Midlife and Beyond: Unfinished Business in Later Life
It’s common for we humans to find that we have unfinished business in later life. We all carry different things that cry out for some kind of resolution.
“Unfinished business in later life”: this is one of the fundamental things we experience through the midlife transition and the whole second half of our lives. We can encounter this sense that there is a lack of completeness in different areas of our life in so many different ways! It may have to do with where things stand in our most important relationships. Or perhaps there are aspirations that we want to fulfill in our lives that we haven’t yet been able to realize. Then again, we may have unresolved situations from our past where we have never honestly looked at our true feelings or haven’t really been honest with ourselves about our role, or how these situations affected or changed us—or how we may have run away from them.
In this article, I’m writing about psychological, spiritual or existential unfinished business. How do we know when we have this kind of unfinished business? Well, it’s clearest when we find our life energy tangled up in some unresolved issue. Do we find our affective energy, our regrets, fears, sadness or hopes and so on, caught up in some situation from the past? And do we find that we either keeping returning to it, or keep running away from it? If so, then it’s likely that we have some unfinished business from the past.
In exploring unfinished business in later life, it may be very worthwhile to think in particular about those things we really regret, and those things for which we deeply yearn. These can often be the things that carry a great deal of energy for us.
Tripping Over Our Unfinished Business in Later Life
We have unfinished business throughout our lives. We can find ourselves suddenly caught up in it, and revisiting it almost anytime. Yet as we move through the center of our lives, and into the second half, we can find that encounters with unfinished business become more energized, and more demanding. While unfinished business can catch us off guard at any time, we seem to be particularly vulnerable as we go through the major life transitions at midlife, and at the later life transition, as we become elders.
As we travel through these great passages in life, we may be visited by regret. To have regret is to experience sadness or disappointment over something that has been done, “especially a loss of missed opportunity”, according to the OED. For instance, we may find that we have made a choice to pursue a certain career path, and we may now wish that we had chosen another option. The most intense regret may be associated with the sense that a particular choice, once made, can’t be undone, and that we have been living with the consequences of that choice ever since. Perhaps we realize we have been living with it for a great deal of our lives.
Yearning and Unfinished Business
In a similar manner, we may encounter deep experiences of yearning, or intense longing. These are another manifestation of unfinished business in later life. We may become aware of deeply, earnestly wanting something to be in our lives, and perhaps it’s hard to see how that thing will ever be attained or obtained. It may be yearning for a person or a type of love. It may be associated with grief over the loss of someone dear in our lives. Or it may be a yearning to find ourselves in some different situation in our lives than where we actually find ourselves.
Unfinished business in later life can appear in many other forms, too. Many of these may have to do with our relationships, past or present, and the ways that fall-out from those relationships continues to affect our lives.
Living in Denial
Superficially, it may seem easier to avoid and deny the unfinished business in our lives. Consciously, or unconsciously, we may decide to try to go on living as if it wasn’t there, and focus on the present and the future. Yet the thing about our unfinished business is that it isn’t just something in our conscious mind; it’s in our unconscious mind as well. As a result it may be persist despite our best efforts to focus on our positive and future-oriented projects.
As we move into the second half of life, we may well find ourselves engaged in the process of life review. This is the natural and normal process of trying to make sense of, and make a coherent story out of our life journey, as we move closer to its later stages. We may well find that our unfinished business gets uncovered and becomes unavoidable as we try to make sense of our lives. Our unfinished business may be demanding that we address it, and make our peace with it.
Beyond Unfinished Business in Later Life
The good news is that it’s possible to address our unfinished business on both the conscious and unconscious levels of our psyche. We can create a sense of relief, and freedom from unfinished business, and, as Viktor Frankl tells us uncover a sense of meaning and connection with what has deepest value in our lives. To do so may mean that we have to turn and face the parts of ourselves that we would rather not acknowledge, which is what C.G. Jung referred to as the shadow. We also may well need to uncover what it is that we most deeply desire, and what it is that is drawing us more fully into our authentic lives, and this may well take us into the realm of what Jung called anima and animus.
This process of addressing the unfinished business in later life may take us into our past, to relationships and situations from long ago in our earlier lives. It will likely also take us into our unconscious mind, as we explore ways to come to terms with our “unlived life“, and to make meaning from it for ourselves in the present, right here and now.
As we go on this journey of healing and discovery, it may be of tremendous assistance to have a supportive Jungian analyst or /a-midlife-transition who can help us to uncover what is going on for us on both the conscious and the unconscious levels, as we address our unfinished business.
With every good wish for your personal journey,
© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario