What Is a Liminal Space – Understanding the Essence

An open door in a field with a stormy sky.

Have you ever been caught in a moment of “in-between,” like being stuck in a sort of limbo? Maybe you’re right now between two phases of life, not quite here but not entirely there.

Often elusive, these moments are a blend of transition and transformation ― bridging the gap between what was and will be. Psychologists actually have a term for this in-between moment: they call it a liminal space.

A businessman's hand reaching over a bridge.

Liminal space draws its name from the Latin word “limen,” meaning “threshold.” Imagine it as standing right in the middle of a story, where anything could happen next. It’s a place where things are changing, full of surprises and genuine newness waiting to unfold.

You’re not alone if “liminal space” doesn’t immediately ring a bell. The truth is, many of us experience these liminal moments nearly every day.

Liminality could be a tangible or physical space or psychological state. The concept is common in urban architectural designs like corridors, empty parking lots, and empty stairwells that serve as thresholds between different parts of a building. These spaces can create an unsettling atmosphere as is the nature of being “neither here nor there” or an unwelcoming appearance. Or, in the hands of good architects, details are present in these transition spaces that help you feel welcomed.

For instance, crossing a bridge or going through a doorway is transitioning across a physical space threshold. On the other hand, a psychological liminal stage could be either metaphorical or emotional. Some metaphorical liminal experiences include:

  • Changing jobs
  • Starting a new business
  • Deciding between potential romantic partners

The emotional adjustment that happens after a divorce or breakup, engagement or marriage, and the death of a loved one are classic examples of emotional liminality.

My focus here is on the metaphoric and emotional liminal spaces that have more to do with the transitions in our lives or shifts in our perspectives.

What Is the Essence of Liminality?

A statue of a frog sitting in a lotus pose.

I’ll get into liminal space psychology and why you should care about liminality in a bit, but before that, you probably know that rewards ― especially life-changing ones ― go hand in hand with risks. And where there are risks, uncertainty will be present.

Uncertainty doesn’t feel good. It can be emotionally and mentally draining, overwhelming, and just plain uncomfortable, impacting mental health and leading to anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation.

This is where a grasp of liminal space psychology, or at least its fundamentals, comes in handy.

In simple terms, it’s all about exploring how these thresholds or in-between moments impact our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

The end goal? To find passage and meaning in the uncertainties of liminal experiences.

Say you just ended a long-term relationship, and now you’re standing at the crossroads of emotions, unsure if your choice was right, uncertain about what lies ahead, and grappling with confusion.

Understanding liminal psychology helps a person navigate these intricate post-relationship moments. It offers insights into the landscape of change, helping you decipher the emotions, decisions, and potential transformations that can unfold during this phase or life transition.

Psychological liminal states, such as those experienced during life milestones and decision-making processes, create a sense of uncertainty and transition, impacting mental health by fostering both discomfort and opportunities for growth, creativity, and self-discovery.

The same goes for moving to a new town, becoming a parent, and many other life-changing decisions.

Liminal spaces can cause some disorientation, making us a little uneasy. But that’s where growth happens, especially if a transition coach is supporting you.

Bottom line: you don’t want to get stuck in an emotional or mental liminal space. If it feels like you’re overthinking decisions or can’t quite place a finger on your current transitional phase, it might be time to get help from a life coach.

Being in a Liminal State: The Intersection of Science and Spirituality

Two bags with the words risk and error on them.

Imagine a meeting point where science and spirituality shake hands ― that’s the charm of liminal spaces. These intriguing states may appear confusing initially, but they invite us to ponder life’s big questions in a whole new way.

This fosters a growth mindset, creating room for positive transformation. You know how meditation transports you to an entirely different realm?

It turns out that psychologists find fascinating similarities between this altered state and the contemplative moments within liminal spaces.

Although it might not be apparent to everyone, being in a psychological liminal space opens the door to viewing life from a fresh perspective. For instance, losing a loved one or deciding who to spend the rest of your life with can have you questioning everything you know.

Life transitions create a transitional period where individuals experience a sense of disorientation and uncertainty while being open to new possibilities and changes. This is where merging science and spirituality can provide a fresh perspective.

Consider adding meditation to your mental health toolkit for exploring those transformative in-between moments. This will enhance your connection to both science and spiritual or personal growth.

What Can We Learn From Liminal Spaces?

Now that you know the answer to the “What is a liminal space” question, how can you use this insight to your advantage?

Here’s a rundown of the key takeaways:

  • Change isn’t just a phase; it’s a chance to grow. The next time you’re in an in-between moment, remember it’s not a pause button; it’s your cue to seize the moment and grow.
  • Instead of pushing against transitions, welcome them. They open doors to new experiences.
  • In-between moments might feel uncomfortable, but liminality can help you find strength in ambiguity and navigate uncertainty with resilience.
  • Waiting rooms can be a physical liminal space that evokes similar feelings, making traditional office visits challenging and highlighting the benefits of online therapy.

  • Savor every step in your journey and appreciate the lessons along the way because the journey matters as much as the destination.

  • Patience is your ally in liminal spaces. Realize that growth takes time, and transitions offer self-discovery and personal development opportunities.

Of course, recognizing these lessons can be difficult when you’re smack in the middle of an unfolding story (especially without a sneak peek at the script).

And here’s the thing: Every story has twists and turns, and it’s okay not to have all the answers right away.

As a transition coach, I can assist you in pinpointing exactly where you are in your story and mapping out various pathways, giving you multiple viable options. If this is something you’ll like to explore, feel free to schedule a coaching session, and let’s explore together.

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