Monday, July 25, 2011

Midlife Crisis: Transition or Depression?

Midlife is often a time of contradictions. On the one hand, many psychologists have defined midlife, like adolescence, as a time of 'Sturm und Drang'. While others believe individuals in midlife have fewer psychological symptoms, higher levels of marital satisfaction, and in general better life satisfaction. The term 'Midlife Crisis' was first identified by the psychologist Carl Jung and is considered by many professionals to be a normal part of emotional maturing. Individuals who experience a midlife crisis are commonly in their late 30's or 40's. Some of the feelings experienced during a midlife crisis include:

-Discontent with life and /or the lifestyle that may have provided happiness
for many years.
-Boredom with things/people that have hitherto held great interest and
dominated your life.
-Feeling adventurous and wanting to do something completely different.
-Questioning the meaning of life, and the validity of decisions clearly
and easily made years before.
-Confusion about who you are, or where your life is going.

Some studies suggest the issues underlying a midlife crisis are different for men and women. For example, it is thought that men experience midlife depression resulting from anxiety related to their mortality. Men become overly concerned about their health and have exacerbated fears surrounding death and dying. For women,it has been hypothesized that their midlife depression stems from feelings of anxiety related to a sense of emptiness(especially for those whom have spent the majority of their 30's and 40's raising children), mourning their fading physical beauty, physical and emotional effects of menopause, and coping with their changing roles as a mother and wife. Regardless of the assumptions underlying the manifestations of midlife depression, and the differences between men and women, midlife transitions and the emotions that go along with them can be scary for many. Both men and women may experience urges and desires that are uncharacteristic of them and therefore some people are at risk for engaging in risky behaviors that can cause damaging consequences, such as divorcing their spouse of many years, engaging in an affair, or going into debt while pursuing an irrational goal.

It is important to realize that a midlife crisis does not have to result in destructive behaviors and ruined relationships, it can also be seen as a time of transformation and a chance to improve one's life. Desires and feelings that manifest during a midlife crisis can be the result of one suppressing their personal growth and true potential. Denying these feelings and desires for change in one's life is what exacerbates the crisis and applying old solutions to present problems does not allow space for one to grow and create new life philosophies and/or life styles, the very thing a life transformation is all about. However, when a crisis results in significant depression, loss of normal function, and/or destructive behaviors one should consider seeking help from a professional. Talking with a professional can help one move from a midlife crisis to a midlife transformation.

This article was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. I am a practicing licensed psychologist in Bryn Mawr, Pa. For questions or comments regarding this article please email me at drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com. You may also contact me at my office:
484-431-8710 and please visit my web site at www.drpauladurlofsky.com.