What is liminality
27 Jun 2023

What is liminality?

What is liminality?

Once the impasse has been acknowledged, and you have let go of unhealthy attachments holding you back, you enter liminality. There is no simple passage through the space here and you can feel a sense of social isolation as you traverse this very personal journey alone. Not everyone is as lucky as Dante, who had Virgil as his guiding companion through his midlife journey. Though I will do my best to try and assist!

Liminality refers to a state of being “in-between” or transitional. It comes from the Latin word “limen,” meaning “threshold.” In anthropological and sociological contexts, liminality describes the phase of ambiguity, disorientation, and ambiguity that occurs during transitions or rites of passage.

During liminal periods, individuals or groups experience a temporary suspension of their usual social norms, roles, and expectations. It is a time when the old structure or identity is no longer valid, but the new one has not yet fully emerged. Liminality often involves a sense of being on the threshold or at the edge of something, symbolising a state of potentiality and transformation. It can be a very unsettling place when everything and every aspect of your life can feel very uncertain.

Liminal experiences can be found in various cultural practices and rituals. For example, coming-of-age ceremonies, initiation rituals, weddings, or funerals often involve liminal stages. These transitional periods allow individuals to undergo personal growth, acquire new knowledge or skills, and experience a shift in their social status.

In a broader sense, liminality can also be used metaphorically to describe states of ambiguity or uncertainty in other domains, such as in psychological, artistic, or philosophical contexts. It represents a space of exploration, change, and possibility, where individuals or societies can redefine themselves and their relationships with the world. In other words, it is a great opportunity to reinvent yourself and your life, though often the sense of opportunity can be overwhelmed with a nervousness of the unknown due to not knowing your end destination and not having certainty and/or clarity about your future.

So, how does liminality relate to identity?

Liminality plays a significant role in shaping and influencing individual and collective identities. When individuals or communities find themselves in liminal spaces or transitional phases, their existing identities and social roles may become destabilized or challenged.

During liminal periods, people often experience a sense of disorientation, ambiguity, and suspension of their usual identity markers and social positions. This can lead to a re-evaluation of personal values, beliefs, and behaviours. Liminality provides an opportunity for individuals to question their existing identities, explore new possibilities, and redefine themselves in light of the changes they are undergoing.

Moreover, collective identities can also be influenced by liminal experiences. Societies undergoing significant transitions or periods of upheaval, such as political revolutions or social movements, often find themselves in liminal spaces. During these times, existing social structures and identities may be challenged, leading to the emergence of new collective identities and social norms.

It can help to have company and understanding in this part of your transitional process, with people who are sharing the same liminal passage. Research shows there can be a heightened sense of belonging and togetherness in sharing this space with other like-minded people who can relate to this experience. Turner coined the word ‘communitas’ to describe the special bond between those who share the same liminal passage, saying that this unique community continues even after the liminal period has concluded. The definition of communitas, which is a Latin noun, is the sense of belonging and sharing that develops amongst people who are experiencing liminality. With this in mind, I set up a support and discussion group on Facebook called The Midlife Crisis Handbook Support Group and also The Midlife Academy so people can traverse this rocky terrain together.

Overall, liminality provides a fertile ground for identity formation and transformation. It offers individuals and communities an opportunity to question, explore, and redefine their identities in response to transitional periods and societal changes.

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 attend a course at The Midlife Academy.