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What is a personal impasse?
10 Jul 2023

What is a personal impasse?


What is a personal impasse?  Many people come to me in midlife saying they know something needs to change but can’t quite put their finger on what it is.

Some people are afraid to make a change in case it’s the wrong one and doesn’t work out well  while others will make sudden knee jerk impulsive decisions because the feeling of not knowing what needs to change is too much to bear and something needs to shift quickly – this latter approach is (in my opinion) not recommended.

The question is, how can you change for the better? In therapy terms, you are now in what we call an ‘impasse’. At this stage in the midlife process, many midlifers describe a feeling of being ‘stuck’. There is truth in this, because, if we continue to do the things we’ve always done, there will be no growth or movement. On the flip side of this, how do we know which is the right move and how can we be confident of a positive outcome?

The general rule at this stage of the life journey is that if you don’t have clarity about the nature of your stuckness, then sit in the impasse until you do. Similarly, if you know the area of your life that needs changing but are unsure how to support yourself if you go on to make changes, then stay in the impasse until your self-support system is clearer.

Jung described an impasse as ‘a disagreeable situation where you see no opening, no direct path’.  It is what Dante describes in the opening lines of the Inferno:

‘Midway upon the journey of our life.

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost’.

I describe it as a stationary, psychologically challenging space where you can feel entrapped because you have begun to recognise the aspects of your current life that no longer serve you and hold you back from being the person you want to be, and yet there is no obvious way forward yet. When you’re in an impasse you might experience feelings of low mood, frustration and hopelessness, which is understandable given the stuckness the impasse brings.

In my book The Midlife Crisis Handbook I describe the three stages of a personal impasse:

Stage 1: Acknowledging the impasse and realising you can no longer live how you have been living. It is too damaging to the self. It helps to be consciously aware of the fact that you are in an impasse. Acknowledging, appreciating and naming your position in an impasse can prevent self-criticism such as ‘I’m a poor decision maker’ or ‘I’m lazy and apathetic’.

Stage 2: Understanding and discovering what’s holding you back. This will require exploration of people, objects and limited beliefs that might be holding you back from moving forwards in life.

Stage 3: Letting go of what’s holding you back and getting ready to move forward.

Overcoming a personal impasse takes time, introspection and an examination of the aspects of your life which might be holding you back from being your true self, such as relationships, career, personal growth, friendships or self-care. Whilst common, personal impasses are exactly that, very subjective and individual, what works for one person won’t necessarily resonate with another.

Despite the challenge of working through a personal impasse, there are opportunities for joy, personal growth, new possibilities and true contentment on the other side.

If you would like help with your midlife transition or to find direction in the second half of life, why not read The Midlife Crisis Handbook or join other people going through a similar experience on one of our courses where a supportive and welcoming learning environment is provided.