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LIFE CYCLE: The Four Stages of Life"

While it is true that research on Adult Developmental Psychology is recent, man/woman’s stages of life had always been known and lived as Shakespeare once told us. Modern man/woman, though, is more research oriented now and can look at life and the experiences it offers us in a more scientific way.

Mid-Life Directions Workshop is using Carl Gustav Jung’s psychology, considered the true spiritual father of the life cycle theory. Daniel Levinson with his great contribution in his works, The Seasons of a Man’s Life (1978) and The Seasons of a Woman’s Life (1996) which was put in its final form by the wife after he died in 1994 recognized this.

The Life Cycle in Jung’s theory is life in two phases, the first half and the second half. The first half of life covers one’s childhood and youth, roughly, the first 35-40 years in one’s life. Half of this first half is spent for one’s education, career, life commitments, lifestyles, relationships. If marriage and raising a family are to be part of one’s life, they, too, are accomplished here. If one chooses and is called to religious life, on the other hand, by this time one is a school director, a local superior or a provincial superior. One can have her first round of peak experiences by the time.
At around 40 one’s youth comes to an end, as if it’s our culture’s script for us. Since the life cycle is getting longer and longer this concept is changing. But it holds true that this can be a time for both crisis and potential. One has reached the fulfillment of youth and is on the brink of a whole new life. Will he or she accept the invitation?

Jung sees the second half of life which covers mid-life and the mature years as an opportunity for individuation. To individuate is simply to be the kind of person one is uniquely called and can possibly be.

The two main phases of the individuation process correspond to the first and second halves of life.

The first half of life is characterized by expansion of the personality and adaptation to the outer world. The second half of life is characterized by a restriction or reduction which signifies an adaptation to the inner life. Schopenhauer said: ‘The first forty years of life furnish the text, while the remaining thirty supply the commentary; without the commentary we are unable to understand aright the true sense and coherence of the text , together with the moral it contains.”

Giving impetus to both phases of the individuation process is the Self. It is the objective of the process and at the same time the center of the process giving dynamism. The Self, as it were, calls the process into being and keeps it moving.

The First Phase

The first phase of the individuation process, corresponding to the first half of life, is an initiation into outer reality. It begins in the womb of all psychic life, the unconscious.

One of the tasks in the first half of life or in the first phase of the individuation process is the establishment of the Persona. A persona is a mask, or a number of masks, through which the individual relates to the world around. Masks are a means of adaptation to society and a protection for the psyche. One has to develop a healthy persona. First of all, a healthy mask is composed of expectations I have of myself. The persona I wear embodies, to some degree, the view I have of myself, my hopes, my ideals.

The Second Phase

At this time, often about Mid-Life, the psyche spontaneously seeks equilibrium. As certain poles of personality are developed in consciousness, their opposites become energized and they seek expression in the personality. The intensity of the energy in the unconscious begins to disrupt the apparently settled conscious life. The persona is shaken and the ego is decentered.

Individuation, writes Jung, “is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation having for its goal the development of the individual personality.

Whereas, the first phase of the individuation process is an outer journey to adapt to the collective, the second phase is an inner journey which carries one into the personal and collective layers of the unconscious.

The individuation process requires that I listen to my depths, and those depths are experienced through their symbolic expressions in my life like feelings, projections, dreams , process of active imagination which become routes to the unconscious layers of the psyche.

The movements from one stage to another always are transition times. From a psychological vantage point, transitions mean change. William Bridges in his work, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes(1980) has very helpful insights in trying to understand better our transition times. He speaks of stages in grief patterns, that a transition has three parts: ENDING, NEUTRAL ZONE and a NEW BEGINNING. Briefly, let us look at these three parts.

In every transition something ends. When we are in transition, we need to say our “goodbyes”. As someone puts it, “life is a series of hellos, goodbyes and hellos.”

  • Disengagement
    One withdraws physically, processing one’s experience. There may be a need for a rite of transition.
  • Disidentification
    Who am I? Mixed up feelings, emotional distress.
  • Disenchantment
    What do I believe? Is this the place for me?
  • Disorientation
    Where am I ?
    Death of a spouse. One loses one’s job. Divorce, separation. Termination of a relationship that is not growthful.
    In times like this one needs support, shelter, a haven..

This is a time of emptiness, a hallow time. Confusing, one doesn’t know what is going on. Like a seed on the soil just there, one waits for it to grow. There is a feeling of bleakness. Some people can go very low, don’t like to go on, contemplate taking one’s life. Bridges says we will not be healed and will not grow unless we spend some neutral zone time.


In my experience in facilitating the Mid-Life Directions Workshop I found this true in supposed to be transition times of women religious. Religious life doesn’t seem to provide transition times whenever there are changes in ministry orchange in big responsibilities. I have encountered a number of Sisters both in my own religious family and others, where after finishing a term as school administrator or directress of a retreat house, she is immediately moved to another place of related ministry and sometimes to an entirely different ministry trying to answer a need in the bigger community.

One day a person wakes up and feels new. It is a new job, a new place or a new community. There is enthusiasm again to face life. In some similar ways, the late Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross speaks of her Five Stages of Dying and also healing.

In our developmental stages it is in the adolescence, mid-life and retirement stages that great intra-psychic loss is experienced. For our purpose, we will focus more on the mid-life stage.


Mid-Life Transition


It is good to note that a good mid-life transition is necessary to be able to live well and meaningfully one’s second half of life.


Mid-Life transition is not simply a chronological event but a psychological and spiritual event. One may be 55 or 60 or even older and may not have made a mid-life transition.


To make a good mid-life transition it is necessary that one get in touch with her/his deep self, get in touch with one’s experiences, take note of some physiological changes, psychological and spiritual. Look at your relationships, the significant people in your life, your relationship with God. What is happening in what you value most, what is important in your life?


At mid-life there is a need to recenter one’s life around a new set of values. Energies used for external adaptation must be re-directed to foster inner growth. The redirection of psychic energy is the essential task of the Mid-Life Transition.


Also, there can be a crisis of negative feelings, feelings of apathy, anger, regret, etc. For these there is a need for acceptance, healing and sometimes even therapy either short term or long term.


Mid-Life is a developmental stage. It is a movement from a stage to another. Will I or will I not move on? We need to see potentials and possibilities for growth and development. If we don’t grow, we regress.


Mid-Life is a process that is built-in (archetypal), an on-going creation. Because we are a process, we are never finished. We are continuously becoming, like the metamorphosis of a butterfly.


Mid-Life is also a spiritual crisis of meaning. Jung himself says that in all his clients who were 35 and above, the crisis they were experiencing was spiritual in nature. At mid-life one question that keeps coming is: What is themeaning of my life? Is this all there is to it?


Victor Frankl, in his beautiful, little book, Man’s Search for Meaning (Rev. and Updated, 1984) gives an account of his experience in a concentration camp which led to an understanding and necessity of meaning in one’s life in order to survive the trials and challenges of life. Being a married man, he found meaning in the image and memory of his wife which made him survive his ordeal in the concentration camp. Part of this I quote thus:

He later came up with his theory on Logotherapy, a will to meaning. If man /woman finds his/her meaning to life’s experiences, he/she can survive the surrounding circumstances that go with these experiences. He was fond of quoting Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how."


Other developmental psychologists broaden our understanding of the challenges, possibilities and potentials that are yet to arrive at their full flowering at mid-life. Erik Erikson’s Schema on the Eight Ages of Man speaks of the psychosocial development of the individual. He depicted a crisis and a value or virtue to be acquired in each stage.


The mid-life stage is a process that is full of promise. There is a great resource within that is untapped in each of us. Our openness to this process leads us to a gradual integration of all that we have seen and experienced in our life story which is also God’s story, all that we are yet capable of becoming in our mature years as the poet Browning reminds us :


“ Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made,
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, “ A whole I planned;
Youth shows but half. Trust God;
See all, nor be afraid.”
- Robert Browning

S.Ma.Ligaya, RVM

Sr. Ma. Ligaya Valencia, RVM
Certified Mid-Life Directions Consultant ‘96
Mother Ignacia Center for Spirituality
214 N. Domingo St. , Quezon City


Brewi, Janice and Brennan, Anne. Mid-Life Psychological and
Spiritual Perspective.
Nicholas Hays Inc. 2004
Mid-Life Spirituality and Jungian
Archetypes. Nicholas Hays Inc. 1999.

Bridges, William. Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.
Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley 1980.

Levinson, Daniel J. The Seasons of a Man’s Life.
Alfred Knolpf, New York, 1978.
The Seasons of a Woman’s Life.
Random House Inc., New York, 1996.

Sharp, Daryl. Digesting Jung. Inner City Books,
Toronto, Canada, 2001.
The Portable Jung. Edited by Joseph Campbell
Viking Penguin Inc. 1971.

Hollis, James. The Middle Passage.
Inner City Books.
Toronto. Canada. 1993
Creating a Life, Finding Your Individual Path.
Inner City Books.
Toronto, Canada. 2001

Frankl, Victor E. Man’s Search for Meaning, Revised and Updated.
Washington Square Press, USA. 1984
Woodman, Marion. The Pregnant Virgin, a Process of Psychological
Inner City Books.1985.

Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Act 2, Scene 7


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