The Middle Passage: Quoting James Hollis

I’ve recently read Jungian analyst James Hollis’s book, The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife. It is one of the best books on this developmental phase, and its many opportunities, that I’ve read. The author says that childhood lasts until around age 12, the first adulthood from around ages 12 to 40, and the second adulthood–if a person chooses to progresss–from around age 40 to old age. Many people never pass from childhood to adulthood developmentally, but are overgrown children, and many people never pass from the first adulthood into the second, and thus have unlived lives. Hollis writes that the middle passage presents us with the opportunity to reexamine our lives and to ask, “Who am I apart from my history and the roles I have played?” It is an occasion for redefining and reorienting the personality, a necessary rite of passage between the extended adolescence of the first adulthood and our inevitable appointment with old age and mortality.

The Middle Passage addresses issues such as:

  • How did we acquire our original sense of self?
  • What changes herald the Middle Passage?
  • Why do so many go through so much disruption in their middle years?
  • How does one revision the sense of self?

Quotes from the book

“The capacity for growth depends on one’s ability to internalize and to take personal responsibility. If we forever see our life as a problem caused by others, a problem to be ‘solved,’ then no change will occur.”

“The middle passage occurs when the person is obliged to view his or her life as something more than a linear succession of years. The longer one remains unconscious, which is quite easy to do in our culture, the more likely one is to see life only as a succession of moments leading toward some vague end, the purpose of which will become clear in due time. When one is stunned into consciousness, a vertical dimension, kairos, intersects the horizontal plane of life; one’s life span is rendered in a depth perspective, “Who am I, then, and whither bound?”

“The first adulthood is . . . full of blunders, shyness, inhibitions, mistaken assumptions, and always, the silent rolling of the tapes of childhood.”

“Given the opportunity for a full life span, one passes through a series of different identities . . . Approximately every seven to ten years there is a significant physical, social and psychological change in a person. Consider who you were at 14, at 21, at 28, and at 35, for example .”

“One of the most powerful shocks of the Middle Passage is the collapse of our tacit contract with the universe–the assumption that if we act correctly, if we are of good heart and good intentions, things will work out. We assume a reciprocity with the universe. If we do our part, the universe will comply. Many ancient stories, including the Book of Job, painfully reveal the fact that there is no such contract, and everyone who goes through the Middle Passage is made aware of it.”

“The breakdown of the ego means that one is not really in control of life. Nietzsche once noted how dismayed humans are when they discover that they are not God. The fundamental result of the Middle Passage is to be humbled.”

“A sign that a person has not made the middle passage is that he or she is still caught in ego-building activities of the first adulthood. One has not yet learned that they only represent projections onto finite and fallible icons.”

“Jung felt that the best thing we could do for the world was to withdraw our shadow projections. It takes enormous courage to say that what is wrong in the world is wrong in us, what is wrong in marriage is wrong in us, and so on.”

“The shadow should not be equated with evil, only with life that has been suppressed. As such, the shadow is rich in potential. Becoming conscious of it makes us more fully human, more interesting. A shadowless person is extraordinarily bland and uninteresting. [. . .] The shadow will out, whether in unconscious acts, projections onto others, depression or somatic illness. The shadow embodies all the life which has not been allowed expression.”

“A conscious appointment with the shadow at midlife is essential, for it will be operating surreptitiously in any case. We must examine what we envy or dislike in others and acknowledge those very things in ourselves. This helps to prevent our blaming or envying others for what we have not done ourselves.”

“The only requisite to entry into the Middle Passage is to have discovered that one does not know who one is, that there are no rescuers, no Mommy or Daddy, and that one’s fellow travelers will do well to survive themselves.”

“The paradox of individuation is that we best serve intimate relationship by becoming sufficiently developed in ourselves that we do not need to feed off others.”

“The more traumatic the childhood, the more infantile our sense of reality. It is very hard to know our reality and to operate from its baseline. Risking loneliness to achieve that sense of oneness with oneself we call solitude is essential if one is to survive the Middle Passage. To move to the necessary solitude in which individuation can proceed, one must consciously ask each day, ‘In what way am I so afraid that I am avoiding myself, my own journey?’”

“Most of all, if we are to heal ourselves, we have to ask what our spontaneous, healthy child wants.”

“We are obliged to live our passion lest our lives remain trivial and provisional.”

“Fear of our own depths is the enemy.”

“The goal of individuation is wholeness, as much as we can accomplish, not the triumph of the ego.”

“If we live long enough, everyone we love will leave us. The corollary is that if we do not live long enough we will have left them.”

“The act of consciousness is central; otherwise we are overrun by the complexes. The hero in each of us is required to answer the call of individuation. We must turn away from the cacaphony of the outerworld to hear the inner voice. When we can dare to live its promptings, then we achieve personhood. We may become strangers to those who thought they knew us, but at least we are no longer strangers to ourselves.”

Art by Rene Magritte.

8 responses to “The Middle Passage: Quoting James Hollis”

  1. anonymous Avatar

    I often wonder where the word adult comes from anyway. Why do we have distinguished categories, parents, adults, children? At midlife, I ask, am I adult or child. I can’t integrate the two. If I’m the adult role, the child is ignored not fully allowed to be. If I’m the child, I’m not the adult. If you took your own child to the doctor, would you speak for your child or let them speak for themselves? You might speak for your child if you don’t think they will be able to speak for themselves or be heard. You want your child to be able to speak for themselves if possible and not interfere. You are torn between taking over for your child to protect them, make sure they’re heard, etc but then they are not being allowed to speak for themselves either. When should I be adult, when should I be a child. Why couldn’t we do away with the term adult? Aren’t we all really children? Children who can be equal w out trying to be or play adult?

  2. Holden Avatar


    I loved this book and am in the middle of the middle of alot of alot. I saw Hollis give a weekend seminar at our regional Jung association and it was so transformative. I would love to have him as a therapist. He is indeed the embodiment of the Sage itself. We are all from different planets when worlds collide. Never more true than when one in a struggle at midlife is seeing things in a Jungian framework and others are not. I am indeed a second adult aspirant as well. I wish you well. I have bookmarked your reading list. Like you I am interested in topics ranging Jung and Bram Stoker equally. Keep Writing!

  3. Eve Avatar

    Smiler, no, I haven’t read any of the RLT follow-up books. I guess you’ll have to do that and let us know how they are. ;o)

  4. Smiler Avatar

    I haven’t read anything else of Peck’s yet. It’s funny to me that I’ve just discovered him recently because of course he’s a classic and I’m sure RLT was a trailblazer in many ways (pun intended). I’ll definitely look up People of the Lie as a follow up. Speaking of which, have you read any of the RLT follow up books? Any other books of his you’d recommend?

    “I think that anyone bold enough to read the type of book you’re reading and do the sort of writing you’re doing is well on her way”
    I’m deeply honoured by that statement. Thank you. Truly. Thank you.

    And by all means DO get scary and post about that dream. I’m looking forward to it – pretty or not! 🙂

  5. Eve Avatar

    Smiler, when I read the Hollis book it had a most familiar ring to me as well, no doubt because I’ve been navigating the middle passage for about 10 years. I have the sense that I’m about through it, but because I also suspect myself, I can’t be sure about just how real I actually am.

    I really like Peck, too, by the way. Have you read his book People of the Lie? It’s about a “psychology of evil,” which I thought a very bold thing to propose for a psychiatrist.

    About hoping you make it there (to the second adulthood), I think that anyone bold enough to read the type of book you’re reading and do the sort of writing you’re doing is well on her way. And that’s really all we can do: look, listen, learn, and hope that we’ll find our way.

    Tomorrow I’m going to get scary and post a recent dream analysis. It’s part of my rite of passage to get the real self out there being real. And it’s not pretty. You’d better come with goggles. ;o)

  6. Smiler Avatar

    As soon as I read your introduction, especially the part about the two phases of adulthood, I felt as though I’d read that before somewhere. The quote you’ve included are wonderful, , ring very true and again, sound very familiar. Maybe that’s because I’m reading Jung right now? I also read Scott M. Peck’s “The road less traveled” recently, that gave a lot to ponder as I face going into that second adulthood (let’s hope I make it there!). Thanks for another great post Eve.

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