Midlife Crisisby Dr Emma Gray - 21st January, 2013
Towards the middle of our lives we experience a flood of awareness. This can be triggered by any number of events including health problems, divorce, death or children leaving home. At this point in our lives we realise that we have lived at least half of our life, we start to review what we have achieved and consider what is left. We have to come to terms with our limitations and unfulfilled dreams and the ease with which we negotiate this rite of passage depends upon a number of factors.
The society that we live in is highly influential in this process. In the west where the focus is on the individual; self-reliance and independence is extremely important so youth is valued and held on to by any means, fast cars, younger clothes, extra marital affairs, cosmetic surgery. This makes the transition at mid life much harder than in cultures where the focus lies on the group facilitating a respect and reverence of the knowledge and wisdom that comes with age.
The other factor which determines how we experience this transition is how we tackle the psychosocial task of Generativity, a term coined by the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. Generativity is the process whereby we adopt the role of forming and guiding the next generation. The ability to accept that the hope and potential of a society no longer lies with us but with our children and to embrace the fact that our principle role is now to support them is determined by a number of key personality traits or beliefs including:
• a belief in our worth or value as an individual and a conviction that we are good enough (this is also a protective factor against depression).
• the ability to form meaningful, reciprocal and balanced relationships where our needs are met along with a belief that these relationship will endure (i.e. that we will not be abandoned or rejected by others).
• the ability to think about the future without overestimating the possibility of a catastrophe or assuming the worst case scenario is the most likely outcome (also a protective factor against anxiety).
• an assumption that you can cope with life and the various challenges it presents (also a protective factor against anxiety).
• an acceptance that life is uncertain and unpredictable and the consequence ability to deal with it flexibly without attempting to control or manipulate situations and people or by creating unnecessary rules in order to cope with difficult emotions and feel safe.
• the ability to set goals for yourself that are measurable and achievable and then the ability to recognise and enjoy the realisation of them.
The individual that is able to move through midlife without becoming emotionally destabilised is comfortable in their own skin, is able to balance their needs with others and can tolerate and respond appropriately to their emotions. This individual will not only be able to avert a mid life crisis but they are unlikely ever to suffer from depression, anxiety or any other mental health problem such are the protective qualities of the traits and beliefs outlined above.