Adjusting to civilian life after a military career

02 Feb 2022

Adjusting to civilian life after a military career

Whether your military career was long or short, you will need to retire and start a new life as a civilian. This can be challenging, especially since the military has provided an identity and status for many years. The information below helps you transition from the armed forces carefully, protecting your mental and emotional wellbeing in the short term while you adjust to a new life.

Emotional Adjustment

If someone has served in the military for a short time or they are ready to leave and start a civilian life, the transition might be straightforward and uncomplicated. That’s because the mental and emotional states of such a person are well-adjusted, but it’s not always the case.

If someone has served in the military for a long time or they receive a compulsory discharge, the challenge of adjusting to civilian life is far greater. If there is strong resistance to life as a civilian, it can cause stress, but understanding the transition journey is a therapeutic way to adjust.

Life Changes

Everybody leads a subjective life in some ways; however, civilian life tends to have patterns of life experience that most people can relate to. When you come from a military lifestyle into a civilian one, there are fewer people around to understand the nature of your journey and life.

It’s helpful to think of your transition to civilian life as a life change similar to graduating from university or getting married. There is a clear mental and emotional shift from one way of life to another, so give yourself some time to orientate in your new life and digest past experiences.

The Stages of Adjusting

Most people know when they are going through a period of change in their lives, but the success of this transition can be increased with some knowledge of the stages of change and how they can be used to your advantage. In general, change happens in three distinct stages.

Stage one includes accepting that change is coming and beginning the process of transition planning. Take courses and think about future plans. Stage two involves breaking with old habits and adjusting yourself mentally and emotionally. Stage three is committing to a new way of life.

Loss and Fulfilment

Loss and fulfilment and key emotions linked to the process of transitioning from military service. Serving in the military requires a strong emotional commitment, but it also provides individuals with a vocation, identity, and status. When leaving, there can be a sense of existential loss.

While many of the skills and much of the training people learn in the military can be transferred to civilian, this is not always possible. Many ex-military service people find themselves lacking meaning and fulfilment. Adjusting expectations can be helpful to find new forms of gratification.

The Transition Journey

Depending on your status and entitlements, you may be provided with a resettlement package from the military to help get set up in civilian life. This can include financial support and other benefits. But regardless of the resettlement package, it’s always good to start your journey early.