As women face perimenopause — the time leading up to menopause when they can have uncomfortable symptoms — they often look mortality in the eye as they review their life and question whether they like what they see.
It is a time of transformation, a kind of death of their old selves. They begin to really focus on what they want — and don’t want. Letting go of unnecessarily worrying about what others think, they also begin to express themselves more. They might end relationships, change jobs, or explore new spiritual beliefs. In doing this, they realign themselves with, and choose to live out, their values.
I have treated many women who struggle with this stage of life. Some enter therapy with an unexplainable unhappiness — I have everything I could want, so why am I so unhappy? Others know that they want to be different, but are unsure what changes to make and how to proceed. Sometimes the problem is a lack of confidence; at other times, they fear what change will mean for the life they have established. For instance, they worry about upsetting the balance of their marriage or not getting the support of their friends. Their trepidation is understandable. But by clarifying what they want and finding support from those around them (which they sometimes need to search for), they can find the strength to explore further — often transforming their distress into an inner sense of strength, or even excitement.
Fortunately, women have various roles in their lives that train them for this transition. I have seen it in women who never worked before children — adjusting to the ever-changing needs of growing youngsters helps them adapt to this change. For those who had careers before children, they re-awaken to the possibilities that they once experienced years before. Even many who did not have children go through a similar change. They let go of the possibility of having children (which some grieve); and they re-focus on their lives, including what they’d like to accomplish, in a new way.
Once women begin to gain clarity and are on a new path, they feel renewed with a kind of rebirth. They are often conscious of how much less they worry about what others think of them. At the same time, they become aware of interests they might have previously rejected, or not even allowed themselves to consider. In some ways, they re-experience a freedom to express themselves that they might not have felt since adolescence — and perhaps not even then.
This stage of life is a challenge for the women who go through it and for those close to them. But with the right perspective, it can also be a time of great opportunity for personal growth for all involved, and for a deepening of their relationships.
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