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What is a midlife crisis?
10 Jul 2023

What is a midlife crisis?


What is a midlife crisis?  The concept of the midlife crisis emerged in the field of psychology and gained popular recognition during the 20th century. Here’s an overview of its history, development, current application, and potential hidden impact:

Early psychological theories can trace the idea of a midlife crisis back to the work of psychologist Carl Jung in the early 20th century. He described a phase in midlife where individuals experience a psychological shift and a desire for self-reflection and personal growth.

The concept of and term ‘midlife crisis’ gained widespread attention in the 1960s and 1970s. This was partly due to cultural and social changes during that period, including the baby boomer generation reaching midlife and questioning societal norms.

Nowadays the term “midlife crisis” typically refers to a period of self-assessment and re-evaluation that occurs around middle age, usually between the ages of 40 and 60, though some research suggests it is relevant from the age of 35 but the exact age range and the existence of a universal crisis are subjects of debate.

Psychologically and emotionally, the midlife crisis is often associated with feelings of dissatisfaction, restlessness, and a desire for change. It may involve questioning life choices, reassessing goals and values, and seeking new sources of meaning and fulfilment.

Some individuals experiencing a midlife crisis may engage in impulsive or reckless behaviour, such as making drastic career changes, pursuing new hobbies or interests, or seeking new relationships. However, not everyone goes through a crisis, and reactions can vary widely.

A potential hidden impact of the notion of a ‘midlife crisis’ is that it can reinforce societal expectations and stereotypes about ageing and middle age. It may create unnecessary anxiety and pressure for individuals who don’t conform to the stereotypical narrative. It can also reduce empathy from others who label the changes you are making as being the result of a midlife crisis without fully appreciating the angst and extent of the suffering driving these changes.

The focus on a midlife crisis as a reason for new or expected behaviour can lead to a neglect of underlying issues in people’s lives as they distract themselves away from underlying psychological, emotional, or relational issues that may need attention. It’s important to address these issues holistically rather than attributing them solely to a midlife crisis. Cultural and gender differences, societal expectations and individual circumstances can impact the experience and expression of midlife crises across cultures and genders and shape how people perceive and navigate this phase.

While often the midlife crisis is often portrayed negatively, it can also be a time of personal growth, self-reflection, and newfound purpose. Some individuals experience a sense of liberation and make positive life changes during this period.

Not everyone goes through a midlife crisis in the same way as each individual’s experience is unique, influenced by personal circumstances, cultural factors, and life history. Understanding the potential hidden impacts and promoting a more comprehensive view of midlife can contribute to a more accurate and compassionate understanding of this stage of life.

If you would like help with your midlife transition or to find direction in the second half of life, why not read The Midlife Crisis Handbook or join other people going through a similar experience on one of our courses where a supportive and welcoming learning environment is provided.