Am I having a midlife crisis?
We’ve all heard the jokes about having a ‘midlife crisis’ – middle-aged men buying sports cars or motorbikes and dating younger women, middle-aged women who appear to suddenly leave their spouses, travel to far-flung places to “find themselves” or spring for cosmetic surgery.
Definition of a midlife crisis
Psychologist Elliott Jacques, coined the term ‘midlife crisis’ in the 1960s to denote a critical period at midlife when adults take stock of their lives and re-evaluate their choices – often finding them wanting.
Despite widespread acceptance of the term, research has failed to find compelling evidence that this is a universal or actual phenomenon, let alone a clinical diagnosis.
Far from being a ‘crisis’ the halfway point where we are cresting the hill, as opposed to being over it, is a natural contemplation point. So for most of us, a ‘midlife crisis’ is probably more accurately described as a ‘midlife transition’. This also makes sense because it’s suggested that the ‘crisis’ can last 3-10 years in men and 2-5 years in women – which seems quite a long time to be in crisis!
The ‘crisis’ may happen if, as Joseph Campbell suggests, “you climb to the top of the ladder and discover it’s against the wrong wall”.
What prompts a midlife crisis?
Midlife is often the busiest time of our lives. Most of us have significant responsibilities at work and at home (for both children and ageing parents) and often financial obligations to match. Not surprisingly this is also the time of life when the majority of us report being least satisfied with our lives.
We can no longer deny that our bodies are ageing and may not be as strong or as reliable as they once were. In addition, the death of parents or friends can be a stark reminder of our mortality.
Add to this the natural tendency to review our goals and priorities as we approach our second half and you have a recipe for feeling a bit underwhelmed with our selves and our circumstances.
While the timing of the midlife transition is unique to everyone, the general consensus is that it is most likely to occur between the ages of 37 and our late fifties.
It’s often triggered by a life event: the physical changes of menopause or andropause, a health crisis, a change in work status, the kids leaving home or the death of someone close. For others, it results from the looming, or passing, of a significant milestone like a birthday with a ‘0’ in it.
What are the signs of a midlife crisis?
Signs of a midlife crisis vary hugely but can be marked by an increase in:
- dissatisfaction with the status quo – be it in our appearance, our work, our relationships, our achievements or lack thereof
- awareness of how short life is and a sense of urgency to get on with things
- intolerance of both our own and others shortcomings
- focus on realising long held dreams or goals
- concern with questions of purpose and meaning
- fears for our health, our savings for the future, our ability to cope with what life is throwing at us now, and is likely to land us with, in the future
- mindfulness of the changes in our physical appearance, strength and vitality
- a desire to act impulsively or impractically in significant decisions
While both men and women can experience a ‘midlife crisis’, the emphasis seems to be different. For men it’s more often focused on achievements and proving something to themselves and others whether that’s through job performance, physical feats, financial or social status.
For women it’s more likely to be about re-evaluating our performance in relationships – whether we’re satisfied with how we’re showing up, both in the roles we play in life but also how much of ourselves we’ve given to these roles thus far. This can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction and increased asserting of the desire to focus on realising our own goals, for our own sake.
So what’s to be done?
First, of all it’s useful to give ourselves a break and acknowledge that what we are experiencing is a natural stage of evolving ourselves.
Second, we can choose to see this for what it could be – an opportunity to make our second halves deliberately delicious.
You may not be surprised to learn that if you’re a midlife woman we have plenty of helpful resources for you on this site. Check out what’s on offer here.
If you’re a midlife man, (or a woman reading this on behalf of her man) fear not, help is coming. We’ll be launching a site just for you this year. Please leave us your email and we’ll notify you as soon as it’s live.
We look forward to journeying with you!