Midlife transitions, which affect both men and women, can also be difficult on our close friends, family, and partners. Sometimes, in an attempt to stave off feelings of grief or anxiety that can accompany maturity, people engage in what might be called “regression;” they may have an affair, buy a new car, stay out late, abuse drugs or alcohol, or otherwise try to recapture the exhilaration of youth. Such behaviors may be somewhat normal, and, for those that are not unsafe, may be nothing to worry about. However, they cannot do the impossible; we still age, and, if we do not embrace that process on some level, the gifts of maturity – wisdom, peace, a sense of accomplishment – may be lost in a vain attempt to recapture what cannot be recaptured.
It has been said that youth sees a vision of possibilities before it, while maturity sees a series of choices behind it. As we age, our choices may seem to decrease, regrets may pile up, our sense of invincibility and energy is diminished, and we must begin to face our own mortality and that of everyone we know. Accepting the end of youth and beginning the process of aging is a difficulty that brings many people to therapy.
Of course, we need not lose a youthful spirit, a sense of wonder and possibility, and our desire for adventure just because we reach a certain age. In a sense, the heart of the human spirit is ageless and timeless, and the joys of youth can also be the joys of adulthood. If we do not find healthful ways to experience the thrill of life, unhealthful ways may arise. Therapy can help sort out the difference.
A sense of accomplishment is important at midlife, and if it is lacking, we may battle against the ceaseless march of time, resulting in frustration and even despair. Making sense of our life’s contribution and recognizing our strengths and accomplishments is important in making peace with the aging process.
Men and women approach mid-life differently, mentally and physically. But for both men and women, the realization that life is already half gone can be overwhelming. During mid-life, people wrestle with questions of life-purpose, loss of youth, mortality, leaving a legacy, sense of accomplishment and physical adequacy, just to name a few. Irrational behavior is common during mid-life and many otherwise level-headed people do things that seem completely out of character. Divorce, infidelity, financial irresponsibility, job change and radical self-improvement are some of the actions people take during this time. However, most often, these actions only cause further confusion and pain during an already difficult time. Working with a psychotherapist during mid-life provides an opportunity to enter the next phase of your life with a greater awareness of who you were, who you are, and who you want to be. Issues that have been suppressed can be worked through and dreams that have gone unrealized can be verbalized. Rather than acting impulsively, a therapist will help you to rationally explore the desires and fears you have. You can develop a healthy and prudent plan for taking the next step in your life without bringing the emotional turmoil from your past, and without causing unnecessary collateral damage. Just like adolescence, mid-life is a difficult emotional time that will pass. And therapy can be a trusted companion during that tumultuous time.
Caleb, 43, comes to therapy at the request of his wife, who is “worried about me.” Caleb reports he’s been drinking more often, spending more money, and, unbeknownst to his wife, thinking of going to a prostitute. Caleb calls this a “midlife crisis” and reports he thinks it will all be over in a few months and “things will get back to normal.” The therapist helps Caleb identify just what the “crisis” is, and Caleb begins to see that he has been depressed for some time, feeling that his youth has ended and that he has not accomplished in life what he wanted to. He also expresses disappointment that his wife is not more adventurous, and that she has put on a great deal of weight recently, but he does not know how to talk to her about this. The therapist recommends they begin join sessions, and in couple’s therapy Caleb and his wife are able to discuss some difficult issues between them, renewing the strength of their marriage, and beginning to face the challenges of again together, instead of separately.
Judith, 49, seeks therapy for depression and anxiety. She cannot identify any particular trigger to these feelings. The therapist helps Judith uncover some worries about aging, as well as several major regrets about her earlier life. Through the process of talking about these regrets, preparing for the aging process, and engaging in some new activities, Judith is able to begin making peace with what she comes to call, half-jokingly, the universal enemy: time.
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Last updated: 05-02-2014