Jung’s Psychological Types and Midlife

Jung’s Psychological Types and Midlife

C.G. Jung was one of the first psychologists to study lifelong human development. In his article “The stages of life,” Jung differentiated three main periods: childhood, youth (from puberty to midlife), and after mid-life.

To illustrate these stages, he used the analogy of the sun’s journey from the horizon:

“In the morning it rises from the nocturnal sea of unconsciousness and looks upon the wide bright world which lies before it in an expanse that steadily widens the higher it climbs in the firmament” (C.G. Jung, CW8 par 778).

 The sun thus rises out of the sea in early youth to its zenith, and descends after midlife.

“At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning”(C.G. Jung, CW8 par 778).

The aim of childhood and youth is to build a strong ego and develop an adequate persona. Young people are expansive and future-oriented. They spend a lot of time in social relationships, studying, establishing a career, and setting up a family. In terms of psychological types, they tend to use their best gifts, relying on the function that is most natural. For example, if a boy is adept at sports, he will tend to do more sports. Because he can use his sensation function well, he will get a lot of recognition for it, building a feeling of identity around it: “I am good at sports.”

In midlife people are confronted with life’s limitations and diminishing physical capacities. Jung saw this time as an important life transition that needed special attention:
“Aging people should know that their lives are not mounting and expanding . . . For the aging person it is a duty and a necessity to devote serious attention to oneself” (C.G. Jung, CW8 par 785).

Developing our best gifts in early life is necessary, but it creates a one-sided development. After midlife the process of individuation often sets in, when one comes to terms with this inner split through the integration of the inferior function:“But this one-sided development must inevitably lead to a reaction, since the suppressed inferior function cannot be definitively excluded from participation in our life and development. The time will come when the division in the inner man must be abolished, in order that the undeveloped may be granted an opportunity to live” (C.G. Jung, W8 par 112).


Why managers should develop self- reflection

In todays fast moving and highly competitive world economy, managers and leaders need to be highly productive. Given this pressure, they tend to focus on pressing business matters and planning their next move. They tend do be doing a lot, but not taking enough time to think and reflect.

Managers should take enough time to step back and reflect about their work. Or else they might keep operating on “automatic pilot” mode or jump from one opportunity to the next without learning from their experiences. They need time to reflect about the business, and also about their personal behavior.


Manfred Kets de Vries once said about successful leaders:
“The first thing I look for is emotional intelligence—basically, how self-reflective is the person?” ( https://hbr.org/2004/01/putting-leaders-on-the-couch)

When under pressure, we tend to react to a situation, using old strategies or defensive behaviors that might not be effective and might even turn out to be destructive at times.

Self-reflection helps us to know ourselves better and stand more firmly when dealing with tensions in the work place. It also enables us to learn both from positive and negative experiences and adjust to new situations.

Managers should be able to take some quiet time to reflect on their performance in their work. This could be a specific situation (an important meeting or the completion of a given project) or a more general theme.

Writing a diary

A useful tool to enhance self-reflection is writing a diary. When writing, it’s important to be spontaneous and write down all that comes to your mind.
A diary is something private which you might not wish to share with anyone.
You can write, but also draw, doodle, and add photo’s in it.

Possible questions are:

  • What was the situation?
  • What was I thinking/feeling at the beginning, and later?
  • What did I say or do, was it effective?
  • What did the other people say or do, and how did this affect the situation?
  • What went well?
  • How could I (or the group) do things differently next time?

Useful tips

Given our busy schedules, we might need to make self-reflection a priority in our lives, and make a commitment to this

  • Set a time in your schedule for it. Use a reminder
  • Jot down key points during the day in your smart phone, which you can use when you sit down and reflect
  • Buy a special note book for this, or create a special file on your computer.
  • Regularly assess how the reflection is going, perhaps with the help of a coach or a trusted person.

As always, when you are developing a new habit: it might take some time and effort in the beginning, but eventually it will make enhance the quality of your life!