Before 1965, the ‘midlife crisis’ didn’t exist...at least officially. Then Elliott Jaques studied a number of artists, writers and musicians and concluded that over the age of 40, these individuals underwent a period of more introspection, searching for greater meaning. According to Jaques, this was as a result of an increasing awareness of their own mortality.
So why can this stage of our lives be so stressful and anxiety-inducing? There are many points in our lives where we go through difficult changes, but it seems that at the mid-point in our lives, there can be a number of factors at work at the same time. Perhaps we have been in a particular career for a long time and you have increasingly felt trapped, or on the wrong path. Maybe in our personal lives, we are questioning how our relationships with others have panned out. We may feel a lack of fulfilment, or have a sense that what we've always done or how we are used to living our lives doesn’t have the same meaning it used to. Physical illness or symptoms can aggravate that sense of helplessness and leave us feeling out of control and less able to cope with lifes ups and downs.
The current ‘sandwich generation’ as they have been called are faced with pressures from a number of angles. Women are having children later in life and pursuing careers, whilst grown-up children are living at home for longer. Carers UK (www.carersuk.org) estimates around a fifth of 45 to 60 year olds are also providing substantial support for their parents whilst looking after their own children.
Often, we can overcome these hurdles as we have done with other challenges throughout our lives – but sometimes we can feel completely overwhelmed, wondering how our lives reached this point. As with pretty much any problem, reaching out to others can help reduce that anxiety. The old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ has a lot of truth in it. Confiding in someone doesn’t necessarily eliminate the problem but is does make it seem more manageable.
Watersheds in our lives can be terrifying and isolating. The process of realising that we are stuck and have been for some time can be an extremely painful one, yet, I believe, a valuable one. I have also seen how good can come from it. To reassess what is important to us, to look again at what fulfils us and what means most to us can be reenergising helping us on the way to feeling ‘ourselves’ again.
Jaques, Elliott. 1965. Death and the mid-life crisis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 46, 502-514.