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Aging Well

Is There Really Such a Thing as a Midlife Crisis?

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “midlife crisis”—it’s a phrase used to describe the period when someone’s behavior suddenly changes as they hit middle age, in response to the sudden longing for their youth. It may be characterized by bouts of dejection, splurging on expensive purchases, or other impulsive behaviors and activities to help them feel young again.

But can you really go through a midlife crisis, or is the concept just a myth or excuse that people use to justify making certain choices as they get older? Although experts are conflicted about using the term “midlife crisis”, it turns out that it really can signify a legitimate condition that many adults face as they age.

What Really Is a Midlife Crisis?

Many experts believe that a midlife crisis exists for both men and women in some form or another, although many would argue that the term “crisis” isn’t necessarily accurate. It’s believed that a midlife crisis is more of a normal transition period that usually occurs around the time of a major life event that emphasizes getting older, like your youngest child going off to university or a parent’s death.

One psychologist from Yale University suggested that the “midlife crisis” is just another stage of adult development with its own life structure. For example, your teenage years may be structured by school and the start of a new career. The midlife crisis stage is characterized by a period of reevaluation—your kids have now grown up, you’re established in your career, and you’re better able to focus on things that you may have missed out on when you were younger.

If that’s the case, why doesn’t everyone go through a midlife crisis? The reason is because the process of reevaluation can be pleasant for some people. They’re satisfied with how their life has turned out so far and have no real regrets. For other people, it can be harder to cope with the fact that you’re getting older, but haven’t achieved everything you wanted to. Some people develop a fear that they’re running out of time, and this is what can then result in the spontaneous behavior that we usually associate with a “midlife crisis.”

It’s important to note, however, that not all big purchases are the result of a looming midlife crisis. A lot of older adults have made their money and are now getting the chance to enjoy it, hence the fancy car or big screen TV—they can afford it, so why not?