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Dealing with Shame During Midlife Transition

September 17th, 2012 · 2 Comments · dealing with shame, midlife, midlife transition, shame

Dealing with shame is one of the most demanding aspects of psychological work, and, in midlife transition, we can often face this struggle most acutely.

dealing with shame

Psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis tells us, “The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation”.  In midlife transition, when people begin to seriously look back at their lives and review them, the experience of shame can become acute, even excruciating.

Taking Stock: A Conscious & Unconscious Process

Beginning with midlife transition, people often begin to take stock of their lives in new ways.  This is a tremendous opportunity to open up new possibilities, and find new paths, but it can also be very hard.  It’s not an uncommon thing to find that aspects of one’s life cause considerable shame.  Often, such a feeling can even seem unbearable.  Dealing with shame can become a real problem.

A Fundamental Problem with Who I Am

It’s one thing to feel that something I’ve done is unworthy, and feel full of guilt.  This can be an extremely painful, difficult experience.

However, another, even more devastating thing can be to confront the feeling that what I am is fundamentally unworthy, valueless, negligible — sometimes during midlife transition, it can seem like this.  This is not an experience that a person can just sit with, in a mellow way.  It demands some kind of resolution, a change in consciousness, if I am to continue the forward movement of my life journey.

Refusing to Apologize for My Self

We must come to accept and cherish our own unique being.  This is crucial psychological work, and a very demanding and important part of dealing with shame in psychotherapy.

As Marion Woodman once put it, in her uniquely powerful way, it’s essential for each of us to come to such self-acceptance, that we say,  “This is what I am.  You don’t like it?  Tough.  I refuse to perform for you anymore.”

Amour Fati

Jung spoke of amor fati, an ancient Latin phrase meaning “to love one’s fate”.  We need to find this place in our relationship with ourselves… a very deep form of compassion for who and what we are.  Jung also said, “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”  In a profound sense he’s right.  We have to accept that we can never perform well enough to wipe out shame.  We can only accept and have compassion for ourselves.  That’s an important part of the journey of good psychotherapy.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Paulette

    Hi Brian, I found that as I aged ther seemed to be a fundamental shaming that had to do with age itself. This culture, at least for women, somehow is grossly offended by the fact of age and its impact on the human body and mind. This very noble, natural process is treated with disdain and my dreams were reminding me that this was not necessarily my personal baggage. We somehow feel we have failed in some way, as if we were not supposed to age or show the “face” of age to the world. Through my dreams, I was able to understand this aspect of the noble journey we are on…….

  • Paulette

    ps. Brian, so many of my friends responded to your article when I reposted it. It seems to be quite timely and necessary. We really have no maps to follow, except our dreams…..

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