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.
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.
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’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
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.
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
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 —
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
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.
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
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?