Sound familiar? You might be in the midst of a mid-life crisis. It’s that time when we find out that security does not lie in another person. It can only be found within. The time has arrived when we need to be still, reflect inward and not subdue anxiety and depression with excessive drinking, gambling shopping, frantic activity, or work. We have a choice – we can either cling to old illusions and deny reality or we can look inward and try to begin to understand the meaning of our lives. It’s not just action and doing anymore. It’s the meaning behind the doing that’s important. Mid-life crisis occurs in many people, not only artists and creative ones, even though people who have pushed their creative outlets aside seem to get hit especially hard.
The mid-life passage is an initiation ritual. The great work of Jan and Murray Stein, Jungian analysts out of Chicago, gives us three steps of initiation; 1) Separation, 2) Liminality, and 3) Integration.
1) Separation: Mid-life is a crisis in identity when we need to separate from certain persona’s or social masks which we primarily form during adolescence and young adulthood. These identities were greatly influenced by our willingness to agree with others as to who we are and what we’re like – or by being excessively the opposite (i.e. the “rebel”, “outsider”, “loner”, etc). Often persona’s try to create a favorable impression (i.e. the “nice guy”, “dutiful daughter”, “supermom”) or we get locked into 24 hours a day roles and unconsciously hide behind being a “doctor”, “cop”, “career woman”, etc.
When these identities slowly begin to dissolve we are left wondering who we are and what we’re like. Signals at the onset of the “separation” are boredom, disillusionment, loss of interest in career, spouse, family, friends and a sense of loss, emptiness and feelings of defeat. Night time dream themes include destruction of old buildings, heading into unfamiliar territory, or more dramatically, the loss of a parent, a child or someone close to us who had had great influence on our persona. It is very disorienting as the self is separating from former identifications.
In therapy it’s important to hold and tolerate the anxiety and tension so the patient can withstand the gap between the old identity and the new one not yet known. A premature solution would be to help the patient restore the old persona, which would reduce anxiety, but would also deprive him or her of the opportunity for a soulful transformation to inner wisdom. Next time Liminality and Integration.
Dr. Peter Milhado © 2011