Rest assured that, even though physical ailments like arthritis begin making their appearance during midlife, the pain I'm talking about here is not (necessarily) a physical one. Although emotional pain has many similarities with its physical cousin, there are also some differences: most specifically, emotional pain tend to be much more predictable . When you're trying to understand the causes for the onset of emotional pain, it's very important to keep in mind the function of pain in general – and emotional pain in particular.
Pain functions as a warning signal for the organism. In itself, there's nothing 'bad' about pain (except, of course, that it hurts). In fact, if you were not able to experience pain, you'd be in deep trouble. For example, one of the signs of a sociopathic personality is the incapacity to feel [the pain of] guilt . Their behavior can be absolutely random, self-serving and anti-social at least in part because they experience no emotional consequences. So therefore, pain remains a very necessary (and good) experience. Unless you're more of a masochist than I'd like to address here, chances are very good that, at the moment you're about to give the bed leg a good kick with your bare foot, you're not conscious of what's coming. On the contrary, as you're entering (or about to enter) midlife, you can pick up some very good indications regarding what you're about to encounter. Not all pain is necessary: would not you like to spare yourself some of it?
Our course of action in emotional pain management objectives only two very, very simple elements: awareness and planning . You can think of it this way: if you permit yourself to be aware of where the leg of the bed is, you can plan to have your bare foot be somewhere else when you approach it. You'd think that this simple fact of life would be so obvious as to be a constant. Yet, if that were really so, you'd never stub your toe. In addition, if it were as obvious as you'd think, then the experience of emotional pain would never be optional. Sadly, much of the time, it's only optional , and not necessary . People transitioning through midlife are particularly vulnerable to experiencing a great deal of optional pain. I think you'll have to agree that the very best way to manage pain would be – wherever possible – to avoid it entirely.
You know, I get the most curious looks when I tell people that in order to avoid a great deal of the emotional pain in your life you do not really have to do anything. . . you just have to change your mind . You might say that it's that old 'mind-over-matter' routine on steroids. Oddly enough, just because it's a cliche doesnt mean it's not true. All emotional pain management by avoidances rests on one simple principle: by the time you feel the pain, it's already too late . Still, people (and guys in particular) tend to shy away from doing the intensive, time-consuming inner work that would make the necessary changes in attitude and behavior possible. That's a very old story: it's much easier and more comfortable to critique others than it is to criticize yourself. Managing the pain is easy: just do not kick the bed leg (and if you're wondering where that leg is, it's in our guest room, and I kick it all the time). Putting yourself in a state so that you remember not to kick the bed leg is not so easy. It takes awareness, it takes planning, and it takes work.
To become truly proactive about managing the pain of your midlife transition, where do you have to start? From what I've just said, you'll know that you have to begin with your awareness . Let's start with an awareness of this important fact: midlife transition does not care about what you want to do or what you think you 'bought' to do . The core of your midlife transition lies in your capacity to get in touch with who you are: the real you. The real midlife work begins when you start to ask yourself, 'What am I supposed to be doing with my life?' So long as you run away from the question ' Why am I here? ', you'll continue to dance barefoot about the bed, pretending that it has no legs. The avoidance of that question – the question of your personal destiny – keeps you in an indefinite period of denial and can also actually cause the trauma of midlife crisis to continue on well into old age. Sadly, some people's refusal to get 'down and dirty' with themselves can actually prevent them from ever completing the midlife transition.
Obviously, what I've said here is not the complete answer to managing the emotional pain of the midlife transition. It's only what we in philosophy used to call 'necessary but not sufficient'. I believe that awareness (taking stock of yourself at a core level) remains the essential first step that makes all feasible planning possible. I'll say it a thousand times before I die: as the Cheshire Cat told Alice, "If you do not know where you're going, any path will take you there." Want to avoid pain? Watch your step!