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Midlife crisis

Midlife is the old age of youth and the youth of old age.

Are you between 40 and 60 years in age? If so, do any of the following sentiments sound familiar to you?

Where’s my life going? There’s still so much I haven’t done! Life is passing me by! I’m not as young as I used to be. I’m not going to be around forever. What’s the point?

These thoughts often plague us as we enter middle age. They are so common they’ve been given their own name: Midlife Crisis.

The term - midlife crisis - was first coined by the famous psychologist Carl Jung. He identified 5 main phases of midlife: accommodating or meeting others’ expectations, rejecting the accommodated self, a period of uncertainty where life seems directionless and meanders, reintegrating or working out ‘who I am’ and becoming comfortable with that identity, and facing up to and accepting the undesirable aspects of his (or her) own character.

When we pass the 40th year all of us will experience some form of emotional transition that might cause us to take stock in where we are in our lives and make some needed adjustments to the way we live your lives. Most seem to come through the process smoothly without making major life changes.

Uncomfortable time

For some, a midlife crisis is more complicated. It can be an uncomfortable time emotionally which can lead to depression and the need for psychotherapy. Those who have a hard time with this transitional stage might experience a range of feelings such as unhappiness with life, boredom with people, questioning the choices they have made in their lives and a desire for a new and passionate intimate relationship.

Although these feelings at mid-life can occur naturally, they also can be brought on by external factors.

One external factor can be accumulated debt. Another can be bereavement, such as the death of a parent - or other significant loss or change, such as job loss or divorce. These things can cause significant grief which can be difficult enough to come to terms with on their own. But if they are compounded by the natural process of ‘mid-life transition’ this can make the whole process of adjustment bewildering and overwhelming.

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If we do not accept the fact that there is an internal process of change that takes place during midlife, it will feel like a real ‘crisis’. And as we attempt to come to terms with it, we may find ourselves making irrational decisions that we regret at a later date – for example, leaving our jobs or spouses or throwing away the security that we have built up in the first part of your adult lives.

However, if you do understand the process of midlife transition, it can make it easier (though still not easy) to navigate your way through it.

It’s common at mid-life to have the feeling that you didn’t factor yourself into your own life. In fact, I got that phrase from a colleague who, at 47 years, had noticed that she hadn’t. You think your goals and plans were all about you, but at mid-life you often have the feeling that you were living someone else’s life, and following someone else’s goal because the ones you achieved, or didn’t, don’t seem to have the meaning you thought they would. Carl Jung termed it ‘accommodating others’ expectations’.

We are our feelings, and when we take a break and stop to feel our lives, we may find they’re missing. What you thought would bring you joy hasn’t. You may have had your “15 minutes of fame,” or you may not have had it. Those who have had it know it’s just 15 minutes, and that there’s a let-down afterwards. The bad news is the highs of life are fleeting. The good news is the lows of life are also fleeting. The real news is that feelings are only temporary, and that whether it’s great, or whether it’s awful, it will change.

So if you’ve been trudging along, waiting for the highs, or having the highs and wondering why the feeling doesn’t last, or having the highs and experiencing the let-down afterwards, it’s time to take stock at midlife, and also time to make restitution.

Emotional intelligence

It’s no secret that at midlife we often try just the opposite. It’s not called the “midlife crisis” for nothing. The meek accountant leaves his wife of 25 years, buys a BMW X1and takes off with a 25 year old lover. It’s not going to end well, but it’s not a time one can be reasoned with.

Or the “nice” housewife gets a new hairstyle, loses 25 kilos and gets a job outside the home for the first time in her life, abandoning her gardening, cooking and other hobbies, to the dismay of her husband who is now ready to get domestic, grow tomatoes, and enjoy the grandchildren, having explored the work world and all it has to offer — and doesn’t.

So how do you make this turn in your life? It’s a good time to develop your emotional intelligence. To start getting in tune with your body and what it’s telling you about how you’re feeling about things. Whatever this means to you, if you’ve discovered that even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat, why not be something else? The more you’ve ignored your feelings, and the longer you have, the more challenging it is to let it all back in. This is because it will involve pain.

For most of us there are big changes at mid-life. Children leave home and with them a portion of the financial burden (plus a lot of joy but a sense of a job well done), there’s a time vacuum, we may move ‘down’ in housing, have a change in finances, or retire, and there are about as many body changes as there are at puberty. Our health can also start requiring more attention.

Feelings

In a way you become a new “you”, and need to recreate your life. It’s time to get back in touch with your feelings, so you can sharpen your instincts, to guide you through the next stage. How else can you know what you want? It’s isn’t an intellectual thing, it requires emotional intelligence. We know what gives us the momentary pleasures, but what bring contentment, balance and a sense of well-being? What brings meaning to our lives? What’s our anchor when we feel at sea with all the changes?

The person with the most power in any situation is the person who is the most flexible, and flexibility is an emotional intelligence competency that can be developed. It can involve learning about the “other” side of your brain — left or right.

Typically we have one hemisphere dominant, and that’s where we’ve spent most of our time. Exploring the “other” side and strengthening the connection between the two brings balance and harmony.

Instead of thrashing around trying to figure out the details, why not work on your emotional intelligence so you’ll have a sure guide? Intellect is not useful in making this transition and emotions, if not understood and managed, can get in the way. Intellect dictates that “new and better” will bring happiness — whether it’s a new and better car, partner, house, job, or location.

Emotional intelligence guides us to something quite different, unique to each individual, more meaningful and more lasting.

Why not give it a try?

 

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