Canadian Elliott Jaques first used the term “midlife crisis” to label questions of identity and self-confidence in individuals around 50 years of age.
Jaques had been studying great artists and found that many of them experienced long depressive episodes in their 30s. With our increasing longevity, he determined the current target age as in the 50s, more or less.
The midlife crisis includes changes resulting from increasing age, awareness of mortality and unattained life goals. These changes can produce feelings of depression, regret or anxiety, and a search for regained youth or a drastically different lifestyle.
Although contemporary researchers claim this phase is not actually experienced by most people and some have even questioned its existence, midlife crisis is common in our vocabulary and a concern for many of those in the 40 to 60 age range.
In my personal and professional experience, I have seen midlife crises in the distant, confused look in the faces of men and women in my office, on streets and in stores, and even in my own mirror.
Is the midlife crisis only for men? Not at all. Women go through the same process of life, career and aging, along with the physical changes of menopause. As well, many have to cope with their partner’s midlife crisis. It is definitely an equal opportunity event.
Often the subject of humour, the midlife crisis can be a threat or opportunity. Many experience it as dissatisfaction with the world around them (their relationships, their jobs, their surroundings) and try to make themselves feel better by changing their “external” selves. In fact, the midlife crisis calls for “internal” changes to align ourselves more closely with our personal values.
Rather than searching for your own personal midlife crisis, I suggest looking at unresolved issues from your life. These may include:
· Memories and incidents from your childhood, adolescence and early adulthood that often spring to your mind uninvited, including relationships with your family and friends, mistakes made and uncorrected, paths not taken and challenges unmet.
·Physical and mental activities left undone, including maintaining a healthy mind in a healthy body, fascinating areas of study and practice you let fall by the wayside, and meaningful endeavours you left unexplored.
· Inner struggles and opportunities, including the development of a true spiritual path; revaluing your life to look at the paths not taken and, maybe, taking one of them; and finding your true calling, be it in business, the arts, volunteering, or maybe something you always wanted to do, but never gave yourself the chance.
·Or maybe, just plain unhappiness.
If any of the above issues often come to mind, you need to think first, then act.
You may not be the one to identify your midlife crisis. It may be a partner or family member, a close personal friend, or a concerned colleague at work. Wherever the realization comes from, you need to consider the possibility carefully and see if its attributes apply to you.
If you decide you are experiencing a midlife crisis, try to make friends with it. After all, it is a part of you and a potential growth experience. Learn what key lessons it has for you. Is it your childhood, your career, or your current relationship?
Given time and careful consideration, you will discover the stones you left unturned, the ones to which you can now return, turn back over, and explore.
Although the common term for this phase of life is “midlife crisis,” I prefer “midlife opportunity.” After all, how often do you get to go back over your life and redo your mistakes?
Paul McIsaac is a registered counsellor/psychotherapist in Powell River.