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- What is midlife?
does not have to be a "crisis."
is the transition from ego-development to ego-transcendence.
characteristics of midlife.
What is midlife? It is the
beginning of the second half of life -- psychologically and
physiologically. Midlife usually starts between the ages of 35 and
50. It continues until we have resolved its issues; thus, it might
end within a few years, or it could persist into our 60s.
does not have to be a "crisis." It is merely a natural developmental
stage of life; it is the transition from early adulthood into
"maturity." Rather than being "the beginning of the end," it can be
viewed as an exciting fresh start, when we set aside whatever we have
outgrown, and we move onward to develop ourselves in new directions.
Midlife is a "crisis" only if we fight the transformations; this
resistance might include:
- An unwillingness to confront the challenges of midlife.
- Anger toward of the aging process (with its wrinkles and other
- A futile clinging to the habits and perspectives of our youth.
- A fundamental unreadiness (because we have not accomplished
the requirements of the first part of life, as explained in the
is the transition from ego-development to ego-transcendence. Midlife
is not simply a chronological milestone; it is a specific
psychological stage which marks the end of our ego-development phase.
- It is the end. Midlife starts when we have virtually completed
the tasks of the first half of our life; i.e., we have developed
the ego and its external correlates -- our job, family, finances,
achievements, habits, viewpoints, expansion and conquest, social
identity (through the separation of the persona from the shadow),
and the establishment of ourselves as individuals (through the
- It is a beginning. During midlife, the ego must be
well-defined in order to stand firm when the ego's antitheses
emerge to demand recognition and integration into our wholeness.
Those antitheses -- whose emergence is the essence of the midlife
event -- include the shadow, and the anima or animus, and the Self
- The shadow: Secure within our ego, we know who we are, as
the shadow-elements arise to show us that we also contain the
opposite of those traits.
- The anima or animus: Strong in our gender-identity as man
or woman, we can tolerate the characteristics of our contrary
anima or animus. Many previously dominant males suddenly find
contentment in quiet, introspective diversions which satisfy
their anima, while their homemaker-wives discover their animus
and so they come to life as community leaders.
- The Self or soul: Safe within the structure of our ego, we
can perceive these other centers of identity without being
confused, and without compromising the ego while embracing the
new identities. We are still separate individuals while
simultaneously transcending that separateness and being
something more besides. Contrarily, if our ego boundaries are
ill-defined, our encounter with the Self can cause us to plunge
into a vague, oceanic "oneness" in which we no longer tend our
personal duties and needs.
of midlife. Depending upon our unique experience of midlife, we can
expect some or all of the following conditions. For each condition,
this list presents the usual unpleasant perspective, and then it
presents a positive perspective.
- Dissatisfaction with our life. In the first half of life, we
might have been felt a passionate drive toward goals, and we
enjoyed the achievement of those goals -- family, job,
home, power, social position, etc. At midlife, the drive might
dissipate into boredom, restlessness, dullness, discontent,
meaninglessness, and disillusionment. "Is this all there is?" We
might realize that some of our goals had never been
meaningful; we had accepted them because society or our parents
had said that they were important.
Disorientation. We lose our previous identity and our goals
(and perhaps even our children, in the "empty nest"); thus, we do
not know who we are, or what we do. We might try to regain an
earlier sense of identity through what Jung called the "regressive
restoration of the persona"; unwilling or unable to explore our
emerging identity, we return to adolescent behaviors, which served
us when we were looking for an identity during our youth.
- A positive perspective: This dissatisfaction causes us to
abandon the goals and values which are no longer useful or
appropriate in our new phase of growth. We need to develop
other goals and values in order to fulfill our responsibilities
to this new phase.
A realization that our youth has ended. We have lost the
benefits of the young: boundless optimism, enthusiasm, and
vitality. And yet, as Jung said (in Psychology and the
Occult), "Nobody seems to consider that not being able to
grow old is just as absurd as not being able to outgrow
child's-size shoes. A still infantile man of thirty is surely to
be deplored, but a youthful septuagenarian -- isn't that
delightful? And yet both are perverse, lacking in style,
- A positive perspective: This disorientation is a natural
part of the temporary transition period, as we develop our new
identity, priorities, and direction. This is indeed the time to
revise our sense of identity, and to allow the shadow's
opposites to arise. As our former persona becomes lifeless and
crusty, we can find vitality in the fresh, previously
repressed, and now obviously golden, parts of our shadow.
A knowledge of the inevitability of death. No longer able to
hide in the illusion of immortality, we become more aware that we
will die. Now, more of our friends are dying. Adding to this
cognizance of physical death, we see the death of our
former perspectives, identities, values, and other aspects of our
- A positive perspective: We can set aside youth's
shortcomings: its naivete, its impatience, and its pressure to
succeed in a constant stream of difficult situations. We can
claim the badges of maturity: skill, knowledge, wisdom,
experience, and a vast assortment of lush memories while we
continue to grow in new ways to acquire other types of skill,
knowledge, wisdom, and experience.
An awareness of our limitations. We realize that we will not
fulfill all of our aspirations in career, family, personal
development, etc. Perhaps profoundly disappointed, we watch the
fading of previous idealizm, hope, and expectations; thus we might
feel a sense of loss, sorrow, grief, and nostalgia. We see
younger, brighter people passing us in their careers, and we know
that we will probably become less productive and useful as old age
- A positive perspective: The confrontation with our
mortality can impart a profound meaning to our existence,
including our relationships and loves.
Biological changes. These changes can include wrinkles,
hormonal adjustments (which are more severe for women), reduced
vigor, loss of youthful attractiveness, new aches and pains, and
other signs of aging. Both men and women experience the climateric
-- the glandular changes which eventually terminate our ability to
have children; in women, the finale of the climateric is called
menopause. At midlife, many people become more concerned with
their health, knowing that it will no longer be sustained by the
resilience of youth.
- A positive perspective: We gain a philosophical
understanding of our humanness and its innate limitations, and
of the new types of goals which we can establish for our
future. This can be a time to relish our accomplishments, and
to be a mentor to young people who are still rising toward
A change in our moods. We might become withdrawn, emotional,
irrational, and depressed.
- A positive perspective: We might explore "inner beauty" --
and humility -- as our external beauty fades. Our new interest
in health, vitality, and longevity can foster respect and
caring for our body.
Radical behavioral changes. In the "foolish forties," the
upsurge of libido can propel us to seek excitement through a
different lifestyle, a new job, a different home, a lover (perhaps
requiring the divorce of our spouse), or a new religion.
- A positive perspective: The moods turn our attention
inward, where we can view the psychological processes of
midlife, including our meeting with new archetypes and the Self
Fear of sexual diminishment. Men worry that they will lose
their potency during old age. To confirm their sexuality (or
perhaps simply to look attractive as their youth fades), some men
and women dye their white hair, and they buy a wardrobe which
suggests vitality, and they pursue a young person for romance.
- A positive perspective: Some of these changes are
necessary, as we align our outer world to conform to our inner
transformation. Other changes are misguided attempts to re-gain
A sense of tragedy for the introvert. According to Jung, the
first half of life is a time for assertion in establishing
ourselves in society; in contrast, introversion would make us too
sensitive and passive in the turf battles of youth. Later, at
midlife, introversion becomes our natural state. Now, the
extravert -- who has probably been successful in the development
of ego and position in life -- might have difficulty in adjusting
to the psyche's demands for introspection. But the person who was
an introvert during youth might face a deeper crisis -- the
devastating realization that he or she has missed the opportunity
to live a rich, dynamic life of experiences and social contacts
and bold adventure; what lies ahead is perhaps a deepening
listlessness in a life which "never got off the ground." As the
shadow arises in midlife, the introvert might discover the
previously hidden qualities of bravery, and lust for life, and a
craving for relationships -- and the energy of the shadow might
allow for a fruitful expression of some of these new elements --
but the former introvert no longer has the youthful vitality for
chasing some of these external goals, nor does he or she have the
particular opportunities which have already passed by, nor have
the cooperation of the current psychological stage of growth
(i.e., midlife), which exerts pressure to turn inward.
- A positive perspective: The fear is largely unfounded; many
people are sexually active past midlife, and they enjoy the
knowledge that there will not be an unwanted pregnancy. If
there is a lessening of the sexual drive, many older people
compensate by finding new meaningful ways to express their love
A search for spiritual meaning. Some midlifers become more
concerned with their spiritual values and their relationship to
spirit, because of various reasons: (1) their approaching death,
(2) the general confusion of their lives (and their resulting call
for divine help and guidance), (3) the general reflection which
can occur during midlife, and (4) the emergence of the Self or
soul. Jung said (in his Collected Works XI), "Among all my
patients in the second half of life, there has not been one whose
problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious
outlook on life .. and none of them has really been healed who did
not regain his religious outlook."
- A positive perspective: For neither extravert nor introvert
is midlife an absolute switch from external to internal values;
both will have leeway to pursue external goals and internal
reflection. For some introverts, midlife is not a disaster; on
the contrary, feeling less of the youthful pressure to chase
outer goals, they can now engage their quiet interests with