Assuming you’re past your 20s (and apologies if you’re not), do you remember a moment when the life you were living in your 20s no longer felt like it fitted you? There comes a time, often as we approach and enter our next decade that a quiet revolution happens internally.
The early adulthood of the 20s is about many things: self-discovery; separation; forming relationships; sexual experimentation; exploration of the meaning of work; finding our place in the world; pursuing and championing causes. Above all it represents a deepening and broadening of identity.
But it also comes with difficulties. Alongside a growing sense of individuality there’s also a deep desire to belong to our peer group, to feel one of the gang, whatever the gang is. Not fitting in can be terribly painful and isolating.
If our optimism and hopes of the early twenties where anything and everything seems possible are not met, we can start to rub up against disappointment and frustration. Why is life not delivering on its promises? Comparison with others becomes painful. Differences become starker.
At this time our questions start about who we really are in this world; what our purpose is in this life. As we start to form longer relationships, we begin to wonder, is this the person I will be with for a long time; perhaps I will have children or not; perhaps my career is what defines me, or not? Perhaps I will continue to live at this pace and in this way, or not. The experimentation which often goes hand in hand with drugs and alcohol starts to lose its sheen. A different set of needs and reality emerge.
Our roots grow deeper. We may settle in one place, in one relationship, in a career. For some their trajectory seems surer and more stable. Others feel that transition less easily and persist with the high octane life of the early twenties, somehow surfing the wave of excitement and feeling of immortality as a way of escaping that core question that inevitably comes into focus. I have but one life. My years are passing. I slowly progress to middle age. Who and what am I for?
When those two worlds of immortality and mortality clash, we can go into crisis. Which identity will prevail? How will we renegotiate our contract with ourselves for what our life will be? This crisis can often trigger deep anxiety or depression.
‘All that summer conceals, winter reveals’ says Annie Dillard.
It’s a wonderful metaphor for the change from childhood and adolescence into adulthood. We become adults in our 20s. But who we truly are starts to re-emerge as we move into our 30s. For many somehow it gets forgotten, lost or buried somewhere as we try and fit to others’ notions of who we should be (eg parents, siblings, friends, bosses).
In the medicine wheel, this ascent (or is it descent?) into deeper adulthood is represented by the north and the winter. It is the time of seriousness and responsibility when we need to anchor ourselves in family, work and building the roots of our own new families. The qualities that get evoked in this season of our lives include: rationality; being considered; being conciliatory; being nurturing; perseverance; taking a profession; deepening learning and wisdom. The winter is also about regulation and maintenance of our systems to ensure that the next generation / cycle of spring can emerge.
It’s not surprising that this time of life feels completely contradictory. It reminds me of the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis having been a caterpillar. The two type of existence seem completely at odds. When we struggle to integrate the change that split of the old ways and the news creates deep internal conflict. We can swing between adulthood and adolescence.
Counselling can help you get through that transition, the depression and the anxiety, by both grounding you and helping to developing the awareness of the change that’s happening. It can help you get to the heart of your values and to reconnect with who you really are, and want to be in this world.
There’s lots you can do by yourself of course too. Just noticing how things are changing can be very powerful. What matters to you most in this period of change? What beliefs are past their sell-by date and can be discarded? Who is important to you and why? What places do you feel most comfortable in? And least?
Having a curiosity for yourself, your roots, your beliefs, your spirituality, your place in the community can be very powerful tools in processing the change.
If you’d like to talk to me about your life transition, why not get in touch?
By Matt Fox Counselling in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott www.mattfoxcounselling.co.uk
Photo by Plancas67 licensed under Creative Commons
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