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How to Emotionally Prepare for Military Transitions

Transition is almost synonymous with the Marine Corps way of life.  We should all be Semper Gumby, right?  While transitions are not unique to the military, the types, the frequency, and even brevity of transitions are unique.  Most of us can probably relate to standing in the middle of our home, which is now filled with boxes and strangers packing up all of our memories, and just hoping that everything makes it, undamaged, to its final destination, wherever that may be.

Transitions are often complex, challenging, and can bring many powerful ever changing mixed emotions.  Most of us are aware that during active transitions we may experience a flood of emotions which cause stress.  But what happens when those lingering feelings of stress, uneasiness, and sadness persist even after you are settled into your new surroundings?  According to Kate Berardo, an expert on preparing people for cultural adjustment and transitions, there are Five Cultures of Change: Routines, Reactions, Roles, Relationships, and Reflections.  Hopefully, by understanding the 5 R's we can understand ourselves better and understand our emotions during and after transitions.

  • Routines we have created for ourselves shape our lives and thus provide us structure and make us feel safe and secure.  Routines are our "knowns" and during big transitions many of our "knowns" are gone. Having routines that are not place-specific can help you to feel centered even during a turbulent time.  For instance, medication is a routine that can take place anywhere.
  • Reactions from loved ones upon hearing of our move may be unexpected and even hurtful.  These unexpected reactions can lead you to avoid those situations and leave you with hurt feelings.  However, rather than isolating yourself, give your friends and family time to adjust to the thought of the change and approach them again later when emotions are less volatile.  Open up communication about how you can maintain the relationship despite distance.
  • Roles are central to who we are and can give us purpose and meaning.  Generally, we define ourselves by the roles we have in our daily life.  Some of these roles come with us during a PCS, but other roles may be left behind when we move.  There are things you can do to prepare for this role shift.  Have more than one role to help define who you are.  Strategize how you can continue the old role in the new environment.
  • Relationships are crucial to our emotional well-being.  In times of stress relationships aid us with coping in difficult situations.  When we move our family bonds may strengthen, but there are also those relationships that cannot come with us to the new location.  Prior to the move, communicate about how you would like to maintain the relationship.  There are all different ways to build new fulfilling relationships while maintaining the old.
  • Reflections about yourself.  The way we view ourselves, how we interact with our world, and our morals and values may shift when we move to a new area.  We may find ourselves adopting new societal norms and discarding some of our old beliefs due to new knowledge and experiences we have gained.  Keep in mind that the only constant in life is change, and recognize that sometimes change just simply means we are growing.

If you still find yourself struggling with your emotions, others can help.  Your local Community Counseling Program can help you to work through some of the issues that accompany transitions.

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