Expecting something bad to happen

Disenchantment is the process of questioning what is real and what is illusory. It occurs when the old reality (i.e. ‘I will love you forever’) is no longer applicable, causing us to view the world in a different light and to question our assumptions, leading to beneficial change. At this stage, I began questioning whether I ever loved my boyfriend and realised I had stayed with him more for his benefit than my own. This was a difficult period for me as I wondered whether I would ever be able to assert myself in relationships. I realised that, although I cared for my ex, I was yet to experience true love and a relationship borne from mutual trust and respect.

The final stage of the ‘Ending’ process is Disorientation which is characterised by discomfort. At this point, our old self has come under scrutiny and we are left with an air of confusion. I recall feeling very lost and as if my relationship had been a waste and I should have known better. My self-esteem was very low and I questioned myself a lot, afraid of what the next step for me would be. Being in an unusual setting contributed to this feeling of disorientation as I withdrew into myself and because frightened of other people and what they were capable of. I was in the process of leaving the past behind, but was left with numerous questions and didn’t quite feel ready to bound into my new single life.

At this point, I was in the Neutral Zone, a bewildering middle stage. The individual is no longer the same person, but they have not yet become their new self. It occurs once we have ‘let go’ of old ways of being and are now detached or ‘disengaged’ from the past but not yet engaged in our new beginning. This period is defined by feeling lost, alone, disorientated and often depressed, yet it leads the way for introspection, insight, self-reflection and assessment which culminates in rediscovering our place in the world and can instigate a new beginning.

I spent quite a while in this zone following my break-up and felt quite alone and depressed. I spent a great deal of time writing in my diary and reflecting on all that had happened to me. While I was in Newcastle, I spent some time with Richard, a friend from university, and although I knew he wanted a relationship with me, I didn’t quite feel ready and spent hours ruminating over whether I liked him, whether he would hurt me and whether I was completely over my ex-boyfriend. I was in the process of moving away from a very bad relationship into one which turned out to be extremely loving and rewarding.

The successful completion of the transition process is indicated by the New Beginning which can only occur once we have let go of the past and spent a significant period of time in the Neutral Zone. During this phase, we are now in a position to accept change and identify with the new situation. The new beginning takes place not by abiding by the expectations of others but by listening to our inner voice. We never fully disengage with the past, rather we use the knowledge gained from past experience as a resource as we travel into new territory. I knew that I had reached a new stage in my transition process one night when I spent time with Richard at Newcastle’s Quayside.

Richard confessed that he was falling in love with me but that he was worried I wouldn’t want to be with him, which would break his heart. Although I was still recuperating from my break-up, I realised that here was someone who obviously cared deeply about me and who I adored, yet I wasn’t even considering being with him because of my ex-boyfriend’s treatment of me. I decided to throw caution to the wind and go out with Richard which marked a new beginning for me in terms of my persona and my life in general.

Through my transition period, I’d discovered how I deserve to be treated and have met someone who treats me accordingly. We have been together for over 2 years now and this relationship could not be more different to my relationship with my ex-boyfriend, yet I am thankful of that experience because the transition taught me a lot about myself and how to be less submissive. In addition, had it not been for my need to gain some distance from my ex, I may not have found the person who has been instrumental in restoring my faith and regaining my strength after this very confusing and difficult period.

An alternative to Bridge’s three-tiered model of transition is that proposed by Adams, Hayes and Hopson (1976) which consists of seven stages and is perhaps more applicable to crises than rudimentary transitions. The cycle is based on experiencing a disruption in one’s life, acknowledging the reality of the situation then gaining an understanding of oneself whilst testing and incorporating alternative ways of behaving that are relevant to the new beginning.

The model emphasises the fact that self-esteem may dip at different periods through the transition and the individual is likely to move backwards and forwards as opposed to the transition progressing steadily. Having studied the models proposed by Bridges and Adams et al, I feel that Bridge’s model is more representative of the transition I went through during the break-up of my relationship as I experienced three very distinct phases: an ending, a period characterised by bewilderment and confusion and a new beginning. Nevertheless, I feel that Adams et al’s model has much to teach us about how many people respond to difficult life transitions.

The first phase in Adams et al’s transition model is immobilisation which is characterised by shock and disbelief. Having split up with my boyfriend, I experienced a sense of awe regarding what he had put me through and struggled to come to terms with the fact I had allowed him to treat me so badly. Immobilisation is followed by the process of minimisation, which involves playing down the importance of the situation and results in an increase in self-esteem. I do not believe I experienced this phase and instead went straight into phase 3, which is a state of depression. I remained lost and depressed for several weeks before reaching acceptance. I felt particularly low but accepted the present situation and that there was no going back which gave me a sense of relief and optimism for the future. Then followed a period of testing out new behaviours that were appropriate to my new single status.

I went on a couple of dates and got back in touch with friends I hadn’t spoken to whilst with my ex-boyfriend. In addition, I became more involved in my studies which I had been distracted from during my 6 month relationship. Doing things for myself resulted in an increase in confidence and self-reliance which naturally led me to the next stage in the transition process; searching for meaning and trying to gain an understanding of why I had allowed myself to be treated in such a way and how to assert myself in the future. At this point, I was in Newcastle and spending a great deal of time reflecting on the relationship and wondering what lay ahead for me.

Adams et al suggest the transition period is finalised by the process of internalisation whereby self-esteem is restored and the change the person has gone through becomes an accepted part of their life. This is definitely true for me and there are many remnants of my transition which remain with me today. I feel I am a stronger person as a result of the transition, but still have difficulty accepting that my boyfriend loves me and sometimes resent him for loving me so much, expecting something bad to happen. I suppose this is a result of getting used to bad things happening in my previous relationship and learning that, when things were good, they wouldn’t be for long.

However, I am slowly learning that my relationship is far removed from that with my ex and I should embrace the fact that I am loved and protected in my current situation. Therefore, while there are elements of Adams et al’s transition model that are applicable to my experience of ending an abusive relationship, I feel that Bridge’s three stages fit perfectly with my personal transition.

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