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  • In the Second Half of Life, We Make Difficult Decisions

    Often, we do have to make difficult decisions in the second half of life. That is often because, on some level, we have started to realize just how much the decisions we make as we enter or pass the mid-life transition really count—how much is at stake.

    Photo by Karolina Piccouska

    In the earlier parts of our life, our choices may feel less weighty. We can make choices, even choices as important as career or marriage, and feel that there is still the possibility of changing or reversing them. However, by the time we reach midlife, it can very often feel that a choice we make about career, intimate relationship or our place of residence will have very fateful consequences.

    Example. Jerry has worked hard all his life in a demanding specialized career. Now, he is facing health issues that are stress-related. Jerry’s job is very demanding, involving long hours and weekends and the continual need to make difficult decisions. He very much wishes to reduce his stress load. 

    Jerry has recently been approached by a competing firm, which has offered him a job in his field. The job pays significantly less than his current role,but offers the promise of reducing his stress loading. Jerry is very tempted to take the role, but can’t help thinking, it’s less salary, and a smaller job description, but will it really be less stress? Jerry needs to make a decision in short order. Also, he is 59 years old, and this may be the last career change he is able to make. 

    We Make Difficult Decisions, and They Matter

    The situation of “Jerry”, although it’s a fictional case, is not uncommon. Nor are decisions involving employment the only area where difficult choice, that can involve high levels of anxiety becomes a feature of the second half of life. 

    Romantic relationship decisions, such as whether to marry, remarry or divorce, decisions that relate to teen and adult children and decisions related to the care or well-being of aging parents are just a few of the areas where adults in the second half of life make difficult decisions.

    In later life, we make difficult decisions. Very often, these are big decisions, in the sense that they are decisions of high consequence, that will affect our own lives and the lives of people who matter to us in very deep ways.

    Photo by Fabio Comparelli

    Beyond Denial and Paralysis

    Sometimes, it can be very distressing to realize that we have to make a big decision. We can experience all kinds of feelings when we confront a major life choice. Anxiety, perfectionism and burnout can all be present when we’re trying to make difficult decisions. So can a sense of regret. Because of all the emotions associated with major choice, we can end up trapped in the middle of denial and paralysis.

    As Dr. Morgan Levy tells us, 

    Decision-making is tough, and so much goes into it, from your personal history to the values you learned growing up

    For all these reasons, it’s important that we approach the way we make difficult decisions as something other than the product of rational analysis. If our decisions are going to be something that we can really live with, choices of abiding value that represent who we most fundamentally are, then we need to realize that there is both a rational and non-rational element to decision making. As Jung himself says in Modern Man in Search of a Soul:

    The great decisions of human life have as a rule far more to do with the instincts and other mysterious unconscious factors than with conscious will and well-meaning reasonableness.

    If we have to make difficult decisions that are really important to us, it’s essential that we don’t do so in a naive way. We need to have as much understanding as we can obtain of the instinctual, emotional and unconscious factors that go into our decisions.

    To Make Difficult Decisions with the Whole of the Self

    It’s important to pursue a way to make difficult decisions that embodies both self-compassion and respect for all that we are, both conscious and unconscious. It’s also essential that our approach to these major decisions involves a high degree of honesty with ourselves. We can be kind to ourselves, but we also need to not let ourselves off the hook when, at the deepest level, we know that we need to make a decision, and that “not to decide is to decide”. 

    Are there areas in your life where you need to make difficult decisions? If so, there may be great value in working with an experienced and supportive depth psychotherapist, who can help with both being accountable to yourself, and with listening to the very deepest parts of the whole self.

    I wish you every good thing as you travel on your personal journey of choice, and as you make decisions that are not easy, but that genuinely come from soul.

    With very best wishes,

    Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Certified Jungian Analyst (IAAP) 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2023