If you’re in your 30s or 40s and feeling at a crossroads in your life, with pulls in different directions, or feeling you need to make big changes, you might be experiencing a mid-life crisis. So what can you do to help yourself through?
Dante’s Inferno begins with him getting lost from the path, at the mid point of his life. And so begins a journey of deep self-reflection and discovery to emerge into a kind of spiritual re-birth. We may not all be Dante descending through the circles of hell to emerge into paradise (via purgatory), but the call to reflect on our lives as we reach its midpoint is often prevalent.
Typical midlife questions are:
- What is the purpose of my life?
- What dreams did I have that have gone unfulfilled?
- What disappointments am I living with?
- What is my place in the world?
- What is the state of the planet and my part in that?
- What will be my legacy?
- How can I contribute something back?
This midlife experience is about delving more deeply into questions of ‘who am I’ and ‘why am I.’
Our 20s and 30s are largely about making our way in life; solidifying our identity; finding our career or work vocation; having children.
In the latter part of this period, as we take increasing responsibility in our life, sometimes we can find the tide turning and a feeling of emptiness and questioning open up.
Sometimes, depression comes in forcefully and shakes us to our roots as the vehicle that carried us with all the momentum through the first part of our life runs out of fuel. Or we start to indulge in alcohol, drugs, affairs, sex-addiction, changing jobs all the time as an avoidance of the discomfort building from within.
Some of the triggers for this questioning can also come from a building malaise as we start to confront our mortality. We may have known illness and death of loved ones. We become ‘the next in line’ to die if parents are no longer with us.
In having children, we are sometimes brought sharply into adulthood and focus on what we had and what was lacking in our own childhood.
In our full emergence into adulthood and midlife, we start to shake off the identities that were either moulded to please our parents or to rebel against them and to forge our own.
James Hollis talks of these changes as a ‘kind of tectonic pressure which builds from below.’ Our childhood and young adult self, defined to keep us safe and loved in the world start to grate against the part of ourselves that wants to feel realized and alive.
Jung said that these neuroses ‘must be understood… as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning.’
And that is the paradox of this time in our life. We are at the peak of our physical and mental powers and yet we start to notice the turning of the tide and its slow start to ebb as life moves to its second half, towards its hopefully distant end.
What can we make of ourselves, what can we make of our time? Part of this process is a big letting go of expectation of ourselves and allowing us to connect with the core of who we are; to listen to the quiet voice within, that knows who and what we can be.
Practical things you can do to get insight into your midlife questions
1) Take the time to reflect – sometimes just getting away from the busyness of life can create space for you to get perspective and find a deeper truth
2) Keep a journal and write about what matters to you – look at what brings you joy, what is meaningful;think about patterns and what holds you back in life
3) Notice what energises and what takes energy away – really look at what draws you and what repels you in your life
4) Restate your values – knowing what you stand for and what you feel passionate about and what lines you won’t cross can be helpful in connecting you with a sense of purpose
5) Do a stock take on your life – are their ways of behaving which hinder you or are no longer helpful? What ways of being can be shed or put to rest?
6) Consult elders – are there people who’ve been through life changes you know and respect, to whom you could turn for insight or advice? Elders and elder stories can provide deep insights for us to understand who we are and what we need
7) Have some counselling – sometimes a neutral, safe space to voice what can’t be said elsewhere can be really helpful too. A counsellor can help you examine what is important and what needs to change as you move into the next phase in your life
One thing is for sure, if questions come calling and you put them aside, they will continue to call, with increasing frequency and intensity. Life begs questions of you that need to be answered about purpose, identity, relationships, self. If you feel the need to explore your mid life transition, why not get in touch?
By Matt Fox: www.mattfoxcounselling.co.uk Counselling in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott
Photo by Sacks08 licensed under Creative Commons