January 26th, 2014 · help for midlife issues, midlife, midlife issues
People try to help those they love who are struggling with midlife issues; but some kinds of help for midlife issues are really, really, stomach-churningly BAD.
Here are 4 of the WORST things to say to someone working their way through midlife transition.
1. “It’s Just a Phase: You’ll Get Over It”
I call this one the “teenager going through a phase” comment. It is truly an amazingly unhelpful thing to say!
The changes going on in an individual at midlife are pretty fundamental. A person may find him- or herself profoundly confused or disoriented. Certain things previously taken for granted, such as a profession or career, relationships with a significant other, or with friends or significant social groups, or a religious or political affiliation — may simply no longer have meaning. The individual may be struggling at a very deep level to identify what is of lasting value in his or her life.
This is not “a phase you’re going through”! This is not going to pass, with a little rest, a change in diet or a week in Barbados. Often, individuals go through profound, far-reaching changes at midlife transition. The best thing that those who care about people in this stage of life can do is to show deep respect for the process.
2. “Grow Up”
What can I say? Wow. This is an even less helpful version of the “teenager advice” thing. Yet people say this — or think it — with great regularity.
Now, there certainly are people who fit into the “teenager who never grew up” category (von Franz’ Puer Aeternus). Such people often demonstrate a selfish, entitled outlook coupled with a complete unwillingness to accept any real responsibility for their lives or any recognition of any obligation to others. Some live out this pattern year after year after year. There are few things sadder than a 63 year old teenager. However, the person who seeks help for midlife issues often shows a very different pattern.
Example. “Joe”, a Chartered Accountant, is the picture of responsibility and commitment. People see Joe as a rock-steady individual, a competent “straight arrow”. Yet, now, at 48, Joe is consumed with the idea of training as a glass artisan, moving to Vancouver Island, and opening a studio. After many years of marriage, as the kids head off to university, he is now uncertain as to whether he and his wife have very much in common anymore, and long-time friends seem to be headed off in different directions.
3. “You’re Only as Old as You Feel”
People say this with the best of intentions, but it negates the reality of the person in midlife transition. Someone at 48, for instance, is in a different place in life than someone in their early 20s, in very many ways. They have different priorities, different attitudes and insights, and a whole range of experience of living that they simply did not possess in their early 20s.
We live in a culture that privileges youth, and often devalues the richness of experience, wisdom and depth that people gain as they move through the life journey. Consequently, we often see getting older as a process of diminishing, rather that as a process of growth in inner richness, and in possible new types of awareness.
4. “Wait Until You Retire: It Will Get Better Then”
This is well-intentioned, but dangerous counsel. As Jung famously said,
“It’s good to retire, but not into nothing.”
Sadly, many save and wait for “Freedom 55” (or 60, or 65) as if some magic kingdom comes with the arrival of a matured pension plan.
Welcome as economic freedom is, retirement alone won’t remove fundamental questions around meaning or value in life, around encountering the unexplored or unknown parts of myself, or coming to terms with the unlived possibilities in life. Only genuinely meaningful soulwork, encounter with my deepest self, and with others, is going to provide the fullness and richness of life that I need as I grow older.
Often, work with a depth psychotherapist can be a key element in finding genuine help for midlife issues.