Friday, May 1, 2015

Middle Adulthood and the Midlife Crisis: What is it all about?

I recently had the privilege of guest lecturing about "Mid-life" for a college human development course.  While prepping for the presentation, I came across some great stuff that I had never really considered personally.  When I studied this age the first time around, I was myself a young adult.  The first job I had in psychology was working in a cognitive-aging lab in college.  We were looking at the neuroscience of what happens as adults age.  Mid-life seemed very distant and psychological events like the Midlife Crisis were a little funny.

Now they aren't so funny.  

I am not laughing about my greying hair, or wrinkles, or extra pounds that used to be easy to drop and now seem to be sticking around no matter how hard I try to shed them.  Watching as friends divorce and loved ones struggle, I find this age all too real.   As someone who is entering this stage in life it both fascinates and scares me. 

Mild-life, or Middle adulthood (generally 40-65) is a time of great stress and is a low-point statistically for life satisfaction.  In the United States, happiness levels are lowest at age 40 for women and 50 for men, and research shows that people in most countries have a dip in happiness around this age.    

Why is this the case? 

Middle adulthood often brings with it changes in the form of having kids entering puberty and having older kids leaving the home, caring for aging parents, becoming grandparents, sometimes balancing the needs of caring for your parents with caring for your teens or grandchildren, retirement for those who are lucky to do it early.

Midlife is a time when Erik Erickson theorized individuals experience the negotiation of the crisis of Generativity vs. Stagnation.  The negotiation of self and others, sacrifice, and commitment to a younger generation are all part of generativity.  Generativity is concern for the next generation, but it is not just concern with one’s own children.  Developing through this stage concerns the pull between self and others.  

The midlife crisis erupts when people feel a loss of self 
and dissatisfaction with their actual lives. 

The Midlife Crisis is experienced by individuals whose expectations do not meet with their reality. If you are where you thought you would be, and doing what you thought you would be doing at this age, you will generally not experience much of a ‘crisis’.   

So how can we best prepare for and transition though this phase of life?

By practicing a life of service & looking at your life as self-giving, while re-connecting (or staying connected) with some key things in life that bring you joy, you will best prepare for this time in life. 

I had the joy of attending a country music concert recently. It was totally spontaneous and incredible fun.  I had just started listening to country music again after having to buy a mini-van.  The mini-van did not fit with my view of self, but reconnecting with something from my college years (country music), made it much easier.  I was never a huge country music fan, but my brother and I used to listen to it when we were hanging out or working on our house the years before I got married.  Listening to it makes me feel happy, and young, and carefree - like I was in my 20's.  My husband is not a country music fan.  Because there is so much that my husband and I do have in common, it was easy to let go of that minor thing we didn’t both love.

Reconnecting with that music, something that I enjoy personally and individually, gave me such a feeling of comfort.  I didn’t have to go out and get a tattoo, or a flashy car, or have an affair to express my independence.  I just needed to set my FM on 107.9. 

It also helps to give yourself a break.  Taking a little trip alone, or with friends, can be a great way to experience life for a short burst when you can be you – separate from you as Mom or Dad, or Husband or Wife.  You can eat when you want to and do what you wish, knowing that you get to return to your real life at the end of the weekend refreshed and ready to give.  

The loss of a sense of self, rather than an expanded sense of self, characterizes stagnation.  Stagnation is the antithesis of generativity, and is at the heart of many midlife crisis. So expand yourself during this time. Give yourself permission to reconnect with the things you love and share those things and experiences with loved ones.  If you used to love sushi and your husband hates fish, take one of your kids out for a mamma-date-night to experience it with you.  If you love fishing and your spouse hates it, take one or two of your kids, or your parents, and do a weekend away with them at the lake. 

As you personally experience or approach this phase of your life, realize it is a time to expand your sense of self
 – your ability to give, love, and care for others.   

Recognize your gift of being able to teach the younger generation (by example) how to be self-giving.  Then God willing, as you enter Older-Adulthood and retirement you will find that smile on your face and peace in your heart!  

Let's embrace this time we have been given! Thanks for stopping by to think with me!

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