Finding Wisdom and Integration in Midlife
In the first half of life we are mostly trying to become productive members of society, starting families and solidifying our personality or social status. Around age 40, we tend to become more keenly aware that we are halfway through life, that this life will end and that we will go through many losses on the way. We begin to feel somewhat more confined by the life we have created and to question whether it is entirely authentic or optimal for us. This shift creates a more contemplative temperament and a possible shift of priorities and values. Yet it need not become a crisis of identity. When faced consciously it can bring a deeper consciousness of meaning and an expansion of the personality.
In midlife we start to value our time and energy more. However, as the cliches of midlife crisis suggest, this sense of limited time can also cause us to rush toward experiences that will ultimately fail to bring us fulfillment or renewed youthfulness. The key of midlife is to turn what could become a crisis into deeper maturity and renewed vision.
In the second half of life there is a call to greater authenticity and integrity. We might ask ourselves whether we are living from our deepest values and balancing difficult opposites. For example, how do we balance connection and service to others, including one's spouse, with enlightened individualism? It would not be wise to solely pursue one's own pleasure and whim, or alternatively to be a people-pleaser who compulsively sacrifices their own well-being for others. An imbalance on either side will eventually become unlivable.
Midlife is about reaching balance, perspective and wholeness. Aspects of life that were neglected over the last 20 years will now have to be faced more consciously. Aspects of the personality that are less developed will call for our attention. This process of enantiodromia is defined as the tendency of things to change into their opposites, especially with regard to psychological development. When enantidromia begins to work on us at midlife, we are faced with our neglected, weaker areas and can no longer rest so fully on our strengths. Often, some difficult life circumstance or health problem will make this clear to us.
Feelings of Dread and Drudgery
For the person at midlife, the daily routines of work, raising children, and caring for the elderly may feel rather tedious and joyless. Professional roles that once promised novelty and growth might confront us with painful compromises that must be managed wisely for the future.
As we face these changes, our close relationships also reveal limitations. As we change, so our partners may also be changing in ways we do not expect, grow apart from us or take a new attitude that we find disturbing and cannot share. At this precarious time one might feel as great a temptation to leave a relationship as to preserve it and make the best of it.
Midlife asks us to walk across a narrow bridge that demands great wisdom, patience and integrity of conscience. If we still harbor a youthful tendency toward impetuous, reactive behavior or attitudes, we will likely pay more dearly for that now than at any other time in our lives. In many situations we simply won't get a second chance to get it right. To harbor an adolescent resentment or restlessness at midlife is to cut off the source of deeper growth within.
Looking Back, Finding New Vision
At midlife we feel ourselves drawn to look back on all that has been, all that has become of our lives through the mingling of free will and fate. If we look back for the sake of nostalgia, wishing only to go back in time or stagnate in younger behaviors, then looking back becomes regressive and morbid. By contrast, when we look back thoughtfully, we can come to terms with our achievements and mistakes. We can reach a higher integration of the personality. And we can listen to the call of new potentials and inspiration within us.
When we ask ourselves what to do with the rest of our lives, we must be patient enough to listen to our longings even if we are not sure how to practically fulfill them. Creativity bubbles up from the unconscious or spiritual dimension that we now have more access to. As we continue to work on the practical demands of midlife, such as maintaining income and planning for retirement, we will be called to find the sacred in the ordinary and to gradually find room for our creative and spiritual needs. For example, going on a three-week spiritual pilgrimmage is far more difficult than creating a sacred space for daily meditation and prayer at home is a more workable and integrated solution.
Depth psychotherapy offers patients the space and respect to explore the complex feelings that may arise at midlife. A therapist's role is to help the patient to hold both sides of an issue, while gaining deeper self-knowledge and new direction.
We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning–for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.
- Carl Jung
The neurotic disturbances of adult years have this in common, that they betray the attempt to carry the psychic dispositions of youth beyond the threshold of the so-called years of discretion.
- Carl Jung
Perhaps you are in your twenties and struggling with heavy feelings or frustrating habits. Feeling confused about your relationships. Living and working without a clear purpose and direction for the future. I understand. My twenties were easily my most difficult decade.
In my twenties I spent a lot of time sifting through books, looking for answers. Therapy wasn't as common back then. I eventually found my way, and my thirties were better. But I wish that at age 30 I had the clarity and self-confidence I have now. Becoming a psychologist helped me get there. And now it allows me to share the gift of self-knowledge and empowerment with my clients.
Perhaps you've heard "Relax, you have time. Your 30s are the new 20s!" So you continue with the same patterns and stick with things that aren't ideal for you. You put up with suffering and you put off getting help.
I'm going to be straightforward: You do have some time -- and rushing doesn't work -- but you don't have all the time in the world. The inner and outer consequences of not knowing who you are, what you want to do (and with whom), and how to create a healthy, positive lifestyle only become more severe as you get older.
The time to invest in real self-knowledge, relationship skills and a purpose-driven life is now.
Many of my clients are men and women in their 20s or 30s. They've tried to figure things out on their own but that takes too long. So they come in each week for a relaxed, deep, and often quite funny talk about their inner and outer lives. And yes, their lives change radically for the better.
Therapy works. Research over the last 100 years of psychotherapy indicates that if you feel comfortable with your psychotherapist, then therapy will most likely be very helpful and healing. Also, research shows that if you receive classical, psychodynamic therapy that fosters self-knowledge and empathic connection (the ability to be present and connected), then the benefits of therapy continue even years after therapy concludes.
This is the gold standard of therapy. Classical, relational depth therapy addresses your whole being -- your values, family history, attachment style, key relationships and character structure. The container for this process is the most important factor. It's the empathic, professional connection between therapist and client.
Whether you come in for a few sessions or for ongoing therapy, it can be powerful.
I remember how much I was helped by a therapist in Washington, DC I saw only twice. I still recall a few key phrases he said that helped me leave a bad relationship. And I certainly remember my two years of Jungian, psychodynamic therapy as the most transformative period of my life.
Are you 35 or older? Great. Carl Jung said that life doesn't begin until age 40.
When I'm not working with young adults, I often treat mature adults who are working on wisdom, integration and life transitions. The tasks of midlife and maturity are entirely different from early adulthood. How you navigated your earlier years determines a lot, but there are also entirely new challenges and possibilities. No matter what age you are, I can help you become the empowered observer and courageous hero of your life.
The first step is to call 650.851.1952 for a free phone consult and to schedule. During our first meeting I will ask some basic questions to start things off, and give you plenty of time to describe your concerns. I take the time to understand the whole picture.