Mid-Life Crisis: Cliche perhaps, but a useful construct with some thought and definition

I realize that the term "Mid-life crisis" has become a cliche that's probably used far more on late night TV and Comedy Central than it ever was in psychology consulting rooms! However, I often find myself using it to refer to the midlife points at which we feel thrust into re-evaluating our priorities and goals.  These are the points at which I often meet people in my counseling practice.

Some folks actually come in saying, "I think I'm having a mid-life crisis" (And it's a good thing if the cliche has people be more open to talking).  More typically it's a current circumstance that has tipped the balance and thrust the individual into this stage of taking stock.  For example, perhaps it's the death of a parent or care-taking an elderly parent, a career disappointment or loss, a health problem, struggles with children or extended family, marital difficulties culminating from years of growing apart, breakdowns in communications at home with increasing tensions, infidelity or boundary struggles, a spouse's point of questioning, or a point of change such as the proverbial "empty nest," etc.).

For so many folks their early adult years seemed liked "executing a program," carrying out what was expected of us. For example, going to school, choosing a career, marrying, establishing a home, having a child, another child, and maybe more ... advancing in the career, adding to the home ... There was an autopilot quality about it in some ways: You probably didn't ask "Why?" any more than we ask people "Why are you having a child?" or "Why are you marrying?" (But if you are not having children, or choosing not to marry, then we seem to wonder why? -- which reveals those expectations.) You roll down the proverbial train tracks of life, quickly passing one station after another.

Then in midlife the train stations seem further apart. Sometimes it feels like the next station is far away -- "Save for retirement?" "Wish my life away?"  You may lose parents in this time frame, and start to wonder how many of your goals were really to please your parents, to do what was expected of you. At the same time you may be hitting a plateau in your career, and maybe feel you just don't care about another promotion the way you once did. It wouldn't have the meaning it did years ago, and you're growing tired of dedicating too much of your life to your work.

Call it "depression"? Not so quick! Yes, for some folks depression sets in and magnifies the underlying process.  But think of it more as a normal part of life. It's time to reconsider -- and sometimes consider for the first time -- what's important, what's meaningful, what you will or won't regret when time runs out. And at this point in life you are suddenly more aware that time will run out.

So it's a time of great potential, when you might start to live a life much more aware and conscious ... Maybe much more connected and meaningful with your partner and family. It can be a scary time, evoking a range of defenses, and lots of ways of trying to avoid or deflect.   But there's no rolling the train backward.  Regrets and remorse are a danger for sure. Maybe we joke about "mid-life crisis" because of our discomfort about it, when we'd do so much better to embrace it.

                                                   [Photo by C. Hindy:  Just too many hoops? Or a hoop dance?]