At midlife, more psychic energy becomes available to us than at any time since adolescence. If we strive to work in active partnership with that organic energy, trusting it to help us uncover the unconscious and self-destructive beliefs about ourselves that have held us back from what we could become, then we will find that we have access to everything we need to reinvent ourselves as healthier, more resilient women, ready to move joyfully into the second half of our lives.
This process of transformation can only succeed, however, if we become proactive in two ways. First, we must be willing to take full responsibility for our share of the problems in our lives. It takes great courage to admit our own contributions to the things that have gone wrong for us and to stop seeing ourselves simply as victims of someone or something outside of ourselves. After all, the person in the victim role tends to get all the sympathy and to assume the high road morally, which is appealing; none of us wants to feel like the bad guy. But even though taking the victim role may seem a good choice in the short run, this stance is ultimately devoid of any power to help us change, heal, grow, and move on.
The second requirement for transformation is more difficult by far: We must be willing to feel the pain of loss and grieve for those parts of our lives that we are leaving behind. And that includes our fantasies of how our lives could have been different if only. Facing up to such loss is rarely easy, and that is why so many of us resist change in general and at midlife in particular. A part of us rationalizes, "Why rock the boat? I'm halfway finished with my life. Wouldn't it just be easier to accept what I have rather than risk the unknown?"
The end of any significant relationship, or any major phase of our lives, even one that has made us unhappy or held us back from our full growth and fulfillment, feels like a death—pure and simple. To move past it, we have to feel the sadness of that loss and grieve fully for what might have been and now will never be.
And then we must pick ourselves up and move toward the unknown. All our deepest fears are likely to surface as we find ourselves facing the uncertainty of the future. During my own perimenopausal life changes, I would learn this in spades—much to my surprise.
By the time I was approaching menopause, I had worked with scores of women who had gone through midlife "cleansings"; I had guided and counseled them as their children left home, their parents got sick, their marriages ended, their husbands fell ill or died, they themselves became ill, their jobs ended—in short, as they went through all the storms and crises of midlife. But I never thought I would face a crisis in my marriage. I had always felt somewhat smug, secure in my belief that I was married to the man of my dreams, the one with whom I would stay "till death do us part."