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On young adulthood as it is distinguished from mid-life

April 21, 2012


The formation of a sense of identity rarely occurs without notice. It often involves bitter conflicts with parents, rejection of parental mores, experimentation with new and seemingly contradictory modes of behavior, and radical mood changes. This stormy period of development with all of its problems has received considerable attention from social scientists and writers. As a young person leaves the family for college, marriage, or a job, conflicts may diminish, but the ‘new’ adult person continues to [-168] develop. The roles he or she has chosen to play, the values adopted, the self projected, all become more or less solidified as they are tested in the arena of adult social situations and work settings.  Leaving the family of one’s youth is an important first step in the formation of identity.” Pp167-168


One’s sense of self continues to evolve in middle age. Whereas a young adult is engrossed in the question of who he or she is becoming, a middle-aged person evaluates who he or she has become and whether or not the results are satisfying. This mid-life assessment is prompted by the psychological and physical changes characteristic of this stage in life. For a young adult, life stretches ahead almost indefinitely. The middle-aged person begins to realize that life is finite, that aging is an irreversible process leaving one with a limited number of years. One’s time perspective shifts to measuring how many years are left to accomplish the goals set down in youth. The distress that results from this realization is further exacerbated [-p171] by the physical evidence of aging – hairlines recede, fat accumulates, and muscle tone changes.  All areas of one’s life come into question in middle age. Career and family as well as self are sanctioned out and scrutinized like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.” Pp170-171

“Part of the mid-life reassessment of the self involves relinquishing or putting into proper perspective the accomplishments of young adulthood.” P171

Mid-life, like other phases of adulthood, has its periods of stability as well as upheaval. It is, after all, probably the most powerful period of life because one is often in a position to exert great influence over the next generation and the society in which one lives. The ability to cope with responsibility and change also varies from individual to individual.” P171 [Is this ability to exert great influence now an expectation placed on people of this age?]

The mid-life search for the self is a common theme in twentieth-century literature.” P171-172 “For the most part the anchors of family, career, and self no longer seem relevant. The urgent questioning of all things that had formerly given meaning to existence precipitates a critical state or transitional period that in most cases leads to a new sense of identity and purpose. Failure to negotiate this period of adult development can have disastrous results….” P172

“In middle age, one evaluates the person one has become. If one is dissatisfied with this person, there usually is still time to modify or even significantly change those aspects of our lives that define who we are. …According to several writers, the imminence of death in old age precipitates a need on the part of older persons to review and evaluate their life experiences. If one can accept ‘one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be and that by necessity permitted of no substitute’ (Erikson, 1950, p. 268), then one feels a sense of integrity in later life rather than despair. Gerontologist Robert Butler (1963) has labelled this process the life review. In carrying out the life review, one consciously reminisces about his or her past life with the intention of accepting and integrating unresolved conflicts and past experiences both pleasant and painful. In this way the sense of self, or one’s identity, continues to evolve in later life.” P172

The formation of an individual identity is a lifelong process. It begins with a sense of a self that is distinguishable from all other selves. The formation of identity in late adolescence allows adults to establish meaningful intimate relationships with others throughout the rest of adulthood. A young adult is in the process of becoming someone. By the time one has lived half of his or her life, the self is well formed. Whether one is satisfied with his or her identity is a crucial question in mid-life. There is usually still time to alter and modify. Old age has its own task – that of reviewing and, one hopes, coming to terms with the person one has been and making sense of the life one has led.” P173

Ref: (emphases added) Sharan B. Merriam, Ed. (1983) Themes of Adulthood through literature. Teachers College Press, New York


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