Major Change in the Life of a 50-Plus Individual
If you are in that age bracket, you know that major change in the life of individuals aged 50-plus can require sizable psychological adaptations.
Meeting these challenges can require great strength and resilience. And often, the right kind of support can help immensely.
Common 50-Plus Life Changes
What major changes do people commonly encounter in the 50-plus age bracket? Here’s a few startling examples.
Divorce. Leaving a marriage of many years duration in the 50-plus age bracket can be a very difficult, grief-filled experience — even if it’s the best thing for all concerned.
Retirement. This is very big. Leaving the work world, to do something entirely different with your life, is an enormous transition, and it can be extremely stressful.
Relocation. It’s not at all uncommon for people in later life to move or re-locate, possibly for the first time in many years. This can be very powerful psychological experience.
Coming Out. It’s one thing to tell the world you have a non-straight sexual identity in your early 20s. It’s quite another thing in your 50s or 60s, if you’ve led a life that was apparently “straight”.
Bereavement. The loss of dear loved ones, and the attendant grief, is one of the biggest psychological blows in human life.
Fundamental changes in priorities or worldview. These can happen in later life! The person who was apparently “corporate all the way” may find that very different values emerge as they do through the second half of life.
Common Characteristics of Major “Change in the Life” Experiences
These are diverse experiences, but there are certain things that people undergoing these “change in the life” experiences very often share in common.
People Experience Fear
The kinds of changes listed above can all be associated with an element of fear. They’re associated with moving into unknown territory, and that can easily provoke an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. It can be essential to find some way to move through this, allowing me to retain a sense of dignity and meaning in my life.
People Experience Sadness
People are sad at what the changes might mean. They experience actual or potential loss. Losses necessarily have to be grieved in a way that allows the person to move through them, and into the good things that life is presenting.
Those Whom We Love
People worry greatly about those close to them, or who depend on them. What will happen to those who love us, as we go through the crucible of truly life-altering change? We feel their vulnerability: that makes us vulnerable, too.
How Am I Going to Get Through?
In conjunction with such sizable changes, people often worry about their survival — economic or physical. It’s hard to imagine how life will be on the other side of a major life change — how I’ll get through, how I’ll stand the stress.
Loss of an Identity
Many of the situations described above involve the loss of at least one important identity, or “persona”, to use the Jungian term. Divorce entails the loss of identity as a married person. Coming out means loss of identity as a perceived straight person; retirement, as a member of the work force; relocation, as someone who “belongs” in a certain place, and so on. Each such loss of identity has enormous impact on the person (and is probably worthy of its own blog post.) Finding the way to find a new identity, and how to “live into” it, can be a very major piece of case studies or psychoanalytic work.
“Change in the Life”
When it comes to the major transitions described in this post, it’s clear that, in undergoing them, post-50 individuals seek to avoid chaos, and to ultimately find meaning, in their major “change in the life” experiences. For the 50-plus individual, this is an essential element of journeying towards wholeness.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst