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How to Get Out of Limboland

by bevbarnes on June 20, 2012

Originally published on February 8, 2011

Are you in Limboland?  Are you trying to make a decision but can’t seem to?  Are you feeling like you are walking around in a fog, forgetting things, feeling disoriented and confused.   Are you questioning if you are good enough; wondering what you should do; worrying about where you belong or who you really are?  If so, then you are either pregnant or in Limboland or both.

What is Limboland?

Limboland is the place in-between the old and the new.  It is like an airport.  It is not home and it is not your destination.  You arrive in Limboland when your insides are trying to adjust and come to terms with the impact of a change that affects your sense of self.  This could be an event, like an illness, divorce, job loss or kids leaving home or it could be an internal shift in your attitudes or beliefs about life that other people can’t see.  In Limboland you usually feel confused, unsure and bewildered.

William Bridges in Making Sense of Life’s Changes, defines this adjustment period as the transition.  I call it Limboland.   Unfortunately, some people get stuck there and never get to their new destination.

After spending far too much time in Limboland myself, and helping all my clients to move through Limboland, I have some tips to share with you so you that you don’t get stuck there.

1.  Recognize that you are in Limboland

You end up in Limboland when something in your life has changed and you are trying to adjust to that change.  Many of my clients don’t realize that something has changed in their lives.  They believe that random emotions have invaded their life and they are scared that these emotions will take over.  What they usually do is ignore, deny and repress their emotions.  They end up feeling angry, sad and exhausted.

Your emotions however, are a signal that something has shifted in your life.  You need to figure out what that is.  It is easy to recognize you are in Limboland when you can point to a major event like a divorce, job loss, or a major illness.  It is extremely difficult to recognize you are in Limboland when there has been no major change event.

Janet found herself in Limboland after 11 years of marriage.  She thought she was having a nervous breakdown until she realized that she was in Limboland because her beliefs about marriage had changed.

Jeff found himself in Limboland at work.  He hadn’t lost his job, he was just miserable.  He felt like he was on a roller coaster with his feelings – moving through detachment, apathy, anger and sadness.  He couldn’t completely shake these feelings even when he wasn’t at work.

2.  Identify what has ended and allow yourself to grieve.

You always end up in Limboland because something has ended.  When something ends there is always a loss and with that, comes sadness and grief and sometimes anger.

Janet had been taught that women were solely responsible for the emotional part of the relationship and men were the providers.  When she stopped believing that, her relationship with her husband started to feel very uncomfortable.  She couldn’t identify what was going on until she acknowledged that how she defined the role of ‘wife’ had ended.  Once she recognized this, she began to accept and understand her feelings and she allowed her sadness to flow.  She knew that this meant that her relationship with her husband would likely change and so she also needed to grieve her old dreams for her marriage which had ceased to exist.

Jeff had always excelled at everything. For the last several months however his job performance was just average.  He hated his job as an engineer and could no longer force himself to perform.  Jeff was used to pleasing other people and being rewarded for it but something had shifted.  He was passionate about music and wanted to make that his life’s work.  Jeff finally recognized that his belief that he could please everyone in his life and still be happy was ending.  He needed to grieve his old self image in order to begin to discover his new one.

Once you identify what is ending and stop repressing your feelings about it, you are on your way out of Limboland.

3.  Figure out what you need to learn in Limboland…and learn it!

Most people have 4 key questions that surface when they are in Limboland.  They are:

  • Identity:  Who am I?
  • Loyalty:  Where do I belong?
  • Competence:  What am I good at?
  • Action:  What do I do?

You will probably find that you are drawn to one of these questions in just about every life transition you experience.  Notice what question you are drawn to.  Expect these questions to show up and don’t be surprised.  To get out of Limboland you also need to figure out what you need to learn and learn it!

Janet needed to learn to stop avoiding her emotions.  She needed to learn that she would survive even if she felt anger or sadness; and that once she had expressed her emotions, she was much less confused.

Jeff needed to learn to believe that he was good enough, just the way he was – even if he wasn’t doing what other people wanted him to do.

 4.  Seek safety

It is extremely helpful to have a confidante, good friend, or coach when you are in Limboland.  This temporary support provides safety and helps you to redefine your sense of self.  In Limboland it helps to have someone who can listen and accept you unconditionally.

Spend time alone and nurture yourself.  Go outside and do body-based activities like walking or sports so that you can connect to your physical self and not get lost in your mind.

Protect yourself in the same way that you would a gestating baby.  You need a safe secure space to develop, change and grow.

5.  Remember who you were then.

Get in touch with people who knew you when you were younger and ask them what your best qualities were then.  Look at pictures of your younger self.  What was great about you then?  It probably hasn’t changed.

Embrace and acknowledge what is best about you, because that is what you will bring with you to your new destination.

6. Take some risks.

Limboland is the perfect place to try out something new that you have always wanted to do but were too scared or too busy to pursue.  Often the new ‘thing’ you discover in Limboland becomes a big part of your new beginning.

June a former engineer and stay at home mom, formulated an art challenge.  She decided to do art every day for six months.  Even if she scribbled with a marker, she counted it as art.  June had always believed that she was not creative even though she loved art as a child.  Her art challenge helped her to shift her sense of self.  She was on the road to re-defining herself as both logical and creative.

7.  What you resist persists.

The longer you resist being in Limboland, the longer you’ll stay there. You can’t avoid Limboland if you are making big changes in your life.  It is where you release your old identity and start to develop your new one.  Once you start to feel your feelings, you have your ticket out.

When you start to have new energy and new creative ideas, you have moved out of Limboland and into your new destination.

Celebrate and enjoy!

Download a new Playsheet to help you deal with Limboland here!

I love to hear from you. What is changing in your life?  What is the one strategy that helps you to deal with Limboland.  Share, share, share below on the blog!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Janelle June 21, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Ah, Limboland. Resisting change is so difficult because it’s impossible! Change happens every day, every second, and in every moment. I used to resist change or think that change was the solution to a problem, and now I’m open to enjoying change. I ask, “What will this bring me?” when big change happens and usually the answer is, “possibilities.” Thanks for this reminder Bev. You’re brilliant.


Bev Barnes June 22, 2012 at 1:25 am

I needed the reminder too Janelle! What a great question to ask when change happens. I love it. Thanks Janelle!


Cousin Grace June 22, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Okay, Cousin Bev,
Not that all of your posts are not totally awesome but this one blows me away. I’m hoping that your limboland is making you feel great when you’re not quaking at the knees, as I bravely, courageously try to do now. Thanks for the reminder to jump, leap to the joy that is waiting for me.


Bev Barnes June 22, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Hey Grace! I’m so glad that this post was what you needed to hear. Leap empty-handed into the void. Joy is waiting for you to find it. Xoxo


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