When a happily married woman comes into my office with complaints of increased sexual fantasies, or possibly even an affair with a man or a woman who is not her partner, how do I conceptualize her issues? How do I help this woman?
I am relieved that as a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist, in the state of California, my job is not to direct her actions or pass judgment. I am here to help her clarify her issues, present her with information, and assist her in developing increased confidence and personal empowerment that will assist her in arriving at the best decisions she is capable of making for herself.
Shellenbarger (2004), the author of The breaking point: how female midlife crisis is transforming today’s women, explains that being overwhelmed by sexual fantasies is an indicator of a mid-life woman entering liminality, which is often displayed by extremes of emotion and behavior. Liminality is defined as that in between place “The structural ‘invisibility’ of the liminal personae has a twofold character. They are at once no longer classified and not yet classified” (Mahdi, 1987, p 5).
Connie Zweig (1997), a Jungian Analyst, asserts that the issues at mid-life are the call of the “Self” to begin an unlived life. She believes the symptoms that many women experience at midlife can be explained as an archetypal shift. Archetypes can be described as predetermined patterns of feeling and thinking that are common to the entire human race (Corneau, 1996). So what is this woman’s archetypal shift? Is she experiencing the loss of her youth? No longer a young woman, yet not one of the elderly, she is lost in the middle.
How will I help this woman who is lost between two worlds? Zweig, (1997) believes it is her shadow that forces mid-life women to face their unlived life with its limited choices, as the ego is destabilized and the sense of identity is shattered. Is this what all of her sexual fantasizing is about? Is she trying to regain her youth, or is this a distraction to avoid looking at her age?
A woman’s shadow includes the parts of herself that are located in the personal unconscious, of which is unaware. Shadow elements are incompatible with the conscious personality and must be integrated to achieve wholeness (Weinrib, 2004).
The goal for this woman who is being overwhelmed by sexual fantasies would be to balance between restraint and exploration, as she tries to integrate these regained passions. Women in this phase can use this increased desire to integrate their new passion in a way that does not destroy the parts of her life that are valuable. Finding a new relationship to her renewed surge of needs and desires is at the core of this liminal phase of transition. This woman would benefit from looking at the object of her desire, exploring this attraction, as a possible projection (Shellenbarger, 2004).
If she continues to operate out of old strategies and attitudes, symptoms may result. The symptoms are a result of a clash between the acquired personality and the demands of the Self and this clash may cause her to wonder who she is. The person she has been, is being replaced by who she is becoming, a normal developmental transition. Psychologically, the old self must die, so the new self may be born. This death rebirth is a passage. In traveling through the Middle Passage one may achieve their potential to earn the wisdom of mature aging (Hollis, 2003). As part of her therapy process, it is important to mourn the death of her youth, and accept the aging process that defines her new identity.
At mid-life, women benefit most from a form of therapy that brings meaning and symbolic value to their life. Mid-life issues are not about fixing problems and relieving symptoms as quickly as possible (Brehony, 1996). Jungian theory offers a mid-life woman a way to discover her purpose, as she enters the second half of life, gaining a deeper awareness of the unconscious forces that have previously blocked her growth.
In this case I would rule out:
1. Relationship Issues by referring her and her partner to a couples counselor .
2. Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD) which is a condition that is experienced as extremely distressing, unsolicited genital arousal lasting for hours and sometimes into days without sexual stimulation or desire (Leiblum, 2006).
3. Hypersexuality which is an excessive feeling of sexual desire.
Dr. Kerns is a Skilled Therapist, and Clinical Member of
- AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists)
- CASTOC (Couples and Sex Therapist of Orange County).
- CAMFT (California Association of Marriage Family Therapists)
- OCCAMFT (Orange County CAMFT)
Dr. Marie Kerns, Psy.D Licensed Marriage Family Therapist MFC # 50443
University Tower – UCI Adjacent
4199 Campus Drive, Suite 550
Irvine, CA 92612