Liminality: Learning how to Navigate the Space In Between

Embrace the uncertainty of the in-between and transform into a stronger person.

The bridge in-between.

(Anita Patterson Peppers /

Life is filled with transformations. Liminality is that in-between phase, when one chapter of life comes to an end, but you still haven’t quite changed completely.

That liminal phase can feel uncomfortable, confusing, or downright terrifying! But when you learn to embrace the uncertainty of change and respect the process, you allow yourself to transform into a greater version of yourself and unleash your full potential.

The Rite of Passage: A Ritual of Transformation
Throughout time and across the world, cultures have their own rituals and ceremonies that honor a person's transition from one phase to another. Anthropologists refer to this as the rite of passage. 

In his book, The Rites of Passage, Arnold van Gennop observes that rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation. In the first phase, the person begins to withdraw from their former role. The liminal, or transition period, marks the in-between phase; when the person has ended one chapter but still hasn't reached the next. Finally, the transformation is completed in the incorporation phase. 

You’re probably already familiar with rites of passage. Christenings, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras, graduations, and weddings, all represent common rites of passage still honored today. A rite of passage can also mean initiation into a social group, like when joining a sports team, fraternity, or sorority. 

Rites of passage often involve hard work and dedication to overcome intense obstacles, like the Navy SEAL’s difficult training during Hell Week. Or, the walkabout of the aboriginal tribes in Australia, a journey in which adolescent boys live in the wilderness alone to make the spiritual transition into manhood.

Anyone who has experienced a rite of passage knows that this level of transformation doesn’t always come easy. It takes courage, faith, and resilience. A rite of passage often requires a test of will and strength, to overcome the fear of the unknown, and step into a new stage of life. But upon completion, the person comes out of the experience reawakened: with a greater sense of self, connectedness, humility, and purpose.

Navigating the In-Between
A big transformation often comes without warning, shaking your sense of reality to the very core. Your life starts to shift, and you find yourself trying to navigate the unknown. The world experienced this level of uncertainty in 2020, when a pandemic suddenly transformed normality. While no one can predict the future, you can learn some strategies to navigate the uncertainty and ambiguity of change.

The William Bridges Transition Model maps out the emotional landscape of change. Similar to van Gennop’s theory, the Transition Model also identifies three stages of change: The Ending, The Transition Zone, and The New Beginning.

The beginning of change means the end of something. When a phase of life comes to an end, a lot of emotions can come up. It can feel sad or heartbreaking to let go of the past. And that’s okay! Recognize those emotions and allow yourself to feel them, even if unpleasant.

As you move from The Ending, you find yourself in liminality, in between The Ending and The New Beginning. It can take time before you find your footing again in the next stage of life. You may feel a range of emotions: anxiety, fear, confusion, excitement, resistance. You may feel self-doubt or unsure. That’s completely normal. 

You may experience the urge to resist or numb difficult emotions that come up during the liminal phase. But, repressing your emotions won’t make them go away. The Greater Good Science Center stresses that suppression doesn’t make the emotion go away but actually causes more pain because the feelings stay inside you.

Learn to ride the emotional wave. Notice when you feel stressed, sad, or scared. Take a moment to feel. Develop healthy habits to process and release those emotions, like meditation, exercise, painting, talking to a loved one, or speaking to a therapist.

Try to reframe your mindset and embrace the changes happening. Life isn’t happening to you; it’s happening for you. Ask yourself these questions: “What can I learn from this experience?” “How can I grow from this experience?” “What is life teaching me?” 

Remember that nothing in life lasts forever, including confusion or pain. As you navigate The Transition Zone, know that it’s just a phase. Eventually, you will arrive at The New Beginning. And, you will come out on the other side stronger and wiser.

How Taking Risks Can Lead You to a Better Life
4 Negative Emotions That Can Actually Help You
How to Embrace Change