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  • 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?

    second half of life

    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…

    second half of life

    What parts of you, sure of their lines, and ready to take the stage, have been awaiting the spotlight?

     My Meaning and Values

    second half of life

    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.


    PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike  Some rights reserved by mendhak ; Mosman Council
    © 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)
    1. salome
      September 9, 2014 at 9:45 am -

      Great subject, I look forward to reading the following parts. Had a dark, painful crisis this year, my GP told me it was Premenopause related and prescribed me drugs. A little research taught me that it was a calling to an exciting mid-life journey. I chucked the meds and have been on the most interesting self-discovery and recovery trip of my life since! Very grateful for your informative writings and all Jungian roadmaps and directions.

      1. Brian C
        September 9, 2014 at 11:31 am -

        Thanks for the comment, Salome, I’m glad that you appreciated the post. Many times, physical issues do come to the fore in the course of the midlife journey. We often somatize emotional and other issues that may be presenting themselves to us in the midlife period. It’s very exciting to hear about your midlife discovery experiences. I think Jung does have a perspective on these things that is very important for us to take in as we travel through the middle of life. All the best!

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