What’s So Special About the Second Half of Life? Pt 1
What is it that the second half of life brings to us, that makes us treat it as such a challenge and a gift?
Some would say “nothing”. But the reality of individuals’ experience in the second half of life shows us otherwise.
“In the second half of life, the emphasis shifts from the interpersonal or external dimension to a conscious relationship with intrapsychic processes.” -Andrew Samuels
This sounds great — but what does it actually mean?
Getting Down Beneath the Surface
In the first half of adulthood, externals occupy us pretty exclusively. The challenges of getting out of the family of origin and out into the world, getting the education we need, finding appropriate work, perhaps marrying and having a family, and finding our way as a contributing member of the community — these are the themes of our lives.
In the second half of life, other considerations often come to the fore. When Samuels talks about a “conscious relationship with intrapsychic processes”, he is referring to the ways in which we often become more sensitive and aware of the movement of our inner life, sometimes referred to as soul work — what is really going on within us. Some people are initially disturbed by thinking about this, while others have an absolute need to do so.
Some of the key questions in the second half of life concern identity. Who am I, really? Externally-focussed answers to this question that seem deep enough, or individual enough, at age 20 or 30, for instance, may well no longer suffice at age 45, or age 60.
From Ego to Ego-Self Axis
This relates, I believe to what Samuels means when he says that, in the second half of life, dependence on the ego has to be replaced by relationship to the Self. To find some connection to our deep identity as life progresses means to move beyond the way the ego consciously formulates or constructs a picture of who we are. It means to be open to insight from the unconscious as to who we are at a much deeper level — to incorporate the elements of our nature that are seen in dreams, and revealed in those moments and experiences in our lives when the ego is not in full control.
It’s as if some parts of our personalities were actors, who had been waiting offstage throughout the entire first half of our lives, waiting for their cue…
What parts of you, sure of their lines, and ready to take the stage, have been awaiting the spotlight?
My Meaning and Values
Samuels reminds us that dedication to outer success is often modified to include a concern for meaning and spiritual values, as we move through the second half of life. The term “spiritual values” may be misleading here, if we take it as referring to religiosity or other-worldliness. Rather this search for meaning in our lives particularly involves a move from transitory to more lasting concerns, and a move from the superficial to the complete person.
Living Who I Am
Ultimately what is involved is a higher degree of self-acceptance… a sense of life lived in accord with one’s potential. As a quote I put on Twitter has it:
“Each of us has been offered a journey. Each of us is responsible for the fullest possible expression of our individuation.” –James Hollis
Individual therapy in the second half of life can be a key step in taking up that offer.