What is a midlife crisis anyway?
31 Mar 2021

What is a midlife crisis anyway?

What is a midlife crisis?

Midlife can be a challenging time when a person can feel lost, unsure of which way to turn and that their life is lacking in meaning.

Differing paths may present themselves at midlife, but it can be hard to know which one to take without knowing if it will improve your well-being and not totally disrupt the status quo. It can feel like you are suspended in time as you traverse the liminal space between feeling that your existing life somehow no longer ‘fits’ and not knowing what a new, better life would look like.

The term ‘midlife crisis’ was first coined in 1965 by Elliott Jaques, a psychoanalyst, to describe a time where adults come to realise their own mortality and how much time is left in their life.

A midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in individuals, typically 40–60 years old. The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person’s growing age, inevitable mortality, and perceived shortcomings of accomplishments in life.

A crisis can be triggered by biological changes in this period such as menopause or andropause or significant events such as the death of parents, unemployment, or children leaving home. Any of these circumstances may produce feelings of depression, remorse, and anxiety, or the desire to achieve or retain youthfulness, spend money, change your physical appearance, engage in a new romantic liaison or make drastic changes to your current lifestyle.

During the ages 40-60, people become increasingly aware of the limitations of the second half of life. You may have an increased sense of bodily decline and mourn the loss of youthful adventures, creative ideas, and your joie de vivre. You may question your relationship and become more aware of its superficiality or how only sex or social standing is holding it together and become aware of your desire for a more emotionally mature, fulfilling relationship, you may be tempted to have an affair to gain some excitement in your life.

In your professional life you may seriously question whether your midlife career is on track, feel you have underachieved or have a nagging doubt that you’re not in the right job and can’t hold on till your pension kicks in. As Brocher (1975a) said ‘it is quite paradoxical that when a person enters the prime of life, he is also beset by these physical and psychological crises.”

However, midlife may also be a transformational and reflective period in a person’s life as they look to the future and finally move toward the fulfilment of desires and goals which they have held on to for some time.

The way through this crisis is to create a life with meaning, that’s no easy feat! Well-being in midlife is based on self-awareness, conscious decision making and living the second half of your life differently to the first half. Scenarios at midlife that society might consider a ‘crisis’ are when people buy expensive sports cars have affairs or cosmetic enhancements – these are indicators of people are trying to relive the first half of their life again – recapture their youth – re-creating their productive years. The difficulty is that this lifestyle was developed in your youth as you persevered to find your place in the world.

Now in midlife, what makes you happy and fulfilled will be different to what made you happy back in your teens and early 20s. Goals, aspirations and circumstances are different now and advice and help sought by experiencing a midlife crisis can give you the opportunity to realign yourself, your role in the world and within your family in the here and now, rather than repeat old, outdated patterns of behaviour and teenage ambitions.

The journey to meaning in midlife is travelling inwards not outwards. It’s time to revise, renew and redraft your life.  Hang around for a bit and I’ll give you more guidance on how to traverse the midlife terrain successfully.