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The negotiation of midlife: Exploring the subjective experience of ageing

This thesis explores the subjective experience of ageing with a particular focus on midlife. I argue that midlife signifies an important phase of transition in the life course which is often characterised by essential changes in personal circumstances. Although many of these changes are anticipated their impact can still come as a surprise, reawakening old psychological threats and anxieties as well as creating new ones. The death of parents, children leaving home, changes at work and an awareness of an ageing body: these changes are usually anticipated at a practical level but can create a sense of emotional instability and insecurity. The three central themes of this thesis include the way the ageing process is experienced physically and how this in turn, effects the individual psychologically, the way personal and family relationships change during this period and the impact this has and finally how people evaluate their lives and compare this evaluation to their imagined sense of what they thought their lives would be like.

I highlight how the social experiences and cultural expectations which influence attitudes and pragmatic reactions to ageing are necessarily intertwined with unconscious psychic processes, conflicts and ambivalence. My method involves interviewing twenty-two men and women aged between thirty-nine and fifty-eight years old using a psycho-social approach. This method focuses on how individuals emotionally and psychologically deal with age-related changes.

I conclude that midlife is a time of complex emotional and psychological conflict which is triggered and challenged through a culmination of natural and anticipated losses. In order for people to negotiate midlife and move forward in a positive and productive way they must first acknowledge and then accept the natural losses and disappointments that life inevitably brings.

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