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Mid-Life Issues For Men & Women
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MID-LIFE CRISES
biolifedynamics.com

  • As we enter mid-life, the baby boom generation remains an enigma. Its members rejected the values of their parents and changed the structure of their families in ways unimaginable to a previous generation. But they must now shoulder adult responsibilities and assume positions of leadership (if they aren't already in them). Put another way: the baby boom stands at a point of transition. This is not the first time this generation has collectively faced a point of transition. When the leading-edge boomers began turning 30, they hit what psychologist Daniel Levinson calls the "Age 30 Transition."
  • The struggle of leaving childhood and entering the adult years was worked out in a period of stagnant wages and appreciating house prices. The leading edge of this generation is now in the midst of a more significant transition: the mid-life transition. Turning 40 is no more a predictor of change than turning 30 was.
  • But somewhere in that time period, mid-life re-evaluation begins. It is a stage in which men and women begin to evaluate and question their priorities and deal with their dreams and aspirations. While this transition is both somber and serious, some have attempted to inject some levity into the discussion.
  • While some social commentators want to discount the existence of a mid-life crisis, psychologists and sociologists assure us that something is indeed taking place. It is not merely media hype or self-fulfilling prophecy. During the years of mid-life, a substantial re-evaluation is taking place.
  • In actuality, the transition to mid-life is gradual. There are no major landmarks or signposts that signal our entry into this new and uncharted domain. Perhaps that is why there are so many jokes about turning 40 even though nothing of any significance actually happens on one's 40th birthday. Turning 40 provides a visible demarcation of a gradual process.


Mid-life Transition

This page describes the process of mid-life transition - sometimes called 'mid-life crisis' - through the eyes of Myers Briggs.

(This page assumes that you have a good knowledge of the Myers Briggs model of personality. If not, you may find our article on stress management more relevant).

'Mid-life transition' is something that happens to many of us at some point during our lives (usually, at about 40, give or take 20 years). It is a natural process (first identified by the psychologist Carl Jung) and it is a normal part of 'maturing'.

However, it can feel very uncomfortable, and you can experience a wide range of feelings whilst it is happening, such as:

  • Discontent with life and/or the lifestyle that may have provided happiness for many years
  • Boredom with things/people that have hitherto held great interest and dominated your life
  • Feeling adventurous and wanting to do something completely different
  • Questioning the meaning of life, and the validity of decisions clearly and easily made years before
  • Confusion about who you are, or where your life is going.

These feelings at mid-life can occur naturally, or result from external factors.

One external factor can be debt. The availability of credit has become easier in recent years, through credit cards and telephone/internet loans. This has made it easier to accumulate debt, and many people turn to debt consolidation or debt management services in order to find their way out of difficulty.

Another external factor can be a significant loss or change - such as the death of a parent, redundancy or divorce.

Coming to terms with external problems can be difficult enough on their own. But they can be compounded by the natural process of 'mid-life transition' - making the whole process of adjustment bewildering and overwhelming.

It can be very helpful, in the midst of this confusion, to understand a bit more about the process of midlife. This enables you to see your way more clearly out of the confusion, and help avoid making any rash decisions that you might regret at a later date. This web page aims to give you a brief overview of that process, particularly from a Myers Briggs or Jungian point of view.

Accommodation

The Myers Briggs model assumes 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.

E/I tug'o'war - influences pulling against true preferencesSometimes, 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.

Separation

The first stage of mid-life involves a questioning of the personae presented to others in the first 30/40/50 years of life.

Think of a persona as a mask, and recognise that different masks are worn in different situations. In separation, one takes off the masks and looks at them, asking questions such as:

  • Who is the person underneath the mask?
  • Are these masks appropriate?
  • Do they show others what I am really like, or do they present a false picture?
  • Do they show me what I am really like?
  • What am I like?

In Myers Briggs terms, this might involve questioning one's personality type. For example, an extrovert who is aware of his type might ask:

  • Am I really an extrovert?
  • Is my extrovert behaviour a reflection of my own preferences?
  • Am I acting like an extrovert because that is what my parents or everyone else expect (or have expected) me to do?

The questioning of the personae leads to a large degree of uncertainty - a psychological 'no-man's land'. The old personae have been rejected, perhaps only temporarily, but no new personae have been put in their place. One can therefore feel:

  • uncertain about 'who I am'
  • lacking in direction, and unsure how to go forward
  • apprehensive about making rash, life-changing decisions
  • fearful about whether this uncertainty is ever going to end

In Myers Briggs terms, the individual may be unsure about his/her type, and seek views and feedback from sources outside of him/her self.

Reintegration

Eventually, the uncertainty lessens, new personae are adopted (usually, more in harmony with what is happening 'within') and what remains uncertain feels quite comfortable (or even an essential part of living). During reintegration, one:

  • develops a better understanding of 'who I am'
  • adopts appropriate personae and roles, and re-assesses them on an ongoing basis
  • retains some sense of liminality (uncertainty)
  • becomes more comfortable with oneself and others being the way they are

In Myers Briggs terms, the person may finally discover his/her 'true type', and be comfortable that it is a genuine reflection of inner preferences.

Individuation

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
    • * 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.

Individual experience

Diagram showing the journey is iterative, not sequentialThe 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.




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