A middle life crisis, sometimes shortened as midlife crisis, is a transitional stage in the life of an adult individual.
It is a relatively new term, the first mention of midlife crisis was in 1965, there has been some research on the matter.
Some sources claim that middle life crisis can be summarised as a stage when adults realise their own mortality, however we consider it to be a simplistic view since everyone realises their own mortality and whilst religion for example offers salvation in form of eternal life after death, faithful people may also experience a midlife crisis.
Other sources claim that midlife crisis is a stage that is triggered by changes that an individual went through in the pre-crisis years which eventually caused a crisis of consciousness, a crisis of identity and a crisis of instability. However, often people achieve a lot, know who they are and yet find themselves suffering from midlife crisis none the less.
Instead, middle life crisis could be regarded as period in life of an individual where one reflects on his or her overall image, it is a time where a person feels and witnesses the fruit of one's life entire effort, whilst looking ahead and anticipating their own future, often both in negative light.
How to recognise middle life crisis in self and others?
Symptoms of midlife crisis are not necessarily as clear as buying a Ferrari to look cool. Often these are none other than ways to compensate for symptoms of midlife and aging in general.
We're going to review physical, psychological symptoms of aging as well as realisations in midlife and what people do to compensate for these.
Symptoms of aging
Physical symptoms of aging
- Finding it difficult to keep up - with buddies, on drinking, partying, physical activities
- Increased tolerance to dopamine realising activities such as sex and alcohol
- Increased appreciation and need of sleep
- Increased weight and greater effort to keep in shape
- Decreased libido
- Decreased personal attractiveness (both real and imaginary)
Unhealthy ways to compensate for physical symptoms of aging include:
- Overdoing certain activities to keep up with peers
- Alcoholism, workoholism and other addictions
- Shutting out the outside world to get rest and sleep, often in excess
- Ridiculous and demanding diets and rigorous damaging exercise
- Reliance on pills and other ways of maintaining sexual appetite
- Overdoing make up, obsession over receding hairline, plastic surgery and other invasive methods of looking younger
Psychological symptoms of aging
- Decreased tolerance of routine
- Decreased tolerance of bad company
- Increased irritability
- Lack of focus
- Lack of drive
Unhealthy ways to compensate for the psychological symptoms of aging
- Sudden, unchecked decisions to remove routine from life
- Sudden, unchecked decisions to shut out peers
- Build up of frustration and irritation
- Constant questioning of self and others
- Incessant self-criticism
- Inability to concentrate on important tasks and decision, running away from problems
- Inability to continue certain tasks which can create subsequent problems
- Realisation that one could have done much better by now
- Realisation that the life is going nowhere
- Realisation of forthcoming certain mortality
Unhealthy ways to compensate for realisations in midlife
- Depression, sudden rush to complete things
- Jumping on bandwagons in terms of life quests and goals
- Overuse of medication and becoming a health freak
Symptoms of aging are completely natural, sometimes barely noticeable, but if one pays them too much attention and obsesses over covering for them - this leads to midlife crisis.
What is at the core of middle life crisis?
At the core of middle life crisis is the concept of congruence.
Psychologist Carl Rogers considers that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence. This means that self-actualization occurs when a person's “ideal self” (i.e. who they would like to be) is congruent with their actual behavior (self-image).
Middle life crisis often occurs when congruence gap grows, when a person recognises that self-actualization is hindered or unlikely. When a person strongly feels about unresolved issues. The gaps in congruence are identifiable by the following stressors, which trigger dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in a person's life:
Shifts in family balance:
- Lack of children
- Maturation of children, children leaving home
- Death or illness of a family member
- Boredom in a relationship
- Lack of meaningful relationships
- Looming divorce
- Attention towards younger peers
Association with peers
- Lack of close friends
- Widening association gap with friends
- Lack of accomplishment in comparison to peers
- Lack of freedom in comparison to peers
Shifts in work and career
- Dead end career
- Feeling lack of self-worth
- Frustrating routine
- Threat of emerging technology
- Pressure from younger, more energetic colleagues
- Frustration with salary
- Unresolved issues
- Accomplished points
- Shift in focus
- Impending mortality
- Losing physical shape
- Visually apparent aging
Unresolved issues in midlife
A middle life crisis is a combination of unresolved midlife issues, an individual must learn to prioritise and to deal with them, sometimes solving these issues if they are problems, such as finding a job as a replacement for a position that no longer satisfies the individual.
Sometimes one has to let go of the issues, over time or with effort, for example the death of parents or children leaving home which are unavoidable, the key is to accept it and to move on.
Stages of middle life crisis
Stages are midlife crisis are similar to that of five stages of grief.
- Denial (at first the person rejects or tries to ignore the symptoms of midife crisis, denying it's existence.
- Anger (after denial comes anger and it sometimes may lead to self-destructing behaviour such as alcoholism or overexercising, or confrontation with peers, with loved one)
- Bargaining (in order to postpone and to redirect the lifeflow a person tries to negotiate with its own body or with the environment - "If i lose 5 kilos, I will look young". "If I get this job - I matter".
- Depression (after denial, anger and bargaining comes depression - when the previous stages drained the individual and the bargaining had no effect - it leads to depression.
- Acceptance (the final step and it is very relevant to the the concept of congruence - finally a person is able to see what he or she really is and can move on )
How to overcome middle life crisis
This process takes place whilst the person is being exposed to the physiological changes of becoming older as well as psychological effects of becoming more mature. Often it is overwhelming.
Everyone experiences this transitional phase of life differently, their gender, age and other characteristics being a factor.
The way individuals experience this phase also differs, some may feel depression, others remorse, anxiety or desire to reconnect with their youth.
Midlife is a time for self-reflection, it is full of opportunities
The shortest way to overcome middle life crisis is to accept the reality, to adapt to the changing circumstances and to transform into a more mature human being, letting go of some of the stressors and finding new outlets for others.
Middle life is a time of opportunities, it is a phase in life where people are at their most creative, most vigorous and most experienced and able, so recognise that this time, midlife, as world of opportunities.
The world is full of examples of where this time was used to create masterpieces of art, when this time was used to travel over the world and to self-actualize
Most importantly this is the right time to allow oneself to be happy, this will often requite one to reprioritise things in life.
“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger--but recognize the opportunity.”
John F. Kennedy
Where one sees middle life crisis others see a world of opportunity. Interestingly, China seems to be completely devoid of the condition referred to as middle life crisis.
Midlife crisis triggers and affects different people in their own way
The crisis itself has many aspects and can be approached differently . Naturally, different personalities will experience midlife crisis based on their own values and core beliefs. Gender, ethnic belonging, ambition, age, family history, peer values and so on
Middle life crisis occurs in 10% of men and 3-5% of women, however this is a rough estimate for the western world, whilst in other cultures it seems to be completely missing, much like many conditions/
Men and women typically experience middle life differently because their priorities in midlife are different, some may say it may depend on the cultural factors, others that it is the biological differences that make certain goals more important than others, biological clock and needs of the individual, peer pressure.
Likewise with the varying importance of factors, causes of middle life crisis will depend upon the attachments and priorities of individuals, for example family, work and financial stability, physical appearance or health.
A work/family balance is also a major cause for concern at this age, as most imbalances cause disharmony.