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Midlife Crisis: What is a midlife crisis?

Article about the phenomenon of the midlife crisis.

Midlife Crisis

We all have heard the stereotype about a middle-aged man waking up one day and decides to grow his hair, buy a red sports car, quit his job and reinvent himself. This phenomenon we have come to know as the midlife crisis. Movies like City Slickers and The Weather Man is based on this notion. However, the question is, does it really exist? Herewith are some answers to the questions that you might have:

-What is a Midlife Crisis?

Briefly defined, a midlife crisis is when a person in their middle ages start experiencing a sense personal turmoil and has sudden changes in personal goals and lifestyle. In other words, it is when a person in their 40s to 60s experiencing strong feelings of being unsatisfied, confused and uncertain about their current life situation and starts making out of character changes in their lifestyle and aspirations.

-What are the common tell-tale signs of a midlife crisis?

Some of the common signs of a midlife crisis are:
  • A loss of self-confidence
  • Feeling of anxiety
  • Disappointment with your current life trajectory
  • Longing to feel youthful
  • Feeling of discontent with your relationships, finances or work
  • A sense to make things right from your past
  • Urges to buy things which
Deni Kirkova from Daily Mail  provides some interesting signs in the modern era:
  • Getting a tattoo
  • Sudden participation in extreme sports like marathon running
  • Increase in social media activity
  • Starting your own business
  • Buying a 4 x 4

A key aspect it the persistence of these signs and symptoms over several weeks or months. As human beings, we all get days that we feel anxious, confused and dissatisfied, but if it persists for a few months it is important to take note of this signs and symptoms.

-Do women also go through this phase?

Studies have shown that it is as prevalent in women as in men. Although the lifestyle changes might be different the general feeling of discontent or confusion is as prevalent in women during the middle ages.

-What causes a midlife crisis?

As human beings from an early age, we start constructing a narrative (or story) about our self. A crucial component of this narrative is its coherence. In other words, does a person have a sense of how their past, present and future are connected?

Viewed in this context a midlife crisis can be due to a person in their middle ages struggling with their coherence of their narrative. They might ask themselves, are the goals that I set for myself when I was younger still relevant in my midlife? Or even, are the things that I thought that will make me happy really making me happy? I believe that it is this confusion that a midlife crisis can occur. The person experiencing this confusion might then start making choices and changes to either reevaluate their future self or get closer to their future self.

Research also suggests that many people believe they are going through a midlife crisis are actually just experiencing stressful life events, related to this developmental phase. This can be brought about by the realisation of ageing, physical decline, or entrapment in unwelcome, restrictive roles. Lachman also suggests that it is during the middle years that a person fulfils many different roles, which can increase the number of stressful events during this time of life.

-How long does the phase actually last?

It really depends from person to person. No time limit can be put on this phenomenon and as described in the next question having a midlife crisis can also be seen as a positive experience if it leads to constructive results.

-What can the impacts be of a midlife crisis?

The impact of a midlife crisis can be positive or negative. A midlife crisis can negatively impact a person if some of the decisions they make can have lasting effects. For example, buying a new car which increases unnecessary debt.  It can also put a significant strain on the person’s relationships.

A midlife crisis can also have a positive impact on a person. From this sense of confusion and dissatisfaction, clarity can emerge. Furthermore, by evaluating your current situation, a person can make decisions to increase the quality of life.

Does a midlife crisis really exist?

Ultimately a midlife crisis is very closely linked with a person’s sense of happiness. A societal assumption that is connected to the notion of a midlife crisis is that we are happier in our childhood. For instance, Sigmund Freud believed that the middle ages are a time in which a person contemplates death which inherently causes a person anxiety. However, A recent study published by Galambos and colleagues challenges this assumption. In their research, they set out to figure out if we are really unhappier during our 40s in comparison to our early twenties. Interestingly the research highlighted, that contrary to previous assumptions their the participants in their study were happier in their 30s and 40s, compared to their 20s.  For this reason, research suggests that what we deem as a midlife crisis is a person’s normal reaction to life stressors that occur during this time period in their life.

If you feel that currently your midlife crisis or the stressors your are facing is having a negative impact on your daily functioning, make sure that you contact a therapist. This will provide you with a safe non-judgemental space to assist you during this phase of reconstruction.

Hannes Wessels
Hannes WesselsEducational Psychologist
Hannes Wessels is an educational psychologist based in Parkhurst and in Centurion. He has a special interest in cognitive behavioural therapy, career counselling and anxiety treatment. The psychological uses and impact of social media on people is also a field that intrigues him greatly. Therefore, he does various workshops related to social media use for parents, schools and health professionals.

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