What is a midlife crisis?

What is considered midlife? The average life expectancy is 86 to 89 so half way would be 44 ish. I certainly had a wobble at 45 and bought a fast car, but when I got to 50 I realised there was more time behind than in front. 

I could see the end of my life and wondered what I was going to do with 35 years whilst simultaneously the vision of a tombstone standing up and hurtling towards me made me think, I’ve not got much time left and I’ve got to make the most of it, mixed with a ‘it’s now or never’ feeling.

“This ‘crisis’ word is interesting. It doesn’t need to be a crisis, I guess it could be a time of reflection… of positivity…of taking stock and planning to optimise enjoyment of the rest of our lives. ”

Elliot Jaques, a Canadian psychoanalyst and social scientist coined the expression “midlife crisis”in 1965, and he suggested that we humans could experience a confusing psychological phase. Seemingly, he thought men concentrate on their longing to demonstrate their success to people around them as they possibly lose effectiveness and influence, while women are disturbed about not being able to reproduce and their diminishing physical appearance. Professionally, I’m aware that the above disrupts many people of all genders at this stage of their lives. 

Those of us who spend their lives enthusiastically achieving their dreams and goals are less likely to have a midlife crisis; becoming older is easier for them. These people are possibly in a minority. 

Some of us go through life making poor choices, or have less luck, and abruptly appreciate that we are older, time has seemingly evaporated and very little has been achieved. Self-doubt and self-questioning regarding early life choices, and the importance of life, may occur. This can result in a sense of great discontent and sorrows, often accompanied by a midlife crisis. 

“Melancholic regret, irritability, persistent unhappiness, decreased or increased ambition/sexual desire/food and drink consumption - and a general confusion about who you are or where your life is going - might all happen. ”

That’s all on top of the clichés of plastic surgery, sports cars, affairs and rushed relationship breakups. Fatigue, boredom, or dissatisfaction with life can paradoxically interchange with frenetic oomph, creating a massive sense of restlessness and craving to live life entirely differently.

One of the biggest inaccuracies is that if we are not satisfied and fulfilled by 50, we never will be. The statistics actually imply the contentment curve improves post 50 for most of us and the best bits are ahead, not behind. So, it probably is in our heads. 

The potential catastrophe of midlife can range from slight to hazardous, and may influence wealth, health and well-being. 

Tackling difficult emotions during midlife

We can survive a midlife 'crisis' by acknowledging the indicators and tackling them as they happen. Explore, examine, accept and share your moods and mindsets. Review and revise your way of being, regularly. Try and socialise more, test yourself with something fascinating and meaningful; devote extra time to loved ones, inspect your emotional health and, if necessary, consider seeing a therapist.

Shane Lutkin is lead Therapist at Emotionalskills. If you’re struggling with emotional issues, call 07986 488690 or email info@emotionalskills.uk

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