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.
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
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.
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 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
- 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.
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,
- develops a better understanding of 'who I am'
- adopts appropriate personae and roles, and re-assesses them on an ongoing
- retains some sense of liminality (uncertainty)
- becomes more comfortable with oneself and others being the way they
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.
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:
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
- developing a much greater appreciation for people, despite their lack
of competence or intellectual ability.
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.