Phases of life and social roles
The Midlife Journey
Recently we heard of the passing away of Canadian-born psychologist, management expert, social scientist and social critic Elliott Jacques, who died this year, aged 86. Jacques is perhaps best known as the person who first identified what we now call "midlife crisis." Jacques developed his idea through analysis of the creative process in many artists and writers, including the one who remains perhaps the original source for this idea, Dante Alighieri - author of the Divine Comedy.
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) begins his masterpiece with the following lines:
Midway in this mortal life I found myself astray, in a dark wood. Ah, who can say how terrible it was!
Dante the pilgrim spoke these lines at age 35, mid-point of the Biblical three-score years and ten. Dante the poet actually began writing the Divine Comedy in a condition of exile, under death sentence from his native Florence - in a dark wood, indeed.
Elliot Jacques' influential paper, Death And The Midlife Crisis, appeared originally in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1965), and his phrase was quickly taken up into popular culture.
Dante's own midlife journey took him not into psychodynamics but into the multiple cosmic levels of the Christian afterlife, which he depicted drawing on imagery from Biblical and classical traditions. Dante the pilgrim gained a glimpse of the beatific vision and returned to write about it. Dante the poet died in exile leaving a legacy of endlessly fruitful ideas, including the contemporary version of midlife psychology.
Some interesting links on this subject:
- On Elliot Jacques and his contribution, visit http://www.andropause.org.uk/Articles/mlc.htm
- On Robert Atkinson's work Midlife: The Crisis Reconsidered, visit http://www.usm.maine.edu/~atkinson/midlife.htm
- On the process of mid-life transition described through the framework of Myers Briggs personality theory, visit http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/tt/t-articl/midlife.htm
- For other well-documented research about midlife transition - often contradicting popular ideas - see the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development, visit http://midmac.med.harvard.edu/