According to Janice Brewi and Anne Brennan, authors of "Celebrate Midlife: Jungian Archetypes and Midlife Spirituality," there are two possible catastrophes at midlife. One is to deny the presence of the shadow and hold on firmly to our lifestyle and identity, refusing to surrender outgrown or acknowledge developing aspects of our personalities. This fear to risk, and determination to maintain the status quot, freezes our personal development and deprives us of valuable opportunities for growth. As Brewi and Brennan observe, "one can die at forty and not get buried until ninety. This would surely be a catastrophe."
The other catastrophe according to Brewi and Brennan would be to embrace our shadows while at the same time rejecting much of what we've valued up until this point, deeming most of our past choices to be the wrong ones, and the 'self' that we've presented to the world up until this point as an impostor. Those of us who respond to our shadows by abandoning all of the now rejected old, in order to be completely free to experiment with the more titillating new, often sabotage their development and risk catastrophic losses.
Psychotherapist, James Dolan, suggests that one of the most obvious ways that we can detect the presence of the shadow is in the simmering depression that haunts so many of us. This depression, from his perspective, is connected to our sorrow, our regret, our resentment, our lost dreams, our creativity, and so many other facets of ourselves that we've denied.
Finding oneself is not purely about embracing the desired, or rejecting the unpleasant. Instead, it's about examination and integration -- exploring what fits, letting go of what no longer works, embracing the gifts that we've lost or abandoned, and weaving the various strands of the self together to create a whole and unified tapestry.
The years following young adulthood offer as many (if not more) prospects for growth than our often romanticized youth promised. Opening ourselves up to these possibilities by reclaiming or modifying old visions or by creating new dreams fosters hope, discovery and renewal. Focusing on what did not/ might have/ could have/ should have/ and should not have been only leads to prolonged and unnecessary suffering.
It's impossible to arrive at midlife without being scarred. In "Listening to Midlife" Mark Gerzon points out, "None of us reaches the second half whole... Our health depends on beginning to heal these wounds and finding greater wholeness - and holiness in the second half of our lives."
The process of healing past wounds and reclaiming lost gifts can often be a painful one, and yet when we proceed with wisdom and integrity, it is always a sacred journey.