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4 Aspects of Self Compassion In Midlife Transition

November 10th, 2013 · midlife, midlife transition

To have compassion for oneself during midlife transition can sometimes feel like a tall order.

midlife transition

Often, midlife transition can be a time when the inner critic shifts into high gear, and it can be all too easy to find oneself deeply caught up in self-reproach, regret and self-criticism.

What are the most important ways self compassion needs to prevail during midlife transition?

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Lost

It can be hard for a person to admit to a strong sense of lostness during the midlife transition, yet, more often that people would care to admit, that can be the truth.

Is it possible to find compassion for the person whose maps no longer work?  Can we accept and be kind to that aspect of ourselves that doesn’t know where to go and what to do?

Often, the experience of lostness calls for compassion for the lost person within us, often a lost child.

It can be fundamentally important to simply acknowledge the state of being lost.  To recognize and admit this, to emerge from behind our omnicompetent mask: these  may be key parts of theprocess of finding a new direction.

midlife transition

With Specific Regrets

As life progresses, regret can become one of the most powerful of anti-life forces.

As anyone who has ever faced its full impact can attest, regret can feel overwhelming and devastating.

Full-blown regret can become a sink hole for our energy, sapping our will and seemingly eliminating our ability to get past it.

To truly move beyond regret involves the gradual development of forgiveness and compassion for the suffering self.  From this important psychological work gradually comes the capacity to find a way live beyond the regret.  Such work is neither fast nor simplistically easy.

Suffering and Humiliation

Similarly, it’s essential to move beyond contempt for the suffering and/or humiliated self.  Often people are subjected to states where they experience humiliation or a genuine sense of suffering and weakness largely through no fault of their own.  This can often be associated with suffering as children, although it can certainly happen at other key stages of life as well.

It’s often very hard to forgive ourselves for child-like weakness and neediness, and we often cannot forgive the self that has undergone humiliation.  We have contempt for our own weakness and vulnerability.  Attempting to get away from this humiliation can play a key role in obsessions with success and power, which often shield us from shame and self-contempt.  Yet no amount of success or power will ever shield us enough: only compassion for ourself can ever begin to heal.

Compassion for the Shadow

We also need to find acceptance and compassion for the shadow, the unacknowledged self.  As I have tried to suggest in a number of blog posts, the acceptance of those parts of the self that are not acknowledged by the ego is a very important matter.

Shadow work is acknowledging the person in us who is less kind, less knowledgeable or competent, less moral, more angry or vindictive, more self-centered — or even more full of life — than we would wish to be.  This is a major work of compassion and self-acceptance.

Discerning the Path That I Am

Jung seems to me to embody self compassion in the following quotation:

 

 

The journey to accept who and what we are, and to have compassion for all aspects of ourselves is the core of individual psychotherapy, and an essential dimension of moving through the midlife transition.

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4 Relationship Facts for Midlife Transition & Later On

June 4th, 2013 · midlife, midlife transition

In the midlife transition, and later on, relationships take on incredible importance to individuals, an importance that they retain throughout the second half of life.

midlife transition

As we journey through the second half of life the questions around what is fundamentally meaningful in life become more and more important, as do questions around truthfulness and authenticity.  Nowhere are these concerns more powerfully alive for us than in the context of the deepest personal relationships — friends, lovers, mentors and family (where possible).

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1. The Ever Present Realities of Personal Commitment

At every life stage we need relationships; if we are alive to them, they continually change us.  As Prof. Aldo Carotenuto tells us,

“the encounter is continually being recreated… we feel we are pervaded by something new and something old: the new thing is the transformation underway and the old is nothing other than the rediscovered subjectivity in the relationship….  But here we come to the question of personal commitment….  The beloved has a reality as legitimate as my own, one which my desire must come to terms with.

As legitimate as my own, that I must come to terms with…  As I move through the second half of life, do I have the courage to let the other be who they are — and to let them in?

2. Relationships That Abide Through Transition

Moving through life transitions, and especially midlife transition, our awareness of who we are changes, as does our awareness of those with whom we are in intimate relationship.  If we are honest, this means that our relationships face the challenge to either grow with our changed understanding of ourselves and perceptions — or else to face death.  Death can come as the quiet drifting apart of two people, or the fiery end of long-standing connections.

Will our relationships truly abide midlife transition and later life?  Or must we find new relationships that will?

3. Relationship Trauma

It is often an experience of shock and anxiety for an individual to come to the awareness that a key relationship upon which he or she has relied is not a secure and resilient.

This knowledge can come in the dramatic form of marital infidelity, various kinds of betrayal rooted in issues such as addictions, or in the awareness that the other no longer holds me as a person.  This last can manifest itself in an awareness of studied rejection by the other, or in the form of a lack of curiosity about the other, and the ways that they differ from oneself — the person simply does not want to know about the differences.

4. At Home with the Other

The opposite of the above is a fundamental kind of welcome or hospitality for the other.  An openness to both the mystery of who the person is, and who he or she may be becoming.  You have to be gentle for that.  And tough.

midlife transition

In midlife transition and beyond, depth psychotherapy can open the way to finding soul in individual life and relationship.

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

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Can Midlife Transition Bring Renewal? 3: Teenage Kids

April 7th, 2013 · midlife, midlife transition

Those undergoing midlife transition often have some surprising things in common with their teenage kids.

midlife transition

…& caution, midlife?

You might not think that these two stages of life have much in common with each other, but they actually have some important common dimensions.

Teen years and midlife years initially look so different.  But there are two things that they have in common: 1)  the individual is often undergoing tremendous life changes during these two periods; and, 2) individuals often have to find a whole new way to move forward in their lives.

The Teen’s Questing Can Re-Open Questions for the Adult

A recent National Geographic article outlines some of the normal developmental challenges teenagers face to making the transition to the first adulthood.  Very often, this entails questioning key parts of the value system that the teen has grown up with, and exploring aspects of the self, and new options for living — taking risks.

midlife-transition

Similar challenges exist for many in midlife transition.  This stage of life may entail questioning some of the key values that the individual has held until this point in life.  It may also be that, in a number of new ways — occupation, way of life, family and relationships — the individual has to explore new patterns.

Moving out of the Familiar

Many psychological authorities consider the teen’s movement out from the family of origin to be one of the most difficult psychological tasks that humans accomplish.  That would seem true.  But it’s rivalled in importance by the process of adaptation that has to take place in the second half of life, to allow life to stay full and vital, and for individuals to find true, lasting values.

Hunger for Experience

midlife transition

Now, not surprisingly, there are some important places where the challenges and the experience of a teenager and a person at midlife diverge.  For instance, where a teen may well have to learn to temper a tendency towards excessive risk taking, individuals at midlife transition, such as professionals, may need to learn to move beyond excessive inertia, habit and caution.  In some respects, it’s almost as if the person at midlife “needs more teenager” inside of them, to spur them to willingness to move in new directions.

One characteristic which the teenager and the individual in midlife transition most definitely do share is a deep hunger for new experience — to connect with something in life that is alive, vital and meaningful.

Adaptation to a New Form of Life

One of the characteristics that neuroscientists point to in the teen brain is its plasticity, a staggering capacity for adaptation to new situations.  Teenagers require this to complete the enormous, creative process of adaptation to a new world.  What is often not appreciated is that midlife transition requires a similar kind of open-ness, and a willingness to explore aspects of self and life that are unknown territory.  This exploration is at the heart of individual depth psychotherapy.

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

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Can Midlife Transition Bring Renewal? 2: Rigidity

March 8th, 2013 · midlife, midlife transition

A great danger for individuals going through the midlife transition is that, as life progresses, rigidity may start to encase the personality.

midlife transition

This fear is not groundless.  Often, we see people around us become more and more entrenched in set opinions and ways of doing things as they age.  We often readily spot this lack of open-ness in others.  But is it a danger that we need to be aware of in ourselves?

Roots of Rigidity During Midlife Transition

The unknown is fearful, especially when it’s near to home.  It’s also easy to find psychological security in established patterns.

In midlife transition, we encounter disturbing forces very near to home.  To our great surprise, we may find those disruptive forces within ourselves!

Uncharacteristic yearnings may start to emerge within us.  Also, we may find that things that formerly attracted us now do so no longer.  The business mathematics major may find himself writing poetry.  The dedicated teacher may find that her work flavourless, and may want to start her own business.

These are manifestations of shadow, that part of our nature that remains hidden and unacknowledged by consciousness.  What calls to us may be the undiscovered self, the aspects of ourselves that have gone unacknowledged to this point.

A related experience is the call of the unlived life.  Individuals may experience regrets and yearnings surrounding the major choices they have made in the past that start to surface during the midlife transition, or in later periods.

Adventures in Ourselves

Unexpected thoughts and feelings may bring the individual surprise and alarm.  He or she may recoil from such thoughts, or repress them.

Midlife transition can be a time of confusion and difficulty as individuals confront realities that may bubble up from the unconscious mind, often accompanied by anxiety.  The individual may choose to reject them, and to lapse into a more and more single-minded and less flexible approach to his or her life.  In such a case, life tends to get grimmer and grimmer, and less full of colour: the rigidity that besets the aging can deprive the person of any vitality in later life.

Midlife Transition ; Rigidity or Exploration

The alternative to closed off rigidity is a spirit of open-ness and exploration, the kind needed for the journey in the second half of life, which Jung called the night sea journey.  T.S. Eliot captures eloquently the nature of this exploration at the end of his poem Little Gidding :

Free

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

So writes Eliot, and so it is with the journey of exploration in mid-life and beyond.  We explore the place from which we started, adventurously opening up possibility in ourselves through the middle of life, rather than rejecting them — and sapping our vitality.  This is the journey of renewal during midlife transition, and a key part of the exploration in the work of depth psychotherapy.

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Can Midlife Transition Bring Renewal? 1: Out of Decay

February 19th, 2013 · 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.

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Midlife Transition & the Professional

November 17th, 2012 · midlife, midlife transition

The period in the middle years of life is often known as the midlife transition, and it can be a period of surprising forms of change for the professional person.

midlife transition

Is midlife transition important for the professional?  Yes, most definitely: but perhaps not in the ways you’d expect!

Not Necessarily “Mid-Life Crisis”

Midlife transition for the professional may not appear in a form that fits the stereotypical image of the “mid-life crisis.”

There may be no red sports cars, no decision to go climb Everest, nor any lost weekends in Vegas (although sometimes these things do occur).  But there will likely be some very serious re-evaluation of what is meaningful or important in life.

Mask Dance: Professional Persona

One of the big issues that professionals can come up against in the midlife transition involves a person’s whole relationship to their professional identity — what Jungians would call their professional persona

Most professions impart a very clear sense of professional identity to their members.  Those professional stereotypes all exist for a reason: they may not be completely accurate, but in many cases they pick up on elements of professional identity that the profession works very hard to instill in its members.  However, this can be a source of psychic pain, when the professional persona is not very well suited to who the individual actually is.

midlife transition

What is it All Really Worth?

Professional people make substantial sacrifices to obtain the education and professional experience to practice a profession.  Today, the lifestyle of a professional may also include a lot of ongoing sacrifice just to meet the responsibilities that he or she must carry, or even to work in the field.

This seems especially onerous during the midlife transition, if the professional identity has alienated person from his or her personal identity.  An individual may come to wonder if all the effort and role-playing has all been worthwhile — and whether it continues to be worthwhile to participate in the profession.

As the old saying goes:

midlife transition

What is Really Living?

In the midlife transition, it’s not uncommon for people to feel that they want an increased level of authenticity in their personal lives.  They want to feel really alive.

The tough question is how to get that.

Individuals start to ask, “What changes will enable me to live in such a way that I feel that I really am alive, that my life seems vital and fundamentally meaningful — to me?”

 

A scene from the movie “Parenthood” captures many of the sentiments that professionals can confront in midlife transition.

In this “quitting scene”, while the Steve Martin character is somewhat over the top, what rings true is his frustration with a role that doesn’t fit his real identity.

Living out who we really are is one of the dominant aspects of midlife transition.  Jungian psychotherapy focuses on discovering that unique identity in depth.  Who is trying to be alive in you, above and beyond your professional identity?

Next in series:

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A Depth Psychotherapist on Late Midlife Transition 1

October 1st, 2012 · midlife, midlife transition, psychotherapist

To a depth psychotherapist, late midlife transition has some characteristics different from earlier stages in the midlife transition process.  This is especially true in our time, when particular aspects of the late midlife transition get intensified by our way of life.

midlife transition

Individuals today experience a great deal of demand on their strength, time and resources, and the late midlife transition period is often a time when the stress level is particularly great.

Has It Been Worth It So Far?

The depth psychotherapist knows that this retrospective question is all too characteristic of much of the midlife transition process for individuals.  But the further the journey of midlife transition goes, the more this question can take on urgency.  Individuals strongly feel the need to get some concrete resolution to this question.

What Will Make It Worth It From Here on in?

Tied to the above is the question about the future: what is the direction that I really want in my life?  For some people, the problem becomes that they can’t even really imagine what it is that they might actually want in their lives.  What can give all of this journey value and meaning?  This might be a values or a religious or philosophical question, or it might be something else altogether.

Sometimes, as we move through midlife transition, even acknowledging what it is that we yearn for can be an extremely hard thing to do.

…If Only I Could Get Free From All These Pressures…

In our era, to an accelerated degree, people in late midlife transition face acute pressures.  Pressures from our kids, at the stage where they are making fateful decisions about vocation, the move into adulthood and leaving home. Pressures of rapidly changing workplaces, and of fighting to stay in the workforce.  Pressures of aging and increasingly dependent parents.  For individuals in the late midlife transition “sandwich generation”, individuation means finding meaning beyond and through major life transitions.

I Can’t Postpone Living Anymore!  …But What is it to Live?

What is it to live?  For many of us, even in later adulthood, this is a thorny question.  What is it for me to live?  Answers are intensely individual.  They will only come through exploration of personal depths and the unconscious, and through a deep level of acceptance of what life has been so far.  This is key to the work of the depth psychotherapist with clients in late midlife transition.

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Hope: Burnout Treatment During Midlife Transition

September 24th, 2012 · burnout, burnout treatment, Hope, midlife, midlife transition

Burnout treatment is a matter of real importance in our society as a whole, but for those undergoing midlife transition, it often takes on an even deeper significance.

burnout treatment

For many people, midlife transition is a time full of issues around career transition, social role, and at an even deeper level, questions of vocation.

Burnout is Incredibly Common During Midlife Transition

By the time of the midlife transition, most people have done a lot of living.  Many have quite a bit of experience with the work world, and often with a number of other social “worlds” in which they have been involved.  In fact, there may be a great deal of disillusionment and fatigue connected to living in work and other social roles and in meeting their expectations.

Sometimes, as a result of this experience, a profound weariness can descend upon individuals, and a deep inability to find motivation.  We call this burnout.

Burnout Treatment and the Death of Hope…

Often, in important ways, burnout treatment must address the death of a certain type of hope in the individual at midlife transition.  A way of looking at life, certain hopes and dreams, a certain way of being in the world, have all come to their end.  They have no more vitality, and, even though these attitudes may have served us well earlier in life, now they cannot avoid dying.

This may entail deep feelings of loss, genuine grief, a wide range of emotions, and a profound sense of disorientation.

…But Also, the Birth of Hope

This time may also herald the birth of a differing understanding of identity — and a different kind of hope.  A move away from hoping that the individual dreams of my youth will be fulfilled, to a hope that I can find meaning, hope and vitality in other places.  Another, different understanding of value and meaning in terms of my own truly deepest needs and yearnings, and what is really significant in my life.

Vocation as New and Deeper Identity

As I explore these elements of myself, even thought the process may be incredibly painful, I may be in the process of finding a new and deeper identity.  I may be moving beyond people pleasing and outer appearances, to satisfying the deepest yearnings within me, and the deepest movements of my soul.  Burnout treatment during midlife transition may mean the liberation of energy into a new kind of readiness and welcome for living.

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Dealing with Shame During Midlife Transition

September 17th, 2012 · 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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A Jungian Psychotherapist Respects Midlife Transition 1

July 30th, 2012 · midlife, midlife transition, transition

A good Jungian psychotherapist has great respect for the psychological processes that make up the midlife transition in most people

psychotherapist

This is because, for many, much of the course of life and of the value they assign to it will be determined during the period of midlife transition. Whether we’re aware or not, the middle of life is when we really work out, or determine what our attitude will be toward some key aspects of life.

These attitudes determine fundamentally how life gets lived out.

1. Have I Understood and Accepted My Identity?

It isn’t unusual for people to find that their understanding or sense of themselves starts to change with the midlife transition.  Oftentimes, this entails losing lots of illusions about our identity.  We start to understand that certain dreams and ambitions will never be fulfilled, while possibly other desires and ambitions that weren’t important earlier in our lives come to the fore.

This leads to a related subject…

2. My Attitude Towards the Shadow — the Parts of Myself That I Find Really Hard to Face

We all know that they’re there.  While we may have varying degrees of clarity about these aspects of ourselves that are painful or shameful to look at, they need our attention.  We need to face them as clearly as we can, and to assume responsibility for them.  The only way not to live life through the midlife transition as anything other than a bitter illusion is to let in those parts of ourselves which are exiled, yet contain our vitality.

 3. Open-ness

As life goes along, we can get more and more set into ruts we have travelled for so long. These may concern habitual concepts of ourselves, the rigid rightness of our own views, or the types of experiences to which we’re open.  A Jungian psychotherapist knows from training and experience that if we don’t find ways to stay open, and to experience new things during the midlife transition, we risk falling into greater and greater rigidity, and moving farther and farther from real life as we age.

 4. The Challenge of Accepting Life

In midlife, we face the challenge of moving into a creative acceptance of the totality of life.  This is no idle exercise: our ability or inability to do this may profoundly affect the whole remaining course of our lives.  The privilege and challenge of a creative psychotherapist is to work with the individual to bring a creatively receptive attitude into being.

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