The natural process of midlife transition
(continued from Mid Life Crisis, page 3)
The final stage in the process is one of recognising and integrating the conflicts that exist within us, and achieving a balance between them. Examples of such conflicts include:
- accepting the authority of others - vs - taking authority over our own lives
- presenting personae to the world - vs - acting, thinking and speaking in harmony with the inner self
- meeting the demands of others - vs - meeting our own inner needs
- Acknowledging our 'shadows'* - vs - living up to our ideals
- Facing up to the unconscious, including the repressed and disliked parts of who we are and other aspects of the Self
* The shadow consists of those aspects of our personality (usually negative) that we find unacceptable - we push them out of our own consciousness and 'project' them onto others.
Individuation is a process that leads to a more mature, balanced, 'rounded' person. In Myers Briggs terms, this may mean developing the aspects of personality that are opposite to one's preferences. For example, an INTJ, who has pursued an interest in a scientific career, may start to develop interest in ESFP-type activities. This might involve:
- enjoying relationships for their own sake, rather than in joint pursuit of some scientific objective
- taking up sporting pursuits simply to enjoy them, without feeling the need to develop ever greater skill and competence
- spending more time with the family and enjoying life with the children or grandchildren.
- developing a much greater appreciation for people, despite their lack of competence or intellectual ability.
The process is not a strict 'sequence of events' as described above. The steps (of accommodation, separation, liminality, reintegration and individuation) provide a framework to explain mid-life transition, but not a rule to be followed. Although there may be common themes, not all themes have to be true of all people. Each person's experience is different. For example:
- The stages may be entered and re-entered time and time again.
- Some people may take years or even decades to find their 'true selves', whilst others may find that this part of the process is very short.
- For some, it may be a very painful process, for others it may seem no different from other normal aspects of life.
- For some, the process of change and development may be resisted, and some people may not wish to spend time looking inwards at oneself.
It is a fluid process - but recognising the stages can help to make sense of what is otherwise chaos and confusion. Perhaps understanding of mid-life transition might help some people to move from thinking 'there is something wrong with me' to seeing that the feelings and changes associated with mid-life are quite natural. In fact, they are experienced by most other people at a similar stage of life.