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How to cope with the changes an Empty Nest brings

Article by Irene Brankin

You may be approaching the ‘Empty Nest’ with dread, but as Irene Brankin explains, the empty nest can also open up a whole new world of possibilities:

My business card has on the back of it “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans” (John Lennon) not only because it makes me smile but because of my own experience of just that in many different ways including illness, loss of different “hats” I held and my son leaving home for University and marriage.

So yes, life has a way of pulling the rug from under you not only children leaving home (the Empty Nest Syndrome), but nowadays so many are losing their jobs, perhaps through no fault of their own, illness, divorce, death and, of course, everyday problems that can arise unexpectedly.  Life just doesn’t happen as you want it to, however, much you try to keep control.  And these losses and changes  (large and small, good and not so good) ,have to be dealt with in their own way.

Loss and Change are part of life

For most of us, change is hard work!  But like it or not Loss and Change are part of life – for good or bad.  I’m using a definition of Loss here as the end of the life you’ve always known but also the beginning of a new and different life.  Life won’t ever be the same and this forces you to redefine and see what you’re going to do with it.  It can be challenging as I’ve already said, it can come in so many forms, and it can give you a sense of who you are and why you are here. When something is lost (job, people, health, etc.) so is a part of oneself that was attached to that person or thing.  You don’t inhabit your world in the same way as before.  You can easily allow yourself to shrink and make yourself invisible.

Empty Nest Syndrome

One of the forms of loss I’ve mentioned is the Empty Nest Syndrome which is a term used to describe the psychological condition you can have when your children leave home whether for education, work or marriage.  And for some women they can experience many feelings – amongst them, uselessness as it can seem that you’ve lost your role in life and so can have a sense of failure.  You may be feeling flat and have no energy and at loss within yourself and in life – even if it is full of activity, people and events. There can be the feeling that you’re going through the motions but not really living. Energy runs out and there’s a feeling of emptiness, a vacuum, a sense of waiting – nothing seems to be happening.  These times of what can seem like withdrawal to the outside world, may actually be necessary.  It can be signalling a transition between two distinct phases and can preclude change.  For the new to come in, the old has to fall away.  The recognition that life is out of balance as you are not only the “mother” role.

The time in between the old and the new is a hard space for all of us.  This transition can cause you to doubt, be angry, depressed, want to return to the “norm”.   You can simply feel out of control.  If you struggle, fight and resist this time it’ll only make it more painful.  It can, however, be the gateway to a different and perhaps better life for you!  Take a moment and see where you are in life – if you’re in transition then own that – no denial.  This in itself helps you to breathe.  However much you want the process to end, and you will, there is not much you can do about it except go with the flow as this time has a mind of its own. I can safely assure you of that!  You have to wait for the old to die and the new to be born.  You simply need to allow this time.  It can result in you feeling drained and exhausted, so you really must take care of yourself.

Connect with the world in new ways

The honest, acknowledged loss (of whatever kind) can be seen as you taking care of yourself before rushing on to anything to fill the gap that’s been left.  Most women spend the first half of their adult lives trying to please everyone else and putting their own needs last, whether within family or outside.  They make commitments, involvement and active effort to a person, family, career, and can lose sight of their own dreams. Now in this next stage in life, your brain is asking you to reconnect with the world in new ways.  How you choose to do this will be up to you.

Life is a huge, big experience – like a roller coaster with ups and downs and fear and excitements – enjoy it.  Your emotional resilience will help you to let go, grieve your loss of whatever kind, go with the flow  and know that in time, you’ll be ready to take life with both hands again from a different place.

Remember as your children grow up and leave home, you can also experience a sense of freedom and even relief, and then can get on with pursuing your dreams. So an empty nest may not be so bad after all – it presents a world of new opportunities!

About Irene:

Irene is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist, Transpersonal Life Coach, author of ‘The Visible Woman’, married, proud grandmother of two.  She is passionate about drawing women’s strengths out in order to build self confidence (or re-build self confidence) so they feel empowered about their next steps in life.

To find out more about Irene’s upcoming workshops and retreats  and how they can help you through a transitional stage of your life go to www.thevisiblewoman.com/national-workshops/



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  1. Jo Carroll

    September 19, 2012

    I’ve no idea who said it’s not what happens to us, but how we deal with it that makes the difference. While I can think of times that might not be so easy (crippling car crash, for instance) I do think it’s a useful way of looking at things.

    Our children must leave home – and we have years to get used to that idea. And then we have a choice how we deal with that. It’s fine to feel sad for a while but then we can get out there and rediscover how we can be without them, or we can retreat to a corner and dribble into our cocoa, waiting to be old. (I know, that’s simplistic, but I’ve found it a useful way of looking at things.)

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