We tend to think of development as a process for the youngsters. Children, adolescents, even young adults; these are the age groups we usually consider as the “developing” years of life.
Once the growing is all done and the job is found and the bills are rolling in on the regular, we’re done with development, right? Like a cake out of the oven, it’s all done but the frosting.
And then, along comes “middle age.” It rolls in like a tank, slowly and with great foreboding.
Aging is such an easily observed process in childhood; look back at a series of school pictures and it is clearly a step by step, predictable process. In adulthood the changes are so gradual we often don’t even notice them until we catch a glimpse of ourselves in a photo or a store mirror and see an image of mom staring back at us. Those are the moments when denial of the aging process begin to fall away. When did this happen? When did I become this midlife person? Welcome to your latest developmental stage, ladies.
Who Am I Now?
At its own unique pace, midlife brings a plethora of changes. Physical and emotional differences emerge as well as a shift in one’s own sense of self. We may experience a sense of “otherness” that can feel dismissive in our culture that is so enamored with youth. Feeling invisible can contribute to a host of emotions as we begin our shifting roles.
As we shift over to midlife and begin to experience perimenopause, we should ask ourselves a few questions to help guide our path toward acceptance:
- What are the most influential experiences (positive and negative) that have shaped my life up to now?
- What lessons or important messages did I take away from these experiences?
- What have I learned about myself over the years? What do I need?
- What is important to me at this point in my life? What are my values?
- How can I live my days with intention? How can I honor myself and what are some ways I can live my values through daily experiences?
- And how in the name of all things holy do I survive night sweats??
The questions that probe our internal wisdom become more important than ever. Not only are we facing changes within the mind and body, our role in society shifts, as well as the ways in which people view and treat us. How many times have you been called ma’am this week? Do you want to kiss the store clerk if they ask for ID?
Adapting to Transition
Society; always trying to box us in! You’d think they’d have learned by now. Ancient archetypes of the maiden, the mother and the crone are trite and prescriptive. There is no specific path for us as females, regardless of age. As women, we carve our own destination. These types of cultural tropes attempt to reinforce an old-school tradition of women as functional pawns in a male world. Let’s face it, we’re just not that predictable. We do what we want.
And yet, society truly does responds differently to us as we age. And we respond differently to the world as we change, too.
We often notice a shift in the way people respond to us – in workplaces, public venues and sometimes even within our own families. Feeling invisible can lead us to question our value, but this is an opportunity for us to reinvest in ourselves and show ourselves compassion and love.
In adjusting to these changes, we need to remember:
- Focus on our true value and those parts of ourselves that we cherish and respect. When we intentionally shift our focus to our strengths and gifts, we can’t help but glow.
- No one else decides our worth; we set that ourselves. If we decide we are worthy and choose to love and respect ourselves and our development, we are labeling ourselves as priceless.
- We have earned this position in our lives; honor it, embrace it. As the years have passed, consider all that you have learned. That wisdom is hard-earned.
- Aging is not the enemy. It creates our legacy and shows us the story of who we are and how far we’ve come.
At the end of the day, menopause comes for all of us. We are valuable and worthy people; we were at age 20 and will also be at age 95. Self-compassion, humor and patience can help us navigate some of the less-than-pleasant effects of this new phase of life.