Can Midlife Transition Bring Renewal? 2: Rigidity
A great danger for individuals going through the midlife transition is that, as life progresses, rigidity may start to encase the personality.
This fear is not groundless. Often, we see people around us become more and more entrenched in set opinions and ways of doing things as they age. We often readily spot this lack of open-ness in others. But is it a danger that we need to be aware of in ourselves?
Roots of Rigidity During Midlife Transition
The unknown is fearful, especially when it’s near to home. It’s also easy to find psychological security in established patterns.
In midlife transition, we encounter disturbing forces very near to home. To our great surprise, we may find those disruptive forces within ourselves!
Uncharacteristic yearnings may start to emerge within us. Also, we may find that things that formerly attracted us now do so no longer. The business mathematics major may find himself writing poetry. The dedicated teacher may find that her work flavourless, and may want to start her own business.
These are manifestations of shadow, that part of our nature that remains hidden and unacknowledged by consciousness. What calls to us may be the undiscovered self, the aspects of ourselves that have gone unacknowledged to this point.
A related experience is the call of the unlived life. Individuals may experience regrets and yearnings surrounding the major choices they have made in the past that start to surface during the midlife transition, or in later periods.
Adventures in Ourselves
Unexpected thoughts and feelings may bring the individual surprise and alarm. He or she may recoil from such thoughts, or repress them.
Midlife transition can be a time of confusion and difficulty as individuals confront realities that may bubble up from the unconscious mind, often accompanied by anxiety. The individual may choose to reject them, and to lapse into a more and more single-minded and less flexible approach to his or her life. In such a case, life tends to get grimmer and grimmer, and less full of colour: the rigidity that besets the aging can deprive the person of any vitality in later life.
Midlife Transition ; Rigidity or Exploration
The alternative to closed off rigidity is a spirit of open-ness and exploration, the kind needed for the journey in the second half of life, which Jung called the night sea journey. T.S. Eliot captures eloquently the nature of this exploration at the end of his poem Little Gidding :
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
So writes Eliot, and so it is with the journey of exploration in mid-life and beyond. We explore the place from which we started, adventurously opening up possibility in ourselves through the middle of life, rather than rejecting them — and sapping our vitality. This is the journey of renewal during midlife transition, and a key part of the exploration in the work of /a-midlife-transition.
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© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)