The natural process of midlife transition
(continued from Mid Life Crisis, page 1)
Carl Jung identified 5 main phases of midlife:
- Accommodation (meeting others' expectations - actually, this takes place in the first part of life, but is the context in which midlife processes take place)
- Separation (rejecting the accommodated self)
- Liminality (a period of uncertainty, where life seems directionless and meanders)
- Reintegration (working out 'who I am' and becoming comfortable with that identity)
- Individuation (facing up to and accepting the undesirable aspects of our own character)
Over the next few short pages, we'll take a look at each of these stages in more depth.
In the popularised version of Carl Jungs scheme (ie the Myers Briggs model of personality) it is assumed that our preferences are innate - they are with us from birth and not influenced by the environment. What is influenced by the environment is our behaviour and our perception of ourselves. These are influenced by many factors, such as parents, siblings, other children at nursery school, television, the surroundings to our early childhood, etc..
As young children, eager to please, we adapt to those around us, in order to be accepted by them. Our behaviour and perception of ourselves is therefore modified in order to 'fit in' with the various social situations in which we find ourselves. This process, which Jung called 'Accommodation', results in us presenting ourselves as different people in different situations, called 'personae'. As in Greek tragedy, we put on a mask to demonstrate to others how we think we are feeling inside.
Sometimes, the way in which we 'accommodate' to others is different to our true preferences. As an example: suppose a child born with introvert preferences finds that she has to be very extrovert in order to get the love and attention that she needs as a young child. As she grows into adulthood, she continues to act like an extrovert, and believes that she is an extrovert. The real preference for introversion is not recognised. There can also be cultural, social or environmental pressure to behave in certain ways, and these create a "tug o' war" with our self-perceptions. An example is shown in the diagram. In this case, the pressures, and therefore his personae, may lean so heavily towards introversion that he may believe that he is an introvert, whilst his real preference is for extroversion.
It can sometimes take a lot of energy to maintain these personae if they are in conflict with our true preferences. Jung spent much of his life counselling people who had 'accommodated' to become people different to their inner preferences. For these people, mid-life transition can sometimes be a difficult and painful process.
Sometimes there is little difference between our 'true selves' and the personae we present to others. Such people may find mid life transition a less difficult process than those individuals whose personae and inner self are quite different.
The next article is about the stage of midlife that is termed separation.