Jump to the following topics:
- What is midlife?
- Midlife does not have to be a "crisis."
- Midlife is the transition from ego-development to ego-transcendence.
- The 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.
Midlife 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 physical changes)
- 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 next section).
Midlife 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 individuation process).
- 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 or soul.
- 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.
The characteristics 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.
- 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 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 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.
- A positive perspective: The confrontation with our mortality can impart a profound meaning to our existence, including our relationships and loves.
- 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 their peak.
- 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.
- 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 or soul.
- 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 our youthfulness.
- 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 and affection.
- 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 fewer distractions.