; these are normal.

2. Realize that the transition may be more difficult for family members who have less choice, who “are moved.”

The person who takes the new job will definitely experience the transition-related emotions, but those in the family who “are moved” may struggle even more. Imposed change is always more difficult because of the feeling of powerlessness that it causes. People resist the sense of having no control, especially a lack of control over a change that results in giving up things that are important to them.

3. Understand that experiencing “Endings” (the first stage of transition) causes grief.

Many people fail to associate the grief process with situations other than death. However, significant losses of any kind can precipitate grieving. Letting go of friends, familiar routines, trusted professionals like doctors or hairdressers, and a home containing family memories can be very sad. Tears are not a sign of weakness. The shedding of tears is actually helpful in moving through this sadness and creating a readiness for the future.

4. Show compassion for the specific losses of each person in the family.

Provide one-on-one opportunities for each individual to talk about what he or she will miss after the move. Just knowing that someone notices and cares about your feelings goes a long way in helping you deal with them.

5. Use “rituals” or symbolic actions to show break from the past.

Just like funerals are used to ritualize the letting go of a person, family “rituals” can allow a sharing of the “letting go” and make the move go more smoothly. For instance, before moving from a house, you could have family members take turns telling favorite stories of things that happened while living there. Good-bye gatherings of friends can also prepare family members to move on.

6. Help each family member get a picture of his/her new life.

The fear of the unknown is the most critical cause of the anxiety in change. Even before the move, help each person begin to understand the practical ways in which his/her life will be affected. When possible, a visit by all to the new location is helpful. When a house is selected (or in the process), show each person his/her space. Even a drive-by visit of schools, shopping areas or recreational opportunities can build comfort with the move.

7. Create a step-by-step plan.

Having the structure of a time line, along with the steps needed to accomplish the move provides security for everyone involved. This also is a way to alleviate some of the fear of the unknown.

8. Expect the “3 C’s” of the second stage of transition, “The Wilderness.”

After Endings have been made, and comfort and adjustment to the new situation are complete, there is a period of “lostness”. This period is characterized by three main experiences.

  1. Confusion. Loss of familiar faces, routines, environments, and even ways of thinking create confusion. People often feel they are in “another world”.
  2. Conflict. Don’t be surprised if the confusion of “The Wilderness” produces some impatience and irritability, a breeding ground for conflict. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming family members for the discomfort caused by the move.
  3. Creativity. This is the good news. When familiar patterns are gone, you are more likely to be creative. In fact, positive creativity is not only possible, but also necessary. Use this crazy time as an opportunity to create more positive habits, both individually and as a family.

9. Give each family member as many choices as possible.

In every way possible, give every person choices. This could be as simple as having input into how to arrange his/her room. Choices give everyone a sense of control, producing a calming of internal emotional chaos.

10. Don’t be surprised if kids act out during this time.

Younger children tend to express grief in acting-out behavior. Two elements are important in effective parenting during a time of transition.

  1. Understand those even little ones experience transition-related emotions. Give them caring attention to help them through this period.
  2. Maintain boundaries. Don’t think that extreme leniency with customary rules is helpful. Especially when so many things are unfamiliar, kids need to know that parental expectations are consistent. This actually provides needed security during this time (and any time, for that matter!).

11. Don’t get too busy to maintain family relationships through family activities and communication.

A healthy family unit is one of the most powerful inoculations against harm from a relocation. Though there are a million things to do, there is no more important task than to schedule talking times or activity times that keep a couple and/or family close. Loving support when trying to adjust to “new everything” is invaluable.

12. Be patient with yourself and others in the family.

Transitions take time. Long after the move is complete, family members may still be trying to make the psychological adjustments to the move. Plenty of patience and understanding can make a relocation successful where it counts the most...in the lives of all those who are a part of it.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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