Does the ‘Midlife Crisis’ Start at 35 Now?
NOBODY COULD HAVE PREDICTED THE SOCIAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT LIVING IN THE 21ST CENTURY WOULD HAVE. THE IMMENSE PUBLIC PRESSURE AND SCRUTINY CAN BE MENTALLY CRIPPLING, SAYS PSYCHOLOGIST MARTYN STEWART AS HE GIVES QH AN INSIGHT ON TODAY’S MIDLIFE CRISIS.
We find ourselves constantly questioning ourselves and manipulating transitional truths to suit us. Milestone birthdays arrive and 30 is the new 20; 40 is the new 30 and so on. Normally, these are tongue in cheek comments made in jest, however, they also conveniently avoid public consideration that the mythical ‘midlife crisis’ might not just happen to ‘old’ people.
Allegedly occurring around the age of 45 and lasting anywhere from 3-10 years, stereotypical images come to mind. The silver-haired gentleman, purchasing the sports car his 21-year old son craves or perhaps the ageing female frequenting the local nightclub; surrounded by judgemental looks from party-goers half her age. But what’s the reality?
At some point in our adult lives, most of us ponder if we’re in the right career, whether we’ve achieved enough or if our important relationships have developed the way we believe they should. Critics debate whether a ‘mid-life’ crisis truly exists. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that incessant self-evaluation is something a large proportion of people can relate to. Even more so as we inhabit an information age where self-doubt is now intrusively accompanied by the excessive status updates from high school ‘friends’ who ignore you in public yet ‘like’ innocuous comments you make.
You barely know the people whose personal successes you browse on your news feed, but they are still powerful enough to make you ask: ‘When did I stop chasing my dreams and become an irrelevant part of the system?’ The constant comparison of who, what, where, when and how you live your life, (even if it’s unintentional), can make even the most level- headed individuals feel inadequate. If 40 is indeed the new 30, then perhaps at 35 some people are in the midst of a premature midlife crisis. The digital age moves so rapidly and the mid-life crisis may be no exception, it might just sneak up on you.
So what is a mid-life crisis?
The period is characterised by a longing to feel youthful again or one of deep regret/discontent relating to your economic, working or social status. Traditionally, it can be triggered by all manners of things, such as parental bereavement, children growing up/leaving home or a lack of career progression amongst others. We begin to understand our own mortality; perhaps consciously recognising people from our lives passing away or acquiring serious illnesses – something we may have been somewhat oblivious to in our youth. Could this discontent now be triggered by excessive exposure to the perceived lives of others?
A main ‘mid-life crisis’ characteristic is the feeling that there is a significant negative event about to hit you. After this, your life will never recover and you’ll be in permanent decline. As a result, you may trigger a plethora of dysfunctional behaviours to repel its arrival, such as substance abuse; unnecessary and extravagant spending; entering personal or social relationships with significantly younger people; or excessive, and potentially damaging, pressure on your children to excel in areas such as academia, sport or the arts.
Of course, not everybody experiences a mid-life crisis. As psychologist David Almeida suggests, we mustn’t confuse the accumulation of a series of stressors with a mid-life crisis. We may just be momentarily overloaded. Nevertheless, with the opening age of social networking sites being approximately 13, self- analysis in this stressfully public manner has become a fixture for some young adults.
Lachman (2004) notes that personality type and a history of psychological crises can predispose some people to it. There’s a compelling argument that maybe we aren’t equipped for our current state of information overload. As a result, we’ve become less psychologically ‘hardy’ and a further by-product is the detrimental effect on our relationships, families and careers.
In these rapidly changing times, it’s sometimes hard to keep up as cultures become increasingly homogenous due to the influence of the internet. We question our place and role within this new world more vociferously in comparison to our peers in a way never seen before. If we have become less mentally robust, isn’t it possible that the psychological characteristics known as the mid-life crisis may be happening earlier – and perhaps lasting even longer?
If this is correct, the major question persists. How are you going to effectively deal with it, if you aren’t even aware it’s happening?
About Martyn Stewart: A recognised chartered psychologist with the British Psychological Society. He has over 15 successful years assisting individuals worldwide via his mentoring, teaching and consultancy. He is also a published author and international motivational speaker.
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