Liminal space might seem like a complex, abstract concept when you first hear it used. In reality we all experience liminal space on a regular basis. Liminal space is referencing the process of transitioning or standing on the threshold of something. People live life in stages full of transitions from large ones to small ones. Oftentimes, liminal space can be uncomfortable because transitions can be difficult. In the DSM-5, there is even a diagnosis called Adjustment Disorder. It is marked by three major symptoms: displaying emotional or behavioral symptoms within three months of a specific stressor that is occurring in a person’s life; experiencing more stress than a person would normally anticipate in response to a stressful life event and/or having stress that causes major problems in a person’s relationships, at work or at school; and, the symptoms are not the result of another mental health disorder or considered a normal part of the grieving process. What the diagnosis reveals is something most people experience at some point in their lives. Times of transition can be extremely tough. Liminal space describes the places in your life where you feel and experience the discomfort and even difficulty of being on the threshold of a transition.
Liminal space involves moments in your life where you are waiting for what is next. They are specific points in a person’s life where they are preparing for change. Leaving your home for college, moving from one job to the next, and anxiously expecting a child to be born are examples of liminal spaces. People in these moments are standing at the threshold of big changes in their lives. There might be shared feels of both utter excitement and nearly crippling fear. These spaces are not meant to be occupied for long periods of time. Think of being without a job or a part of an engagement with no wedding date set. Because of the uncertainty and the anticipation, living constantly in liminal space is uncomfortable to the point where it would be painful to be in that space long-term. Liminal spaces are meant to be lived in for a certain amount of time as you transition to the next stage of your life.
It is important to understand liminal space because of natural and normal it is. Everyone experiences it at certain points in their life. Times of transition are not like any other moments in your life. They do not provide the same level of comfort. Again, you may be excited about the transition, but it does not mean it is always comfortable. Getting married, starting a new job, and having a baby are examples of potentially exciting moments for people. However, there can still be a great deal of anticipation anxiety and discomfort while waiting in this liminal space. The best you can do in these spaces is to understand they are a normal part of life. Validate the discomfort and maybe even some of the anxiety. It is also helpful to find a way through those liminal spaces by transitioning in a way that assists you in managing the discomfort. Take care of yourself during times of transition and do not be afraid of leaning on others while living in the liminal moments of life.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.