In his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, Jungian psychologist James Hollis describes mid-life crisis as more of a spiritual awakening. Some come to this awakening through a growing sense of spiritual and philosophical longing in their disillusionment with our materialistic society. Others come into it from hitting a bottom, maybe from an alcohol or sex addiction that cost them their marriage, Some come into it from suffering the painful loss of a loved one through death or divorce, or fear of commitment.
No matter how we get there, mid-life awakening is a gift. It is about taking an honest inventory of the way we have been and are currently living our life. Are we doing what feeds our soul? How are we treating our loved ones? How are we being treated? We then begin the journey of consciously stepping out of the survivor mode of fearful, guarded, ego-based living and into a more expansive, meaningful, soul inspired way of being in the world.
According to developmental psychologist Eric Erickson, mid-life is the developmental stage that occurs between the ages of approximately 40 and 65; the stage of generativity versus stagnation. Erickson describes generativity as seeking activities that are more meaningful, such as caring for others, creating things and accomplishing things that make the world a better place. He describes stagnation as failing to find a way to contribute in a meaningful way, and as a consequence, feeling disconnected or uninvolved with ones community.
From a transpersonal psychological perspective, choosing generativity would be in alignment with one’s inner healing and spiritual development, and therefore be the most likely path to a meaningful, abundant life. Hence, the path of stagnation would likely be the route that would cause the most suffering.
This leads me to this important factor that we should all me mindful of; the path of choosing generativity is not always a straight line, nor is it always a clear route, so we must ask ourselves this question. Where do I need to take a step back and heal and nurture myself? What might potentially cause stagnation in my life? Escapism, addiction of all kinds (alcohol, television, internet porn, codependent romantic love, sex, shopping, gambling, food, perfectionism…), substance abuse, materialism, untreated grief, depression, PTSD, or other type of mental illness?
Another thing that causes stagnation is negative thinking patterns and old stories we tell ourselves that don’t serve us that we keep buying into. Yes, the kind that we need to put to rest. Then we can write a new, more empowering story, for our inner child, if not for us.
For some individuals, this calling for a shift in consciousness is misunderstood or eluded due to fear, insecurity, or addiction. Jung spoke of this common human dilemma in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections:
“I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually contained within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.”
Although midlife seems to be the major epicenter, these major awakenings are not limited to midlife. Most of us have several of these types of awakenings in our lifetime. An awakening can be described as getting a download (or upload) to a higher level of consciousness. This might be coming into a sense of one’s own soul suddenly guiding them to explore creative outlets and nature. This might also lead one into an awareness that they have been living in a fearful state because they have been cut off from the self-love and wisdom of their soul. When this person learns to love himself/herself and align with their soul’s mission, change often happens. Healthy boundaries are set that might lead to the ending of stagnant, unhealthy relationships. Or, healthy boundaries are set that lead to relationship healing and a more constant flow of love and harmony.
The mid-life awakening is a calling from our wise inner guide to follow our soul’s longing and fully come into our most authentic, empowered, loving self. It is a time to really figure out what the most important things in life are beyond the sales pitch of endless youth chasing and materialism that our mainstream culture tries to force-feed us.
Mid-life is a time to cultivate non-judgment, patience and compassion, and to see the ways that we have been ignoring each other’s authenticity in romantic love. Why would we withhold love? Is there a game going on? That’s not authentic. It’s time to forgive ourselves and others for the mistakes that we have made in our lives. It may be time to get some counseling or couples therapy if you haven’t already tried it. After all, we all have blind spots, and the reasons that we stay together in romantic love or marriage today are much different than it was for our parents. Unfortunately, none of us had a class called relationship skills 101 in high school.
Let’s let midlife be a time to empower ourselves by learning to embrace our feminine and masculine wisdom, embrace our wrinkles, and hopefully not get too hung up on botox, plastic surgery, or chasing youth. We must learn to take better care of ourselves, in mind, body, and soul. When we learn to look within for our beauty, it radiates out and then we appear more beautiful in others eyes. But more than anything, midlife is a time to stop worrying about what other people think and instead, be true to our amazing inner god/goddess!
Christine Dufond, MFT