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Can Midlife Transition Bring Renewal? 1: Out of Decay

February 19th, 2013 · 2 Comments · midlife, midlife transition, transition

Midlife Transition is a key part of our life journey, but can it bring renewal?

midlife transition

In midlife, often the values and activities that have been meaningful for us to that point, start to die or change.  Could good or life-giving things ultimately come from this transformation?

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Fruitful Exhaustion

We embark upon adulthood embracing key values and fundamental attitudes which carry us up to the second half of life.  They may be around education, occupation, relationship, family… all the things that carry meaning in the first half of life.

But, in midlife transition, those values and attitudes may not carry the same meaning for us.  A career that was once energizing may now feel gray, empty and valueless.  A relationship with a partner or significant other, once full of promise and life, may now be something that we only endure.  Things once full of life, and joy [e.g., “the gang”, “playing hockey”, “working on home improvements”], may lose their magic at midlife.  We may feel plunged us into confusion and disorientation.

day-of-the-dead-mexico-city

When the Past is Dying

When in this kind of midlife experience, it’s easy to feel that “this funny state I’m in” is the culprit, and is responsible for my despondancy.  We can end up trying to eliminate our “messed up state of mind”, and attempting to return to the past.  But we may find that’s impossible.  Often those in midlife transition find themselves trying harder and harder to get back the sense of vitality from things that used to have value or meaning, but do so no longer.  This can bring the individual considerable anxiety and/or depression.

Emergence of the Unfamiliar

Often, the only way forward is to fully understand what is actually emerging from the unconscious at midlife.  It may very well be that shadow aspects of the personality long submerged in the unconscious are now demanding to be acknowledged.  At this stage in life, we may well surprise ourselves!

midlife transition

The Green Man, Symbol of Renewal, Crowcombe, Somerset, 1535

Psychologist Mary Ann Mattoon  notes that the the non-dominant attitude emerges from midlife on.  The person who has been a strong extrovert may find  that the need to turn inward becomes more apparent.  The introvert may experience a strong desire to connect more with others.

Similarly, the complementary functions may start to emerge.  The person whose life has been dominated by rationality may suddenly find that emotion and feeling are coming into her life with surprising force.  The person strongly in touch with feeling may suddenly feel the need for a more rational framework  in his life.

Jung referred to this as the “reversal of values”: values, attitudes, and commitments that once served us no longer do so.  New values are needed.

Renewal Out of Decay

Midlife transition approached with the right attitude contains vitality, even if its onset seems only like collapse and loss.  As a depth psychotherapist, I work with individuals to uncover the seeds of renewal within their own unique experience of midlife transition.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by Bogdan Migulski ; Jacqueline Ross  

2 Comments so far ↓

  • jamenta

    Mattoon’s non-dominant note resonated with me. I found myself extraordinarily ambitious in my youth, and it drove me in a way nothing else did – and allowed me to succeed in some areas of my life – despite feeling I had a rather average intellect and talent.

    Yet now – I find myself bereft of a great deal of that same fire in my belly so powerful in my youth. Now – it seems nothing can be so “pressing”. What was a hot glowing fire then – has cooled to slow burning embers. I find myself even adrift from society, finding more meaning in a daily diet of books and films rather than the parking lots, overpriced gas stations, and food servers who serve food to people that they themselves cannot even afford.

    I am feel that whereas I accepted society in my youth, I have come to reject a good part of it in my fading years. Where I felt I need to get out in the world and do something, now I feel no such obligation and find myself lucky enough (synchronistically?) to not have to pursue any further wordly ambitions.

    Yet I do wonder what is ahead …

  • Brian C

    Thank you for your comment, John. I certainly do think that what Mattoon tells us about the emergence of the non-dominant function and what Jung tells us about the “reversal of values” is very relevant to many peoples’ lives in our time, and, it sounds very much as if it’s relevant to your life. It would make a great deal of sense that someone who was very outwardly ambitious in what Jung would call “the first adulthood” would find their energy moving in a very different direction later in life. Could we perhaps call this being “inwardly ambitious”? In any case, certainly, it would seem that you now feel greatly drawn to aspects of your inner life, and perhaps to a whole new adventure. Thank you once again for your comment, John!

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