TURNING FORTY IN THE EIGHTIES: Personal Crisis, Time for Change by Michael P. Nichols

TURNING FORTY IN THE EIGHTIES: Personal Crisis, Time for Change

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Not your usual self-helper, but instead a psychiatrist's wise, if somewhat diffuse, analysis of the problems faced by those who have reached the midpoint of life. A director of outpatient psychiatry at Albany Medical School, Nichols contends that the 1980's are a particularly difficult time to move into middle age. He cites the changing role of women and the stresses it puts on both sexes, the prevalence of divorce, declining economic opportunities coupled with a rapidly changing technology, the virtual disappearance of the extended family and the support it has traditionally provided. Somewhere around 40, he says, most of us realize that youth, with its boundless optimism and physical vigor, is now behind us. At this point, many men and women turn to sexual infidelity, divorce, alcohol abuse and/or self-improvement programs (Nichols himself became a compulsive runner). None of these attempts to shore up one's self-image, he says, will, by themselves, give meaning and purpose to life. He posits that mid-life is a time when deeply buried childhood anxieties resurface; when we realize that out drives for love and self-fulfillment are not satisfied as we once had dreamed. If we are to mature wisely, he says, we must conquer our primal fears of closeness and true intimacy, accept our spouses, children, parents and friends as they are, and divest ourselves of false expectations of what we wish they would be. In developing this thesis, Nichols draws on Freudian and other psychoanalytic theories on the development of self, delusions of adulthood, and (in a particularly good chapter) the structure of family systems and how members develop rigid boundaries and response patterns within them. He concludes with chapters on how to get the most out of psychotherapy and how to change oneself (without benefit of therapists or self-help groups) into a more accepting and mature person. By finding oneself at 40, he says, we can expand our lives and make them more fulfilling. This one's exceptionally well written and, apart from the initial chapters in which Nichols gives wordy lip service to the trauma of the so-called mid-life crisis, it's well endowed with psychological insights of value to all--on the sunny and the shady side of 40.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1986
Publisher: Norton