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The 4 WORST Kinds of Help for Midlife Issues

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.

help with midlife issues

“YUCK! You actually said THAT???!!!”

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.

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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.

help for midlife issues

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.

help for midlife issues

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.

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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Help for Midlife Issues: Loneliness & Solitude

November 24th, 2013 · help for midlife issues, midlife, midlife issues

In our time, when people seek out help for midlife issues, issues of loneliness and solitude are often among the most prominent issues that they face.

help with midlife issues

However, the experience of loneliness often only emerges gradually in the course of individual therapy.

Much research on loneliness, such as that of Prof. Ami Rokach of York University tends to suggest that loneliness is experienced in many very individual ways.  Nonetheless, the fact of loneliness is very prominent in individuals’ lives, and takes on a certain unique importance in midlife and later life.

The Loneliness Trend

We tend to quickly assume that loneliness and isolation are issues of importance for the elderly; yet other age groups experience them as well.  In the United States two studies have shown that 40% of respondents indicate that they are lonely, as do one quarter of Canadians living on their own.  It’s essential too not use such data to overly stereotype or pigeonhole individuals, but they do show the magnitude and impact of loneliness.

Connected but Isolated

Prof. Sherry Turkle of MIT and others have shown that technology, with all its possibilities for connection through texting, instant messaging and social media, actually often contributes to loneliness and isolation.  Many people at midlife are more and more engaged with social media.  Yet the fundamental need for human contact is not met by these technologies, and can be thwarted by them.

Loneliness and Solitude at Midlife

Studies, like those of Rokach and Neto have shown that loneliness is an issue of great importance at midlife, especially in countries with individualistic cultures like Canada and the United States.  These studies confirm the experience of many therapists who offer help with midlife issues.

Our experience at midlife and later adulthood is often very individual, and leads us right into consciousness of loneliness and solitude.

It’s actually necessary to experience loneliness at midlife transition, if we are to individuate.  As James Hollis tells us:

…it is precisely when we are thrown back on our own resources that we are obliged to find who we are, of what we are made, and generate from that soul-stuff the richest possible person we can manage in the transient moments we are allowed.  It is precisely our aloneness that allows our uniqueness to unfold. 

Hollis’ words are not glib or light.  The danger of social media and all the other distractions are that they will ultimately keep us from genuine encounter with ourselves.  We will never know our own uniqueness, and our true nature if we do not have aloneness in which to hear the very subtle voice of our own deepest yearnings, and to experience our own individual way of expressing what we are.  Much as we need other people, there is genuine help for midlife issues potentially inherent in solitude.

help for midlife issues

Connection — Inner and Outer

Experiences of loneliness and solitude brings us to the question of the value placed on the self.  Self-acceptance and tolerance for aloneness go hand in hand.

Help for midlife issues consists of fostering connection in both inward, and outward, directions.

Enabling individuals to find themselves in inner experiences of solitude, to experience, and then to express their uniqueness in outer life is a fundamental dimension of  individual psychotherapy and of help for midlife issues.

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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Help for Midlife Issues: Hitting the Escape Button, 1

October 12th, 2013 · help for midlife issues, midlife, midlife issues

Providing people with help for midlife issues makes you very aware  of the truth that, in midlife, we often yearn to hit the “escape button”…

escape-button

Many people on the midlife journey can relate to that “escape button” feeling.  Help for midlife issues often consists of enabling individuals to find ways to deal with just that state of mind.

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When the Real Lines Get Drawn

In midlife, situations which individuals have endured for much of their lives can easily become unendurable

This is illustrated powerfully in the insightful new movie , Concussion, (dir. Stacie Passon).

help for midlife issues

Having just been struck in the head by a baseball at her son’s game, Abby (Robin Weigert) screams, “I hate this. I don’t want this. I don’t want it!” — and we know she is talking about more than her concussion.  Abby experiences herself as trapped in a whole banal suburban existence in which she can find no reality or life, and which she experiences as completely claustrophobic.

Many who seek help for midlife issues encounter such claustrophobia.  It is not at all uncommon for people to be living with the feeling that “I just can’t do this any more”.  For better or worse, their finger is hovering over the escape button.

help for midlife issues

Escape from What?

For anyone seeking help for midlife issues of this type, a key question may be, “Just what exactly is it, from which you are trying to escape?”

“We are not much at home in the world we have created.” – Rilke

Rilke’s sentiment can resonate strongly with many in midlife transition.  Through the sheer momentum of life decisions made leading up to midlife, it can easily feel that the life that I have created is quite an alien construction having little to do with  who I most fundamentally am.

I may well feel that my persona, the social self that I put out into the world, has little or no connection with my genuine self, in its own nature.  The cumulative weight of my life choices may lead to a way of being in my world that is actually painful to me.  I may sense that who I actively present to the world doesn’t line up with my fundamental identity.

Similarly, perhaps the social milieu surrounding me has little to do with my true identity.  I may come to feel that the people in my vicinity simply don’t share very much with me.  This can be disconcerting when the people in question are neighbours; it can be literally shock inducing if we suddenly make this discovery about people we’ve regarded as intimates.

All such sentiments may induce a strong, seemingly undeniable feeling of “need to escape”.

But, Escape to What?

Is our escape to ourselves, to who we really are — or is it from ourselves?

help with midlife issues

Sometimes,our desire can be simply to escape from ourselves, from freedom and decision.  It’s easy to crave infantile states where we actually hover above life.

But sometimes the escape we need and yearn for can be to escape the pressures of the false self, and forces in life that do not allow us to be who we authentically are.

Individual psychotherapy that provides help for midlife issues involves the important task of discerning between those forms of escape that lead us to evade our own authentic being, and those forms that allow us to live in connection with our deepest personal identity.

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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Jungian Psychotherapy for Midlife Issues

May 2nd, 2011 · help for midlife issues, midlife, midlife issues, psychotherapy for midlife issues

Of the available options for dealing with midlife issues, why choose Jungian psychotherapy?  The answer hinges on how we understand midlife, that period from the mid-/ later 30s, to the late 50s.

help for midlife issues

While the phrase “midlife crisis” is cliché, there is nonetheless a great deal of psychological change and adjustment that goes on in this part of life.  The individual can either deny this, in which case, life risks lapsing into sterility, or these changes can be confronted and embraced, and a new orientation discovered.

Here are some of the factors that make Jungian psychotherapy particularly appropriate for midlife issues.

  • Jung Stressed the Importance of Midlife

Jung paid enormous attention to the midlife period in human life.  Subsequent Jungians have followed in his footsteps.  Midlife was a vitally important period in Jung’s own life, and his psychology emphasizes the unique character of the changes at midlife.

  • Jungian Psychotherapy has an In-Depth Understanding of Midlife

A Jungian approach is extremely sensitive to developments in middle life.  It recognizes fully that values and priorities that have sustained the individual previously are undergoing renewal, and that a whole new approach to life may be emerging.

  • Jung’s Approach Emphasizes the Individual Journey

Jungian psychotherapy never loses sight of the importance of the unique journey of the individual.  A Jungian approach always looks for, emphasizes and honours the factors that make a person unique. It acknowledges that the dilemmas that an individual experiences are going to have to be met by an individual and unique solution — not “one size fits all”.

  • Jungian Psychotherapy Takes the Unconscious Seriously

In addition to the conscious parts of the human being, there is much that is going on in the unconscious.  Some of these things may emerge at midlife, in one form or another.  Understanding and coming to terms with these elements of the self is often essential for healing at midlife.

  • Depth Psychotherapy Affirms that Midlife is Meaningful

Often the struggles at midlife can make life seem like chaos.  A Jungian approach emphasizes that meaning is trying to emerge, and, if nurtured, will emerge, in the individual’s life. Thus, it offers concrete hope for the individual.

What is Trying to Emerge for You at Midlife?

If you are entering, in, or moving beyond midlife, what is trying to emerge in your journey at this time?  What are your individual concerns?  I would welcome your comments and questions.

Wishing you a vital and meaningful middle passage on your journey toward wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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