Excuse me, are you lost?
You've been shaken by life you say? Your roadmap doesn’t seem to work anymore?
Congratulations. You are having a “midlife crisis.” They can be big or small, can happen at any age, once in a lifetime or many times (or, for the unfortunate, never at all).
Perhaps your existential crisis was triggered by an event—a bereavement, illness, accident, divorce, redundancy, financial ruin or other trauma. Or perhaps it was just life that happened to you. You set out on your grown-up journey in reasonably good cheer, full of hopes and dreams. But sooner or later all that potential and possibility got mugged by reality. And one day you found yourself trapped in an unsatisfying job, marriage or town, struggling to pay the bills, stressed, sandwiched between looking after your kids and looking after your parents. You are miserable. You are at the bottom of the U-bend of happiness. “And you may ask yourself,” as the Talking Heads song goes, “how did I get here?” And you want to be someplace else. So you go, often leaving a trail of destruction in your wake.
Dr Oliver Robinson and colleagues at the University of Greenwich recently presented their research into the midlife crisis, defined as feeling emotionally unstable, making major changes and overwhelmed for at least a year. They interviewed more than 900 adults and found that among people aged 40 to 59, 24 percent were "definitely" having some kind of crisis while 36 percent "maybe" were.
One feature of crises that Dr Robinson identified was an increased curiosity, reflected in a greater interest in people, in one's own self, ideas in general, and the world around.
Dr Robinson says: “While crisis episodes bring distress and feelings of uncertainty, they also bring openness to new ideas and stimuli that can bring insight and creative solutions, which can move our development forward. This enhanced curiosity may be the ‘silver lining’ of crisis. Armed with this knowledge people may find the crises of adult life easier to bear.”
But a midlife crisis isn't an unfortunate affliction, an accumulation of dark clouds that come with the silver lining of enhanced curiosity while you wait for those clouds to pass. It is instead a journey beyond the clouds, from darkness to light. It is growth. It is something that is often unavoidable.
With the help of therapy, you can transform all the breakdowns into breakthroughs and experience some kind of metanoia; a renaissance.
A midlife crisis is painful. It is a clumsy grasp for a better life. In the darkness you might stub your toe and gash your shins; things can get spilled or knocked over. It can get really messy. People can get hurt. It can involve sports cars, motorbikes, tattoos and unlikely couplings, but does not have to be so dramatic or clichéd.
The worst of times can turn into the best of times. Your physiological decline is outweighed by your psychological advance. The death of ambition is outweighed by the birth of acceptance. Instead of trying to live up to other people’s standards or expectations, you fully accept who you are. What Jungian James Hollis calls your “provisional personality” fades away, along with all the delusions of grandeur and internalised “rules” about how you, others and life “should” be.
You start to play your own game—and play it with confidence and purpose and verve.
Your relationships improve. You learn to love—and try to make it up to the people you hurt.
You start to love life.
(This post first appeared on worldoftherapy.com)