Sunday, March 7, 2010

Transitions at Midlife

“In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the straight road was lost.” –Dante

Midlife can be a time of upheaval and uncertainty. At this time of life, people often find themselves re-evaluating everything--themselves, their relationships, their careers. This re-evaluation might lead to a sense of regret for paths not taken or parts of self never developed. Mid-lifers might feel a desire to pursue these discarded paths or explore undeveloped parts of themselves. Past trauma, losses or other memories might surface.

People often find themselves drawn to new and unexpected ideas, interests, or careers. A person who has been achievement-oriented might feel drawn to engaging in creative work or doing things simply for enjoyment without worrying about achieving a particular outcome. A person who has been outgoing might feel a need to spend time alone in quiet reflection. A person who has been shy or a loner might feel a desire to spend more time with others.

Carl Jung, an analytic psychoanalyst, believed that life is a journey toward wholeness, a process he termed “individuation,” and that each person’s journey contains elements in common with others, along with elements unique to each individual (Jung, 1989). Mental health professionals Clark, S.H. and Schwiebert, V.L. (2001) use the metaphor of a loom to describe a woman’s midlife journey. They liken the loom to a framework on which a woman can weave a fabric of her own design, color and texture, entwining the distinctive threads of her life into a unique creation. She can also unravel parts of her life that no longer serve her, such as patterns of thinking, behavior and self-image.

Men, who traditionally have been expected to focus on work and the external world while keeping their feelings in check, at midlife often want to focus on their inner selves, such as their feelings and intuition. Our culture is becoming increasingly more accepting of men developing more sides of themselves.

Paying attention to your internal feelings and thoughts at midlife, no matter how quiet or bewildering they seem, will likely start you on the path to a greater sense of integration and wholeness. Some ways of doing so are setting aside time for yourself to notice what is going on inside, journal writing, drawing or using other art forms to express yourself, noticing your dreams, talking with others who are going through similar changes, and engaging in psychotherapy.

Regardless of how you undertake your midlife journey, you might decide to make small changes in your life, you might choose to make major changes, or, you might decide not to make any external changes. Sometimes, just recognizing and exploring your thoughts and feelings during this time can provide you with a deep sense of renewal and satisfaction.


Clark, S.H. and Schwiebert, V.L. (2001). Penelope’s loom: A metaphor of women’s development at midlife. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 40(2), 161-170.

Jung, C.G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Vintage Books.

Segell, M. & Leclerc, A. (1996). The new softness. Esquire, 125(4), 51. Retrieved January 10, 2002, from Academic Search Elite.

© Copyright 2009 Maxine Sushelsky