At middle age, the transformative stage of life, we continue the process of identity development through expression of who we have become. In an article discussing existentialism and humanism, Tubbs (2013) explains how existential awareness organizes how we perceive the value of life; the “priority of existence now exceeds essence” which compels us to seek purpose and meaning (Tubbs, 2013). During the transformative experience of midlife, we can either become more enlightened, or resist evolutionary change and experience the crisis of staying stagnant were we are, which ultimately results in an even greater decline (spiritually, mentally and physically). As we become more enlightened, we ascend closer to the origin of our design.
Why does all this matter, especially at midlife????
Midlife is where the unique transition occurs when we decline and ascend at the same time. It is essential to become aware of this change and make the necessary adjustments to receive all the benefits of the growth associated with this evolutionary process. Increasing our awareness and equipping our minds for this life stage transition is crucial to receive the most effectiveness resulting from this change. This is known as ” midlife by design”.
Enlightenment at Midlife
In our original state, the spiritual realm, we were pure energy. During the aging and developmental process, in the physical realm, the body is deteriorating but cells are continuously repairing themselves the body grows, develops and adapts. In adulthood, the mind or soul is continuously developing to make autonomy in our physical environment possible; the “human being” develops his or her identity and attempts to determine his/her own destiny. This developmental process is also known as “individualization”.
Cox, et al (2010) discusses how spirituality is often related to personal fulfillment. Giving or generavity, often expands our spiritual growth and psychological wellbeing. Ellor, (2001). Discussed the role of spirituality in the counselling of older adult by bringing together the work of Victor Frankl (existential psychiatrist) and the work of the theologian, Paul Tillich and the psych Tillich understands the human ideal as dwelling in a balance between spiritual existence and a need of human expression or self-awareness. The work of Frankl and Tillich comes together at their root as both are built upon the existential work of philosopher, Martin Heidegger. Both theorists under- stand essence to precede existence which breaks open counseling paradigms for a spiritual presence that is challenged by approaches that must begin with existence and learn life without benefit of the spirit. By identifying spiritual balance and placing it in the context of the existential struggles and search for meaning, the therapist has an approach to the client which both identifies spiritual concern and meaning of life (Ellor, 2001).
Midlife and Depression
As a group, baby boomers (mid-lifers) are more educated and wealthier, with better access to health care than their predecessors, which would imply comparatively better mental well-being. Yet research has shown that the opposite is true; baby boomers are, in fact, more depressed than the GI generation or the silent generation (born 1925 to 1945). While baby boomers scheduled their lives to the limit to earn more and live more fully, many ended up with unmanageable stress and by extension, depression (Kapes, 2013).
Depression or anxiety during middle age is often correlated in what has been defined as “midlife crisis”. Forced with changes in appearance, health, career and social environment that often accompany aging, many face the reality of aging with some disdain and even denial. We tend to want to adhere to the familiar and the socially accepted youth driven lifestyle we once had.
Erick Erickson, life developmental theorist, describes this middle age transitional stage conflict as Generavity vs. Stagnation Generavity=fulfillment; Stagnation=depression (Cavanaugh, & Blanchard-Fields, 2011).As many of us reach the impasse commonly called “midlife crisis”, we often face that intersection in the road of life that causes us to make a decision. The decisions we face are whether to turn back (remain stagnant) or turn onto the road of transformation and generavity.The middle of anything is half empty and half full, half past and half future, half known and half unknown.... well you get the picture. Here is the good news about middle age! Just like anything that is at the halfway point, middle age is the also the halfway point!!!
The fullness of life is determined by how well we live this other half. You are halfway there, halfway to completeness! Here, at mid- point to fullness is where you transform to the mature, confident, knowledgeable, compassionate person of full expression! It is the bloom or full expression of the flower that everyone appreciates, and it is time for your “bloom” as well. Everything you have learned and experienced to this point in your life was gained to be expressed now!
The need for human expression, self-awareness, spirituality, and meaning of life are all aligned with generavity. Arriving at the stage of mid-life, where you began to realize you likely have less time ahead of you than behind you, makes one desire to make their existing time count! Middle age also makes one reflect on how much productive time they have. From either perspective, this can be a stressful and possibly depressing stage of life. Some questions one may ponder are….
How do I (or can I) accomplish my retirement or career goals?
What kind of legacy or inheritance do I leave my family & peers?
How do I attain personal fulfillment and meaning for my life?
All these questions present very thought provoking and complex concerns which often result in anxiety, mood swings and sometimes depression. Talking to a professional therapist could help you navigate through this maze of complexities with balance and direction. It is often during the times of the most challenge that we find the opportunity for the most growth!
By the time many of us reach midlife, the trials and challenges of life development to this point, has left us with some damage, we may not be disabled but even if it’s only physical decline, we have and are experiencing decline due to the physical laws of nature. Midlife transition offers an opportunity for expansion, renewal and expression.
Cavanaugh, J. C., & Blanchard-Fields, F. (2011). Adult development and aging (6th ed.). Belmont, CA:
Wadsworth Publishing/Cengage Learning.
Cox, K. S., Wilt, J., Olson, B., & McAdams, D. P. (2010). Generativity, the Big Five, and Psychosocial
Adaptation in Midlife Adults. Journal Of Personality, 78(4), 1185-