Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Middle Adulthood (40–60)

What does Roger Gould say about middle adulthood?

In Gould’s view, the confrontation with aging and mortality in midlife punctures the Illusion of Absolute Safety. This demands a renegotiation of the adult’s relationship with work, marriage, family, and many other aspects of life. With regard to work, people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of success realize that even when such goals are accomplished, they fail to bring the “prize” dreamt of at an earlier period. Fame, power, and wealth cannot confer immortality. A restlessness and dissatisfaction can occur, to be resolved only when the motivation for work comes from pleasure in the task rather than the expectation of magical transformation and ultimate salvation.

When Gould was writing in the 1970s, this dynamic mainly applied to men (and affluent men at that). In women, the illusion of absolute safety was more likely to manifest in a sense of self as helplessly dependent on a man. Although many women felt trapped by their lack of autonomy, the acceptance of greater self-determination was anxiety-provoking. It stripped away the comforting illusion of the male as the omnipotent protector. No matter how people cling to the illusion of absolute safety, the desire to protect oneself from awareness of death inevitably brings great psychological costs. Remaining ignorant of a disturbing reality forces people to constrict their own self-experience, impoverishing their personality. Fortunately, midlife provides an opportunity for people to enhance their psychological potential by shedding their denial of mortality.


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