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I have chosen midlife as my study since it is the period which is the most fascinating and on which too many conflicting and ambiguous statements are brought to bear. This may be due to the fact that the middle years contains too little regularity and too much diversity therefore many of the models that I have seen differ too in the age range given to the mid life years. To elaborate: Whilst most models define midlife as beginning at 40 and ending at 60, a ten-year range exists at either end with some theorists actually considering midlife as beginning at 30 and ending at 75 (Lachman, 2004). Given too the differences in people, magnified by socio-historical and geographical elements, people are bound to indicate differences in their mid -- life period. It is for this reason possibly that Erickson's findings sound so quaint to many western ears, particularly since we don't expect to find the empty nest syndrome in our 30s as Erickson mentioned and it was for this reason that Donald Levinson, an American developmental psychologist living in the 70s divided the middle years into various ranges.
Finally the midlife experience differs from individual to individual: whilst some bear at this age, others nurture their grandchildren, retire, seek employment, marry / bury or reject their parents; whilst others drive off to the Appalachian Mountains and live a monastic experience. All of this leads to different impact on the midlife years rendering theories based on these years approximate and rough at best.
Two major theories on mid life development are those of Erick Erickson and Carl Jung.
Erik Eriksson and Stage Theory
Erickson's (1963) stage theory posits that each epoch in life represents eight different stages that individuals navigate, either successfully or unsuccessfully, enabling them to transverse to the next. Each stage has its own theme, and the theme of mid life is generativity vs. self-absorption or stagnation, where ability to successfully deal with this transition. Middle adulthood ranges from 35 to 55 or to 65 and is the period where the healthy middle-aged adult absorbs himself in meaningful and creative work and her attention focuses, although not exclusively, on her family. She becomes more assertive and self-directed, and is increasingly driven to achieve her objective (or 'life's mission').
This is the stage, too, of production and accomplishment, where the adult seeks to transmit personal values to a future generation, and is intent on doing so particularly since life's passage makes him feel its preciousness. A mid-life crisis may occur during this stage, since some may find themselves facing an 'empty nest' syndrome with elderly parents to protect. Major life changes generally occur during this stage and if the individual is unable to navigate them, he may find himself stagnating and becoming self-absorbed. Significant relationships become the center of attention, before the adult transfers to the next stage: late adulthood.
Generativity involves a focus on nurturing and directing the coming generation, whether familiar or extra-familial, and on social contributions via talent and time. According to Erickson (1963), psychological well being at this stage of life consists in the ability to transmit one's achievements and life-leanings to others.
Social theorists who have adapted and modified Erickson's theory of middle-age, including the mid-life crisis, include McAdams (2001) who elaborated on generativity, Levinson et al. (1978) who demarcated stage theory as consisting of multiple transitions throughout adulthood, and Vaillant and Milofsky (1987) who categorized midlife into three stages rather than the one posited by Erickson. Eriksson posited that life is a process of preparation for the middle stage of adulthood and successful transition through earlier stages enables the individual to find contentment and satisfaction at her culminating phase. Having come to the end of a well-conducted and effectively- performed life, the individual can greet death with unconcern.
Other adults, however, who may have stagnated at one or more stages, may reach their culminating phase with frustration and dissatisfaction feeling remorse and unable to attain closure. It is to this end, therefore, that Eriksson, first of all stage psychologists, emphasized the importance of successfully completing each phase of life before and, in order, to passage through the next and to him the middle years were the most important areas of life in that they mediated the beginning and later years and, if transitioned effectively, would enable the individual to effectively 'commute' to the end.
Eriksson's model has to be seen within the context of his time and place. Much is not pertinent to Western (or, indeed global conditions today) as well as observation of the fact that individuals, being diverse and heterogeneous, cannot be 'shunted' into any specific mould.
Jung's midlife theory
Jung's (1971) midlife theory, on the other hand, typically represented his general philosophy in that he saw middle age representing individuation or integration of the feminine (anima) with the masculine (animus) aspects of the psyche. Men, in other words, become more feminine, whilst women, according to Jung (1971), become more masculine. Transition to midlife is difficult, and commonly to Erickson, Jung (1971) asserts that failure to deal with this stage could result in some crisis later on. Little evidence supports Jung's (1971) individuation (male/female) contention, although it is possible that whilst traditional sex characteristics stay, supplementation of opposite sex characteristics may be acquired.
Jung claims that we need to let go of many of the values that shaped the first part of our life and look deep into our unconscious in order to successfully navigate the midlife crisis and beyond. In common with Erickson, he too sees the midlife years as crucial to shaping the remainder of one's life. In fact, they may be the most crucial years of all. On the toehr hand, Jung differs from Eriksson in his mystical and tone that centers on the unconscious, whilst Erickson is thoroughly pragmatic and rational.
Confronting the unconscious, according to Jung, is obtained by paying heed to our dreams and by absorbing ourselves in creative activities such as writing and painting. Messages of the unconscious, when allowed and closely listened to, should then be absorbed into the conscious way of life in order to better influence the responsibility of our midlife years and beyond.
Jung himself was practitioner of his midlife theory as described in his autobiography, "Memories, Dreams, reflections (1961) where he identified some of the major contributions that occurred and that he performed in his middle years and beyond as a result of tuning in to his unconsciousness.
Jung's midlife crisis has evolved into the popular, but erroneous conception of the indefatigable 'midlife crisis' that converts otherwise rational beings into potentially irrational humans, but when more diversified cohorts were studied, it was found that only approximately 26% of studied participants over age 40 actually experienced some sort of midlife crisis (Wethingon et al., 2004). Many, on the contrary, report peak functioning and experiences (Lachman, 2004). It is more likely that peak and crisis represent extreme positions commonly experienced by people in their middle years, with the norm along the continuum experiencing neither peak nor crisis. Alternately, peak and crisis may simply characterize different situations experienced by different people according to particular personality and particular situation: whilst some experience midlife as crisis, for others it may be liberation and the peak of their lives. (And the crisis may be a peak as per Erickson's (1963) intentions when he posited that crisis is necessary for development and growth.) In yet another manner, these contradictory opinions may be justified by positing that whilst one or more areas of life may resemble peak functioning, other areas of life may be undergoing a crisis.
Jung's model, just as Erickson's model, has to be seen within the context of his time and place. Jung, for instance, posited that we lose our…[continue]
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