Midlife in Suburbia: No Mere "Sportscar Phase"
There is a theme or motif that I see repeated with great frequency among my client group. There are always profound individual variations and unique aspects, but there are common central kinds of experience.
A great many of the individuals I am thinking of here would be between their mid-30s and mid- 50s. Often, although not always, they are people who have lived somewhere in the suburbs for a long time. Perhaps they have even lived here since early childhood. Frequently, they are people who in many ways have lived out the suburban ideal as I described it in my May 31/08 post, “Patterns of Suburban Life.” Yet they have reached a point in their lives where, for one reason or another, conventional suburban values are no longer working for them, no longer offering explanation or meaning for what they are experiencing.
Sometimes this can profoundly affect occupational or career issues. All of a sudden, the question “Is what I am doing meaningful to me?” can take on a deep urgency. People may well feel that careers in which they have been very successful have just lost their meaning, and that there is no way in which they can continue to do what it is that they have been doing.
Sometimes these individuals become aware of profound changes in the central relationships in their lives. Relationships with partners that once seemed full of love and life can come to seem flat, or even hopeless or entrapping. For some, loneliness in all its various forms can seem overwhelming, whether it is due to isolation or to feeling locked into lives where they just never really connect with the people who are close to them.
Sometimes there is just a deep sense that all the taste has gone out of life, that everything seems bleak and uncertain. Individuals find themselves listless and without energy for the things that once gave them joy and motivation.
What is a person to do who is confronted with these types of experience? The answer is perhaps deceptively simple. The individual must find his or her own values and symbols within, that can bring energy and meaning back into life. This process will involve an individual coming into contact with parts of her- or himself that may seem completely unfamiliar, or that have not been encountered or remembered for a very long time. Some of these aspects of ourselves may seem unpleasant or even threatening, and yet, it is the very places that we find hard to accept, where what we need lies.
The cultural stereotype of “midlife crisis”, with its images of the man losing his hair who goes and buys a red convertible, does not do anything like justice to the real depth of the process for many of the individuals who have to confront what I am describing. A better and more useful expression is James Hollis’ term “the middle passage”. Here is a transition that we must make, from collective and generally accepted values, into the sometimes demanding, but ultimately life-giving process of identifying our own values and identifying the things that on a very personal level are meaningful for us, in the fullness of our individuality.
Few in our neighbourhoods will be any too ready to discuss these vital but sometimes scary transitions. It is also extremely difficult for the individual to confront this part of the journey without some connection to someone who can offer genuine help in these explorations. If you are one of those confronting these challenges, Jungian analysis can be a genuine source of contact with your undiscovered self, and the renewal that emerges from it.