The common notion of "midlife crisis" refers to the feelings of stress, chaos and disequilibrium that typically accompany this special stage in our lives.
The turmoil of midlife usually enters into our consciousness as anxiety over who we are. It is better to think of midlife as a psychological and spiritual time rather than a biological one. Some people enter this important stage at 30 others at 70.
The key to transforming midlife stress into depth and meaning is to understand that midlife is not a crisis at all—it’s a crossroads of the soul, a crossroads that’s too often misunderstood and unacknowledged.
During adolescence we go through a development change called puberty, a change that’s clearly recognized because it’s physical and so visible. At midlife we go through an even more powerful developmental stage, but it’s primarily an inner one. Because this stage isn’t visible, it often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged for what it truly is.
At midlife our soul thrusts an important question at us: Will we come home to our deeper identity and live the second half of our lives as the real thing or as a dress rehearsal? Midlife chaos comes as a result of our soul’s efforts to liberate us from a conditioned identity that’s too small for who we truly are.
During midlife we encounter a natural movement from within ourselves to leave our surface identity and journey to our innermost identity—the Heart. This movement often meets with strong resistance from internal forces that naturally seek safety by maintaining the status quo. These forces need to be educated to see the big picture so they can become allies in helping us to grow and Craft the Good Life.
Midlife changes require us to leave known for foreign territory. They can be a changes filled with doubt and fear. They involve experiences of turmoil and inner stretching that, if negotiated properly, can yield something of enduring value. It’s as if our identity loses its solid ground while we are in movement between different possibilities within ourselves.
During midlife confusion we occupy a psychological location that is like being on a suspension bridge. Any emotional upheaval is like a strong wind that can leave us feeling out of control as the familiar images that have defined us in the past no longer seem fixed, stable and reliable.
If we resist change and rigidly hold on to our old self-image, we run the risk of living the second half of our lives confined to an identity that has trouble taking advantage of life's deeper opportunities. We can then develop a kind of chronic dread about having to face growing old and inevitably having to die. This dread steals life’s bright colors and makes it something that we merely endure rather than live with any vibrancy or passion.
Our deepest possibilities often emerge most clearly during times of psychological and spiritual confusion. Many of us enter midlife with well established patterns of identity. Our work and family life have become predictable sources of externally based identity and enjoyment. Then all of a sudden we can begin to feel depleted and out of sorts. What we have worked hard for, and what we have valued, begins to seem lacking in some vague way.
Our lives begin to feel like a drama that someone else has arranged. We lose energy for what we do every day. It becomes repetitive and boring. Even our most prized possessions may all of a sudden appear to be just "things" that no longer mean very much to us.
It can almost feel as if we have lost something that we then struggle to get back. But typically that doesn’t work. We can find ourselves stressed out as the old wounds in our self-image begin to feel very sore again. As a kind of panic sets in, we might find our connections to people in our family and work lives feel strained. We begin to question everything that seems to have a hold on our time and energy. And we can feel a strong appetite for freedom.
Midlife is a time when the old images that we had come to rely upon for self definition no longer seem to work well. But, as yet, there are no new images on the scene that could provide us with a clear sense of identity. As a consequence, our experience of ourselves, of the "I" or "me" that we tend to identify with can become uneasy and indefinite.
It is a little like discovering that the solid ground that we were standing on is actually a large turtle's back that is moving. What results is a subtle sense of stressful panic as we lose our balance and the certainty of who we are.
Next month we’ll continue exploring the fascinating territory of midlife in part two of this series.
After many years of study and work in the best of the western and eastern psychological, spiritual and well-being traditions, I created the Good Life Process™, a life enhancement practice that brings together ancient wisdom and cutting edge knowledge. The Process is a powerful tool for negotiating midlife change and for creating a life that can be well lived, loved and understood.
Dr. Jim Manganiello is an award winning depth psychologist, Master coach, and meditation instructor. He works with people who want to craft their life into a work of art. Jim created the amazing, 5 part, Crafting the Good Life Course, now available at www.craftingthegoodlife.com. The Course features a powerful life enhancement practice, The Good Life Process™ Sign up for the Jim’s Newsletter and get Part One, Step 1 of the Process FREE.