Mid Life Rage


Men's Health
Author Peter O’Connor

Women are often bewildered and frightened by the rage that characterises the mid-life transition. In this second excerpt from The Inner Man, Peter O’Connor looks at the whys and wherefores of men’s mid-life rage.

…..It is now, at mid-life, time to descend and face that which has been banished to Hades or the unconscious.

There is, of course, an upsurge of an urgency to know and triumph over unknowing and, as a characteristic defence against loss, this manic defensive behaviour is usually aroused. The pattern here is one of triumphing over, control of, and contempt for, and so often these attributes are directed towards a man’s wife or permanent female partner at mid-life. It is the female partner who becomes the target of such behaviour since in the man’s unconscious mind she symbolizes the mother, that enduring symbol of paradise both gained and lost. The awareness of the inevitability of death by necessity awakens anxieties about the other recurring traumas in life, in this instance that of separateness. Poseidon, the most rageful of gods, in all his fury rises to the surface and rage is usually driving force of the desire to triumph over women, control them and simultaneously to display contempt towards them.

This of course is usually most bewildering for the female partner, because often she has been relatively unprepared for this sudden change and eruption and is often at a loss to understand the mother dynamic that is operating. But it is the loss of paradise, the rage at the primary separation and accompanying loss, that is operating in this situation. Mid-life, to repeat myself, is initially about loss and grief, but in various forms.

After all, one becomes aware of the fact that over and above the loss of hair, the loss of strength, the loss of youth and not infrequently the loss of partner, that life itself will eventually be lost. Enough loss experiences to reawaken the primary one - mother from child.

A split in the feminine image can occur forcibly in mid-life as a mechanism for coping with the pain of loss. So men will seek out extra-martial affairs, fall in love, in order to overcome the separateness and attempt to restore paradise. Often these are passionate and all-absorbing relationships, during which his permanent partner or wife is seen as all bad and the mistress as all good.

An upsurge of sexuality and interest in erotica is also characteristic of mid-life men as they seek any means of overcoming the pervasive sense of loss and separateness. Narcissism is usually present in the form of a preoccuption with appearance, clothing and cars. In the context of what else is going on in a man’s psyche, a regression to a level of narcissism is not unexpected. It can also be accompanied by a rush into cults; a seeking of the answer and the consequent narcissistic intolerance of anyone who holds a different view from the new-found ‘truth’. So partners are often accused of ‘not understanding’, and contempt is usually present in these moments.

The rigidity with which men in mid-life sometimes hold to the newly acquired ‘truth’, often an espoused spiritual ‘truth’, is also a reflection of the desperate need to control and not yield to uncertainty. So ashrams are full of people in mid-life, chanting their way into bliss and managing to deny the very existence of any negative feelings at all. In itself, there can be no doubt that Eastern religious views contain much in the way of ancient wisdom, but I doubt whether it is this that the mid-life man is seeking. Primarily relief from loss and the control of his rage. That it is about these psychological issues can readily be seen in the denial of opposites and the contempt for those who have not embraced the same ‘truth’.

However, for many men this initial period of trying to triumph over, control and show contempt for others passes, but the rage and depression last. It is depression and rage that have a great capacity to return a man to his inner life. This return will depend on how well he can make contact with the anima image, his feminine self, and for most men she is usually only a psychological teenager. It was during his own adolescence that he turned his back on her and thus she remained at best fixated in adolescence and still, like all adolescents, tied to the mother. A man’s feminine self, his moods, will usually involve the mother issue and image. The task at mid-life is for a man to separate out his feelings self, his anima, from under mother’s skirts. Here the separating requires the enabling father, the spirit of logos.

Unfortunately, rage becomes the mid-life man’s rather blunt tool for separating from the mother, usually symbolized by his wife, and the depression continues unabated.

[Part three to follow…]

Extracts from The Inner Man by Peter O’Connor reprinted with permission of Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd Copyright Peter O’Connor 1993

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