The 5 Stages of a Midlife Catharsis.

September 26, 2022

The 5 Stages of a Midlife Catharsis.

May 29, 2023

Being the midlife psychology nerd I am, I seek out obscure books with a unique perspective on the topic.

My most recent fixation has been “Midlife: Humanity’s Secret Weapon,” by Andrew Jamieson, a British psychotherapist who not only outlines the stages of the classic midlife crisis (or “catharsis”) but also explores the midlife catharses that famous psychologists like Freud, Jung, Kohut, and Grof went through.

While this slim book is pretty heady, even introducing a few words I’d never heard of, the basic stages made much sense from the MEA point of view. At times I worry that not being a credentialed psychologist, I’m “driving without a license.” Still, this book—and many others—gives me confidence that our curriculum and approach to liberating our MEA compadres from the challenges of midlife are aligned with some of the thinking of the world’s most respected psychology professionals. And the net result of experiencing MEA offers people a new sense of inner poise, humility, equanimity, compassion, and hope.

Here are the 5 stages Jamieson cites, along with excerpts about each stage:

1. “Ego Destruction.”

    “As we have seen, the first half of life is driven by the drive and propulsion of the ego, with all its narcissistic power. The tenacity, flair, and ambition of the ego is a necessary resource that provides the energy needed for professional advancement and the quest for a partner and family, and yet this narcissism is an inevitable corruption of the true authentic nature of the individual as it adjusts and modulates itself to fit into the demands of the culture and social norms it is surrounded by. It is this reconnection to the true self, that center of potential wisdom in all of us, that is one of the central features of the midlife crisis.”

    2. “Enantiodromia.”

    “Its appearance in the midlife crisis has two main elements: firstly, the ego’s extroversion is questioned. The ego thrives in the realm of extroversion. Worldly success, sought by the ego, is achieved by a hyperactive energy, a restless emphasis on ‘doing’ rather than ‘being,’ a relentless drivenness. But, quite suddenly, it’s like the ego’s fuel supply has run out and the individual has become exhausted by all this manic activity. As the enantiodromia is activated, a longing for something less frenetic takes hold and the pendulum swing from extroversion to introversion is inevitable.”

    “The second main feature of this stage is the sudden withdrawal of projections. Time and again, I find myself working with clients who, in their forties and fifties, are oppressed by the roles they’ve embedded themselves in (they are prisoners of these roles). Invariably, they have projected onto their spouse or partner someone who will give their life meaning, anticipate all their needs, heal their wounds and redeem life’s deficiencies. But living with another person on a daily basis wears away these projections, as the partner can be just as wounded, needy and afraid and projects similar forlorn hopes.”

    3. “Liminality.”

    “If the state of liminality is truly entered into, it means we have shed much of our ego-orientation, but with this shedding, we tend to leave behind many of our carefully constructed defenses. As our defenses are lowered, there can be ‘primitive agonies’ like acute anxiety and insomnia. This is also an era when we confront the acceptance of life’s transience. Jung describes this preoccupation with death as a symptom of egocide, as it is the ego that is terrified with death, but the emerging Self, free of the ego’s narcissism and grandiosity, accepts death as a natural, organic conclusion of life.

    4. “Midlife Development Phase.”

    “During this phase, two particular aspects of our nature begin to appear in what we might describe as the ‘return of the anima mother’ (which longs for connection, relationship, and intimacy) and the ‘emergence of the shadow.’ In this phase, the psyche looks for opportunities for a kind of development catch-up, whereby each individual is given the chance to make up for deficiencies and inadequacies in the parenting they experienced.”

    “If we can meet the challenges of the shadow, we will quite unexpectedly be granted a new energy source, an unanticipated gift of dynamic vitality. The encounter with our shadow and its conscious integration into the full expression of our personality is one of the most important and challenging features of the individuation process. As these various phases of the midlife crisis are traversed, a sense of renewal and a return to a much-welcomed stability is often felt.”

    5. “The Reparenting of the Wounded Child.”

    “The emerging mature adult now has the resources to soothe and reassure the inner child whenever he or she reappears. As all these various phases run their course, and we engage with their demands and pleas for attention, we will begin to sense a psychological renewal.”

    “One additional consequence of the individuation process seems to emerge from the midlife crisis. Almost all of my clients, as they recover, talk of something they describe as soulful or spiritual, which becomes important to them. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that ‘psyche’ is the Greek word for soul and therapy comes from the Greek word ‘therapeia,’ which means to heal. The term psychotherapy can therefore be translated as ‘healing the soul.’”

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