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February 2001
MIDDLESCENCE AND SECOND ADULTHOOD
By Dorothea McArthur, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Everyone is familiar with the stage of development called adolescence. We know that it is a time of physical change, self absorption, turmoil and conflict as teenagers navigate their way out of the safety and security of home into the larger world where they will find a profession and create their second family.

After adolescence, comes the survival years. During these years we concentrate on finding a lasting relationship and having children, choosing a profession, earning a living, buying homes, and the material things we need to raise a family. It is a time to mate, perform, to please others, to prove ourselves so that we can be protected and promoted by bosses, teachers, mentors, and mates.

We are less familiar with a second adolescence, called Middlescence that occurs sometime between the ages of 45-60. This period of time can also be a time of physical change, conflict, impulsivity and turmoil. It is the time when we move out of the survival years. The 50's crisis is part of this transition. Gail Sheehy describes some new later stages of development in her book entitled, New Passages (Ballantine Books 1995).

Our needs in Second Adulthood (45-85) are different. This is a time to let of go earning a big income and buying lots of material things. It is a time to give away what now seems to be clutter in exchange for a simpler life style. It is a time to feed the soul, to concentrate on what is happening inside of ourselves. It is a time to look back at all the pieces of our lives and see where we are meant to go next so that we can leave this planet having "made a substantial difference." for the environment or some social cause. Age 45-65 is the age of mastery, while 65-85 is the age of integrity.

Middlescence is a critical time of development. Like our teenagers, we can either do a really good job with a difficult transition and move on creatively into Second Adulthood or we can mess it up by sliding into this stage of development unknowingly. If we don't go through Middlescence we can only watch ourselves slip physically and mentally as we become merely reruns of ourselves in the survival years. Even if have loved the work we did in the survival years, Middlescence is the time to ferret out something new and different.

Saging is using experience and collective wisdom to make a difference, while aging is merely getting older. Saging can be a glorious time of life, but is does not come without effort and struggle. It is a time of growing rather than getting older and weaker. Since medical science is allowing us to live longer, it is likely that we will be working productively well into our late seventies. It becomes a time to take action to improve the world rather than to react to what the world throws our way. Men, especially, transition from devoting most of their energy to competing and sexual conquest to finding emotional intimacy, trust and companionship in the community of others. They have acquired the skills, wisdom and experience to take action upon a social or environmental problem. Women have moved out of their child bearing years and have new assertive energy. For those in the Sandwiched Generation (raising children and caring for the elderly parents at the same time) it becomes a time to reconnect with our children as emerging adults and to help our parents out of life with dignity and love and caring.

Aging, in marked contrast, can be a boring, depressing, and a lonely downward slide. It is a time for brain cells to shrink and grow dormant from lack of stimulation. It is a time when the absence of passion and emotion depresses the immune system leaving us more vulnerable to disease. Blocked energy can cause a feeling of chronic exhaustion. It is a time to do less and less each day.

The baby boomer generation is currently in Middlescence and Second Adulthood. Once they were babies, but now they can take on the important job of lending a collective wisdom, integrity and morality to make this world a better place, especially for the disadvantaged, children, elderly, and the environment. It is time for Middlescence to become a household word.

I am currently coaching individuals, couples, and forming small groups for the purpose of making a creative safe passage from the Survival years into Second Adulthood. I am available to help with overcoming problems and creating a safe, financially secure, physically and psychologically healthy life. If you are within the age group of 45-85 and answer "yes" to any of the questions below, please consider using my services to plan ahead, sharing your collective wisdom with me and other Second Adults so that we can all get on with the work of making a difference.

Are you over the age of 45?
Do you feel little job security?
Are you bored with your job and wish that you could do something else?
Are you redefining yourself?
Are you looking for a worthy cause to donate income?
Are you searching for a way to feel a sense of community?
Are you interested in working with children?
Did you know that you will likely live to between the ages of 80-90?
Do you need help in achieving a retirement income?
Are you longing for an outdoor project that nourishes our environment?
Are you looking for companionship and intimacy in a new mate?

Dr. McArthur is a psychotherapist in practice in Los Angeles. She is the president of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.

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