Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Mid-Life Crisis

We all know about the mid-life crisis that corresponds to Uranus opposite natal Uranus, occurring sometime between the late thirties and early forties. I’d noticed that this ‘crisis’ seems to go on longer than that, and also that all the outer planets reach challenging points in their cycles between our late thirties and mid-forties: Pluto square Pluto, Neptune square Neptune, Uranus opposite Uranus and Saturn opposite Saturn. Chuck in that over-egged asteroid Chiron, and you have the Chiron return at 50-51.

I think Uranus gets singled out because his effects are often dramatic, but I think it’s much more accurate astrologically to talk in terms of a mid-life passage that lasts for up to 9 years. Events usually occur in this period that can cause us to reconsider our values, what is important to us, and to make corresponding, and often major, changes. Often it means finding OUR values as opposed to the ones we grew up around. The choice always remains ours: you see some people, subject to distressing events that confound their expectations of life, coming out the other side as though nothing has happened.

This 9 year period could be seen as pivotal rather than as the whole change, because that search for a life that is authentically us, and not just the product of unexamined hopes, fears and compulsions, is a gradual process, often taking decades. Mine began in my early thirties, and twenty years later it is still going on. But that 9 year period, where all the outer planets hard-aspect their natal positions, was when I made a decisive change from one life to another, that put me out there on my own. It is always a solitary journey; you no longer have the implied affirmation of others. The source of authority moves firmly within.

The Jungian analyst James Hollis writes about this extended period of change in his book The Middle Passage. Here is an excerpt:

I call the period roughly from 12 to 40 the first adulthood. The young person who knows, deep down, that he or she lacks a clear sense of self can only try to act like the other big people. It is an understandable delusion that if one comports oneself as one’s parents have, or rebels against their example, one will thereby be an adult. If one holds a job, marries, becomes a parent and taxpayer, the confirmation of adulthood will surely follow. In fact, what has occurred is that the dependency of childhood has partly gone underground and has been projected onto the roles of adulthood. These roles are not unlike parallel tunnels. Out of the confusion of adolescence one walks through them with the assumption that they will confirm one’s identity, provide fulfilment and still the terrors of the unknown. The first adulthood, which may in fact extend throughout one’s life, is a provisional existence, lacking the depth and uniqueness which makes that person truly an individual.
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These tunnels are of an indeterminate length. They endure for as long as the projected identity and dependency upon them still seems to work. It is next to impossible to tell a thirty year old who is productively working, married and expecting a second child that he or she is still in a form of extended childhood. The parent complexes and the authority of the roles offered by society have sufficient power to attract the projections of anyone still exploring life in the world. As suggested earlier, the Self, that mysterious process within each one of us which summons us to ourselves, often expresses itself through symptoms – loss of energy, depression, sudden fits of rage or over-consumption – but the power of the projections is such that one may keep the larger questions of the journey at bay.

How terrifying it is, then, when the projections wear off and the person can no longer avoid the insurgence of the Self. Then, one must confess to powerlessness, to loss of control. The ego never was in control but rather was driven by the energy of the parental and collective complexes, sustained by the power of the projections onto the roles offered by the culture to those who would be adults. As long as the roles have normative power, as long as the projections work, the individual has managed to forestall the appointment with the inherent Self.

The third phase of identity, the second adulthood, is launched when one’s projections have dissolved. The sense of betrayal, of failed expectations, the vacuum and loss of meaning which occur with this dissolution, creates the mid-life crisis. It is in this crisis, however, that one has the chance to become an individual – beyond the determinism of parents, parent complexes and cultural conditioning. Tragically, the regressive power of the psyche, with its reliance on authority, often keeps a person in thrall to these complexes and thereby freezes development.

In working with the elderly, each of whom has to face loss and anticipate death, there are clearly two categories. There are those for whom the life remaining is still a challenge, still worthy of the good fight, and those for whom life is full of bitterness, regret and fear. The former are invariably those who have gone through some earlier struggle, experienced the death of the first adulthood and accepted greater responsibility for their lives. They spend their last years living more consciously. Those who have avoided the first death are haunted by the second, afraid their lives have not been meaningful.


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9 comments:

bb said...

Your last paragraph fits me perfectly, however I'm not elderly, not a senior, I'm OLD. Born at the depth of the depression: Grand Cross with the Moon at one angle leading the show. Now is the best, most rewarding time of my life. Most of what I've dreamed about since the age of 13 is happening globally. I only regret that I don't have enough energy to respond to every challenge. I've been lucky to find myself without hurting too many others along the way. bb

Anonymous said...

For decades I developed and implemented trauma recovery programs for American Indian Tribes. It was a life's work - or so I thought. Driven by dreams and insomnia into retirement, I found a new world open, one with new requirements and blessings. I feel like a child. Here is a line I recently wrote - Unravel. Let go the spiny structure so carefully erected. See what remains – the song of stones, the language of water, the voice in the trees. Let these be the sacred text of your resurrection.

Dharmaruci said...

That's a great bit of poetry. Can I quote you perhaps?

Anonymous said...

I'd be delighted if you did.

gawd_almighty said...

Great, DR; this and your previous post are very good, packed with food-for-thought, and this one I can particularly relate to - I was a knee-jerk 'rebel' (against my parents conservative values) whose rebellion was brought to a halt by physical collapse (in my early 30s) and over a decade of chronic fatigue. Which inevitably proved to be a blessing, as the Hollis piece suggests. Sad to see, however, that my 83-year-old mother is one of those people who evaded adulthood, and is now perfectly lucid but regretful about the past and fearful of the future.
By the way, why do you see Chiron as "over-egged"? By whom? How and to what extent?
Thanks again, I really enjoyed this.

Anonymous said...

Everything has been so painful and I feel as though I'm bleeding but I can't see where. Around age 11-12 years old was a very traumatic time. I had dislocated my shoulder, was very ill for several months that my immediate family had to be vaccinated to protect themselves against me and my vision went from 20/20 the previous year to 20/400 at this time. I think my entire life has been traumatic since age 12. While there's something moving me along at the same time something keeps holding me back. It's very hard to deal with and I see this crisis your talking about it surrounds me and it is very heavy and I'm being hit in every way possible. Reading your blog helps me to understand that someting bigger is at play. Also the other peoples comments help me see maybe one day I'll see the gift in all this torture. I think my guardian angel quit! Jenni-OMG

June said...

I have been thinking about this of and on all day. Nice to be retired from the clock and have the time for it. Warm fire, rain, deer eating the apples. I am thinking about personality and voice and that which tries so hard to free us. The way we break through and then sometimes drag the experience back into familiar binary dynamics.

Sara said...

The best part is the last paragraph. I can completely relate to it. 65 is the start of something new. Completely kicking over the traces. Good essay.

Anonymous said...

As for 40-something crises, don't forget the 45-year-old solar arc at 45-degrees--it can be really rough. I'd like to posit that a boost one gets near 50 is the Jupiter return, which can really bring the crises of the previous decade into focus, and start to bring a kind of resolution, which is then capped off at 50...