What is a Mid-Life Crisis?

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

By: Logan Cohen, Professional Therapist & Online Life Coach

The idea of someone experiencing a “mid-life crisis” arose as a phrase in the mid-1960s by a Canadian psychoanalyst named Elliot Jacques, who also coined noteworthy terms such as “corporate culture” and “fair pay”. In case you are wondering “what is a mid-life crisis” to the degree that you wonder if this is the right article for you, here are some common features of ‘mid-life crisis’ as understood in the research:

- eager to correct perceived errors from One’s past

- eagerness (as perceived or expressed directly) to feel or be perceived as younger

- a elevated interest in sexuality (or absence thereof)

- intense sense of guilt, even out of proportion, around perceived failures of the past

-marked increase or decrease in religious or spiritual interests

- insecurity about One’s own professional position relative to more accomplished colleagues

- desire to spend time with peers who have been perceived to have achieved success OR, are the opposite and “take off the pressure”

- an ongoing lack of interest, boredom, even resentment and/or anger built up towards work, close relationships, or financial/social status

It is common that People who are going through some, or even all these features of mid-life crisis develop symptoms associated with Depression and/or Anxiety – whether this takes the form of ruminating thoughts, sleep disturbance, increased fatigue or lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, etc. Not only is the experience of one or more of the above symptoms common when we are wondering ‘what is a mid-life crisis’, but they are to be expected. These symptoms are to be expected because they are either part of your mind and body SCREAMING at you that something HAS to change!

We want to help you figure out what something is for you, then help you put this into action in your own Life so that you can continue on with your Life as you see fit. So first, lets take a look at why the question ‘what is a mid-life crisis’ is so common these days.

The phrase ‘mid-life crisis’ has become commonly used in the English language to describe a period of Life – usually between 45 and 60 years old – where People are faced with the reality of their own mortality combined with the perception that they have not yet achieved enough.

When it comes to how us Boys are raised to be Men – whether we are in the country or the concrete jungle – whether we are rich or poor – black or white - achievement is frequently seen as a measuring stick for our Masculinity in American Culture. We are taught as Men in many different ways that we have “made it” when we have achieved a level of mastery in our environment that allows us to secure resources for our Loved Ones indefinitely.

While this is the proverbial “Shangri-La” for what we are taught it means to “be a Man” in American Culture, there are many other areas of Life that might be an area of focus and as a male professional therapist who has specialized in providing counseling and therapy services with Men & Boys for over 10 years, I have seen more than my “fair share” of clients presenting with a self-described “mid-life crisis”.

So, I’ve got some good news and some bad news…which one would you like first? Oh yes…this is a blog article and not a conversation. I’ll go ahead and rip off the ole Band-Aid with the bad news first…

As much as this mid-life crisis sucks right now, it has to get more uncomfortable before it can get resolved in a way that creates some of that much longed for closure. You know that feeling that you are looking for something out there that just keeps ELUDING you?? That is because you can’t actually meet this need that you have unless something CHANGES/EVOLVES/GROWS.

As desperate as you feel to “scratch that itch” right now, don’t you think you would have already put this in motion if it were that easy? At the end of the day, growth inherently involves change and doing something different, which is anxiety provoking – even physically uncomfortable. Remember how much our knees hurt going though those growth spurts as teenagers? Heck, even plants only focus their upward growth in one specific season of the calendar year…. So, this will not be easy if you want this to be done right -

Are you ready for that GOOD news? This area of growth that needs to happen in our Life - the one that is currently creating this whole stir in our Lives that has us asking ‘What is a mid-life crisis’ to begin with – will make us HAPPIER when it finally does take place in the end.

And just in case you are wondering whether that recent “object of your eye” will satisfy this longingness – whether it is the work promotion, the 20 something woman at the office who makes you feel young again, or the new fast car, just know that this usually doesn’t actually SATISFY the underlying need. When an unmet personal need has reached such a level of “back-log”, some “pleasure of the flesh” or a consumer good is never a long-term sustainable answer in the end - no matter HOW sexy or shiny.

There is only one way to get long-term closure for this unmet personal need and that way is to satisfy it the RIGHT way. This involves first figuring out what it is, then how to insert it sustainably into our personal Lives with trusted Loved Ones to further meet our personal integrity in the long run.

Our ability to do the above – and otherwise create Balance in our Life - will decide whether these personal needs continue to go unmet - keeping us off Balance and pulling us further away from our goals – or, if we will learn from these experiences and implement some fundamental changes in our Life in a way that allows us to meet those personal needs the way Human Beings are designed to do so.

What is a Mid-Life Crisis? 4 Most Common Throw off Balance

#1 Most Common Answer to 'What is a Mid-Life Crisis' - Romantic Relationship

This is a common area of Life that can throw us off. As Children, the most important People in our Lives were in our nuclear family. Once we grow up and become adults, American Culture tells us that we must leave Home and seek a primary sexual partner to make our mate, then create a nuclear Family of our own to make the primary priority.

Since our romantic relationship provides the foundation for this nuclear family we are to create and prioritize in our adult Lives, this relationship is IMPORTANT. When our romantic relationship meets our most important personal needs that make up our integrity, we blossom in our romantic relationships. When our romantic does not meet our most important personal needs that we know as our integrity, they become areas of imbalance in our Lives, eventually creating resentment, distrust, even dissolution.

#2 Most Common Answer to 'What is a Mid-Life Crisis' - Professional Life

Americans are working more these days than ever and as the retirement age continues to rise, it doesn’t look like this is changing anytime soon. Since we must work to make a living to some degree and we are now spending so many more hours of our Lives in spaces of the professional workplace, we must have a sufficient work-Life Balance if we expect to maintain reasonable Health and Happiness in our own Lives.

As mentioned earlier, us men are taught as boys that professional/financial achievement is a street paved of gold to the American Dream where we would be recognized as the “Man of the House”. Whether this is actually a literal scenario that we desire or not, the general ability to provide for One’s Family is one of the “load-bearing walls” of traditional manhood.

Given how intensely men are taught to relate to and prioritize our professional Lives, things get can get hairy – and especially when we identify more with what we do for a job than who we are as a Human Being.

When this aspect of our Life is no longer satisfy, destabilized, or outright FAILS? Men are known to get thrown off Balance by this at some point in their Lives, but when this happens in a part of our Lives that we desire greater meaning, belonging, and mark on the future, this can truly feel like we got the rug pulled out from under us.

#3 Most Common Answer to 'What is a Mid-Life Crisis' - Getting Older

Even though aging and our eventual death is a fact of Life, this is a common area of anxiety for many People. I ran into this theme regularly in my clinical training and learned early on in my professional practice at New Leaf Counseling Group to check in about a client’s personal thoughts about death and dying early on in the process. This is an area that tends to be framed around with “doom and gloom” in Judeo-Christian Cultures (American included), so it is frequently avoided outside of religious circles, making it taboo (of course excluding those weird and fun philosophers) and avoided in most general conversations. Given our Culture’s taboo and resulting general avoidance of open conversations around death and dying, this is not something we think much about until we get older – again outside of conceptual religious conversations.

Usually after an event that marks tangible proof of our personal aging – whether this is an acute injury, chronic disease, death of a peer, or even just wrinkles – this is when it gets REAL! We tend to think about death as something impersonal until it reaches out and touches us.

Once this happens – however it happens – it is common for People to experience a very present perception that they have limited time on this Earth and time is of essence! When this occurs, there is a very REAL experience of resource scarcity regarding the time we have left in our Life relative to the time we have Lives and this creates ANXIETY – or a perception that we are under a perceived threat.

I use the word “anxiety” because our death will occur as it will occur. We can do the best we can to optimize our chances with good personal health and safe/responsible decision-making, but the inherent chaos in the cosmos catches all of us at some point, and we start to die. Sometimes as a professional therapist I chuckle inside –appreciating how true this is on so many levels, while not wanting to amplify the acute anxiety of a client any more than will be helpful. There is only so much Life to Live, so why don’t we get busy Living the Life we are blessed with in the present? Of course, this is usually much easier said than done.

#4 Most Common Answer to 'What is a Mid-Life Crisis' - Kids Grow Up

Kids are a beautiful thing. They are usually most beautiful to their Parents because they can be an absolute headache and their perceived beauty keeps their Parents from killing them when the Kids are testing their Parents patience over – and over – and over…