“I Feel Trapped in My Life”: A Common Midlife Sentiment
“I Feel Trapped in My Life” — Have you ever said this to yourself? It’s a sentiment to which many people in midlife and later can relate.
Depth case studiess know that these feelings will be recognizable to many in various life stages, but they can become overwhelming acute in the later parts of life.
The sense of feeling trapped at midlife manifests in various ways.
The Feeling of “Having Settled”
During “the first adulthood”, the period leading up to midlife, we often make choices that seem reasonable or good, which have binding effects far into the future. They can seem good at the time, and, all things considered, they probably are. Yet, they can often have a huge impact in the midlife transition of our lives and beyond. We may well feel that these choices are much less of a fit at that stage, but, by then, the cost of altering them may seem prohibitive indeed.
We may experience these high consequence choices in many areas of our lives, including:
- relationship with a spouse or partner:
- binding choices around career path;
- in some cases, just generally settling for a low gear, possibly low risk, life, or,
- a thousand other possible variants.
As we confront our lives, if we can be honest with ourselves, we might feel a sense of being trapped by our decision, whether they occurred very intentionally and deliberately, or just as a matter of events simply taking their course.
The Feeling of “I Could Have Had More, Accomplished More”
Whatever form the fateful choice takes, there may well come a point in our life journey when we feel pain and regret associated with these choices, as /a-midlife-transitions well know. The individual may feel that he or she has somehow missed their life. Consumed with regret, his or her experience of life can seem like hollow play-acting.
The individual is often filled with a deep yearning for more. To have accomplished more, perhaps to have had more, to have had different experiences, and possibly even different relationships. For the individual having such an experience, life may feel excruciatingly painful, empty and hollowed out.
The individual’s inner perfectionism can often spur these feelings. Perfectionism may savage the individual’s sense of accomplishment, telling him or her that anything and everything done is worthless or simply “not enough”. For the perfectionist, life can start to seem like an endless and inescapable series of brutal reminders of his or her own inadequacy. And as researchers like UBC’s Prof. Paul Hewitt point out, often, every new success simply raises the bar higher — so that happiness, or joy of accomplishment, is an eternally receding target.
Avoidance of Persons, Places and Things
The individual who feels trapped by life, who feels that his or her accomplishments are negligible, and that he or she has made choices that have put life on fundamentally the wrong track, may start to avoid persons, places and things that remind him or her of these painful feelings. When this happens, we know that we’re taking ourselves out of the mainstream of our lives.
The Power of the Unconscious
In the midst of our feelings of trapped-ness, we may resist things being any different in our lives. As painful as the trapped sensation is, it may feel better than taking the risk of letting alternatives to our current life experience enter our lives.
Yet, something may be trying to emerge in our lives, if we can have the courage to be open to it. Meaning and purposefulness may be found in listening to those parts of the self that are unacceptable to the ego. This is the part of the personality that /a-midlife-transitions and Jungians call the shadow.
In the parts of the psyche that Jung called “the undiscovered self” may reside a very different image of who we really are, and also a way forward into a meaningful life in midlife and the second half of life. We’ll explore this in the second part of this post.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst