Despite what some recent articles would have you believe, and excuse me shouting here… MIDLIFE DOES NOT EQUAL A MIDLIFE CRISIS!!!!!!
I always find it interesting that the midlife crisis stereotype remains so common. I guess it makes for a good story. In reality, the good news is that midlife crises are really not as common as you might think. For example: in a study that found 23% of participants experienced a "midlife crisis," when they dug deeper, they found that only one-third of those (8% of the total) said the crisis was associated with realizations about aging. 15% of people surveyed experienced major life experiences or transitions (e.g. divorce, job loss) and described them as being a 'midlife crisis' (Sliwinski, Almeida, Stawski, & Smyth, 2009)
From a psychology perspective, there’s always been interest in the different life stages, the concept of the midlife crisis is fairly new. It originated back in 1957 when Elliott Jacques first spoke about it, and became more widely known when he wrote about it in Death and The Midlife Crisis (Jacques, 1965). Since then who hasn’t heard about the midlife crisis? Who hasn't hit 40 and wondered when their midlife crisis is going to hit? The midlife crisis is discussed in the media, in general conversation, and the punchline of many jokes. In fact, over the last few months it seems to be EVERYWHERE!
So, I need you to bear with me whilst I talk research for a minute.
First things first - what is a crisis?
"A crisis episode is a period in a person’s life that typically lasts a year or more, during which major transitions and stressors challenge and occasionally surpass their capacity to cope effectively, leading to an atypical level of emotional instability and negativity" (Robinson & Stell, 2015)
The happiness curve… the psychological low of midlife
Blanchflower and Oswald discovered a ‘happiness curve’ that occurs in midlife (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2008). They found that in midlife happiness dipped and then started to rise again. They described this as a ‘psychological low’ (Blanchflower, D. G, Oswald, 2017; Blanchflower & Oswald, 2017) (do you see where I’m going with this? Also ‘midlife low’ NOT a midlife crisis). The midlife low has been disputed by many psychological researchers focusing on midlife as it was deemed to need more research. Over the years Blanchflower and Oswald have continued their economic research and somehow, over the years – the midlife low seems to have morphed into a midlife crisis!
Midlife is a time of looking backwards and forwards...
Midlife is what Carl Jung described as ‘the afternoon of life’. It’s a time of bloody big transitions!What have I done so far? What have I achieved? What am I doing now? What am I doing next, WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF MY LIFE???
According to some researchers, a midlife crisis may occur any time after the
age of 35, but typically happens between the ages of 45–64. What we know is that a midlife crisis can be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over:
· work /career
· spousal relationships (including divorce/separation)
· children growing up and leaving home (empty nest)
· not having had children
· the aging or death of parents
· physical changes associated with aging
It’s quite possible that any of these major life events could cause a crisis. However, they could also happen at any age or stage of life which means that they aren’t specific to midlife (Young, 2018).
It’s not that I don’t believe in people experiencing midlife crises, I do. I absolutely believe that anyone can have a crisis at any time and that they need help, love and support to get through it.
I just want us to stop using the phrase as a catch-all. When we constantly talk about everything as being a crisis, it negates and undermines individual experiences of crises.
Midlife ≠ midlife crisis!
Listen in to Deb, Alicya and I talk about the midlife crisis on the Taming Crazy Podcast.