The phrase midlife crisis was first used in 1965 in an article written by the psychologist Elliot Jacques for the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. He was referring to the time in life when adults began to come to terms with their mortality and that they had, in all likelihood, less time left to live than they’d already lived.
A midlife crisis is often characterised by some of the following fears:
- a sense of boredom, restlessness or unhappiness in life
- a fear of not having achieved goals we’d set ourselves
- a longing to regain a lost youth
- resentment of those who seem more successful
- unhappiness in a marriage, work, health, finances
- becoming addicted to alcohol, caffeine, tobacco
- greatly increased or decreased sexual desire
- questioning the meaning of life
- questioning decisions made earlier in life
There is no doubt that we face a time of transition at midlife, change is part of life, that’s a given. I believe a ‘crisis’ comes about when we give meaning, negative meaning, to the transitions we’re facing.
For example we are frustrated with where we are in our career, either exhausted and burned out or not having reached where we would like to have been or felt we should have been by this age.
Our relationship or lack of relationship is bringing us down (so we believe) – who is this man sitting opposite me? Will I ever find a partner now I’m 40/50/60?
Our empty nest is loaded with meaning – what is our role now? Who are we now we’re not ‘mum’ on a daily basis?
Our parents are ageing or dying – what does this mean for us?
Oh lord and those wrinkles and weight gain…
I want to challenge all of these ‘reasons’ for a midlife crisis. I believe that we’ll experience some or all of these just by being alive, by being human, by living our life. They are part of the growing older experience of life. We add meaning to them, turn them into a ‘crisis’ only because of our thoughts about them.
By themselves they have no power to create a crisis, they are simply events happening in our life. We have the ability to create heaven or hell for ourselves every day.
How could we look at this differently? How about instead of viewing this as a midlife crisis we see it instead as an awakening and a time of rediscovery? How differently would we view life then?
A crisis seems to me to imply a falling apart, a time when everything changes and we lose control. Perhaps we can see it as a time to wake up to our life. Use it as the impetus to make the changes we’ve feared making.
Change is one of the few guarantees in life. Yet, we fight it don’t we? I gave up long ago trying to swim against the tide, it’s just too exhausting and frustrating because I got nowhere.
I’ve also come to understand and appreciate more and more that I create my own reality and experience of life. I see that nothing outside of me has the power to determine how I experience life…only my thoughts about it. And those thoughts I can choose to believe or not.
My yoga teacher began our class recently with this wisdom:
”If someone or something can make you happy or unhappy, it means that what happens within you is determined by an aspect outside of you. This is the worst form of slavery.
Instead, the goal is to create an inner chemistry of blissfulness where being joyful is not being subject to something outside of you.
When it comes to outside situations, some happen our way, some don’t……….it’s only a question of how we think about it.
The outside does not decide the nature of our experience. All human experience happens from within’’
I know this to be true. Can you see the wisdom and truth in this?