What is a Midlife Crisis? Therapist explains the behavioural and psychological impacts.

Today, we’re going to be talking about:

  1. What is a midlife crisis
  2. How can you tell if you’re going through one
  3. When does it tend to happen and why
  4. Some ways that you can deal with it and grow through it

Hi, my name is Marios. I’m an honorary assistant psychologist at The Private Therapy Clinic.

What is a Midlife Crisis?

So, what’s a midlife crisis? A midlife crisis tends to be a shaken sense of identity that happens in the middle of one’s life.

So, there’s quite a big range in terms of age as to when this can happen. It can happen between 45 and 65 years old, plus or minus. Again, it varies per person and how they are going through phases of their life and when they might start to think about their mortality. Mortality is actually what sets off the cascade that leads to a midlife crisis.

What happens in a midlife crisis?

So, what happens is someone starts to think about, “Well, what have I done with my life? Do I have that much time left? I’m halfway up. Let’s say, I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what my life is about, and what am I going to do with that rest of my life?” So, all these questions start to lead a person to become very anxious and potentially depressed, feel quite isolated, and this will then result in a need to feel young again. And that can manifest in a number of ways.

So, what it can do is lead someone to start to dress differently or to be making lavish purchases to make themselves look younger. The stereotype, of course, is if men going through a midlife crisis, they will tend to buy expensive cars or something that will make them look cool like a motorbike. And all this is just to kind of help them reinvigorate their sense of youth and the fact that they have stuff to give still. And there might be other ways, for example, some people might begin to get suddenly very interested in plastic surgery because that will make them look younger or they might want to go out drinking or clubbing again or they might start to hang out with different circles that will make them feel like they’re younger.

These will then start to indicate that someone just wants to relive their youth or to push away the idea that they’re going to start having to start thinking about their own mortality. Not that you need to do that in the middle of your life or anything, but it just is a reference point right. So, it feels like the middle of your life and so what’s at the middle of it’s the middle of birth and death.

The inevitability of death is a very anxiety-provoking thing for anyone to think about. Most of the time, we don’t think about it and we push it to the back of our minds. It’s kind of this existential anxiety that we choose not to engage with too much. It’s probably a deeper topic to talk about what that anxiety is like and about and if there are other ways to deal with it. But in this specific situation, it really does deal with an evaluation of a person’s life. So they start to think, “Is what I’ve done so far good enough? Should I be doing more?” “Who do I want to be? Who am I?” All those kinds of questions are going to be very prominent in the life of someone who is going through a mid-life crisis.

There may be more extreme manifestations of this, such as avoiding going to work, avoiding seeing people, or isolating yourself in other ways. If these things are happening or you feel like you’re going through a mid-life crisis and it’s affecting your daily life, being able to function, socialize, go to work, keep yourself healthy, make sure you seek help. So this is even though it’s not a diagnosable disorder, a mid-life crisis, it is something that is very well known and well-documented. It’s just not a clinical diagnosis. But nonetheless, it can have an impact that would affect your life in serious ways and you should see your doctor or a therapist if you feel like it is affecting you or someone else.

So what might be happening in the mind of someone who is going through a mid-life crisis? They probably look back and think about things that they wanted to do or they dreamed about but they haven’t done yet or failed to do and have no longer have time to do. A common one is a family. They might have had children or not had children and they felt like, “Well, I had children, and so I haven’t traveled the world or haven’t partied enough, socialized enough.” Someone who didn’t have children might say, “I’m now going to age alone, whereas where’s the family of my own.” It’s always possible for you to go through a negative thought cycle when you’re going through a mid-life crisis regardless of whether or not you’re on one’s end of the spectrum or another such as having children, not having children, other things like how much success you feel that you’ve had in terms of your career. You might feel like you dedicated too much time to your career and you didn’t leave time for your own interests, hobbies, friends, family, or you might feel like you haven’t succeeded yet or you haven’t done enough yet and you don’t feel accomplished. So again, it’s two sides to the same coin.

You can assess it in different ways and you’ll always reflect on it on the lack of something that you haven’t accomplished something yet. And so then you can start looking at the symptoms as a way to remedy that. So you’ll start to do things that will make you feel like you’re making up for that lack. So you might suddenly decide you want to change careers very dramatically or drastically, and one that you’ve never tried before, or you might want to stop working altogether.

And actually, these can be healthy things. Like and we’ll go into this a bit more as to how can the manifestations of a mid-life crisis actually be beneficial.


So what can trigger a mid-life crisis? A mid-life crisis, as the name suggests, is in the middle of your life. So if you have a significant birthday or some sort of milestone where you feel like, “Oh, I’m aging.” Why it’s a 40, 50, 60, type of hallmark, or anything in between, and you think, “Oh, right. I actually never anticipated the experience of going through this big birthday. I didn’t know what it would feel like to actually be going through it.” And then, you suddenly go through it and you feel like you’re not ready and then suddenly you have all these other questions about, “Well, what else am I not ready for? What else is coming that I haven’t actually thought about?” And that’s what kind of leads to this catapult into the existential crisis that is a mid-life crisis. Another thing might be the success or significant events that happen in people’s lives around you. Perhaps something close in your life has gone through something significant for themselves, such as a great success or a big hallmark in their life or something negative, perhaps a health issue. You could be going through a health issue, and that makes you think about your own mortality. You might see someone with a health issue close to you in your life, and then that starts to reflect on your own mortality. So, either of those things can trigger a mid-life crisis.

You may have started to compare yourself to other people who are roughly your age, perhaps a little bit older, but not too far from where you are, and start to think, “Wow, well they have achieved so much and what have I done?” Or “They have such a beautiful family. Do I have my own family? I don’t. Do I want one? Oh, I didn’t really think about it and maybe time’s running running out.” So, all of these kinds of things, it’s not prescriptive, it will be different for everyone. It might be a subtler thing, it might be accumulation of smaller things.

Perhaps feeling a bit older than everyone else in a social setting. You suddenly think like, “Oh, I’ve maybe you know this phase of my life has passed and and what’s next for me?” Um, so it doesn’t have to be a big drastic thing like ill health or sudden success, whether it’s your own or someone else’s or some hallmark of age. It could be an accumulation of, “Oh, I’m starting to get reminders of the fact that I’m entering the later phase of my life soon or the second phase or whatever it is.” However, you want to frame it and framing is actually quite an important thing here.

In the end, it does not have to be such a dire thing in the sense of it’s giving you perspective. It’s allowed you to step back for a second and think, “What do I want and who am I?” And that’s okay. Those are valid questions to have and they require attention and that’s okay. It’s just when you go about it in a way that’s a bit roundabout and you do kind of superficial things like purchasing things or hanging around with people that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

You’re actually not getting to the core of the problem. You’re not asking yourself, “well, what am I scared of and what would be best to fill the rest of my life with now that I’ve had this moment to reflect.”

Positive Elements

So, how can a midlife crisis actually be good for you, beneficial? Well, it can be a signal for you to start reconsidering parts of your life that you might want to change or you might just want to reflect on. So, if you’re aware that you might be having these feelings because you feel like you’re in the middle of your life or some other Hallmark, you might start to think, “Right, well actually, I have always hated my job. So, how about I start thinking about making the next phase of my life about work that I actually enjoy doing and love doing and I’ve always wanted to do but I’m scared of now?” Of course, you have to practice your own diligence and decide if that’s possible, how quickly you can or should do it. But it may give you that push to allow you to go into that phase of your life and say, “You know what, if this is enough, I’m going to push myself and go ahead for the thing that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Um, the other might be when it comes to family. If you didn’t have a family and that upsets you now during this time, you might start to think, “Well, first of all, you might think can I still have children.” Um, if that is an option for you, it might be something to consider, obviously not something to be taken lightly. Um, but if it’s not possible for you anymore or you think that perhaps that time has passed for some other reason, you might start to think, “Well, what is family to me? Who is my family?” You can become a significant figure in any young person’s life so that can be your siblings, children, that can be relatives, cousins, children, that can be your friend’s children but just start to think, “Well, what is it that I miss about having children? Maybe the company? What is it about that company that I could find elsewhere? How can I build a community outside of a nuclear family of my own for example.” So, just start to think of a bit more creatively even though I’m not going to have a biological family of my own for example, what are the other options? What do I feel like I’m lacking and how can I start to remedy that feeling with some other solutions.


In terms of other solutions, you might start to think about what kind of things you want to do outside of work as well. So, for example, you have a hobby that you’ve always wanted to take up, learning an instrument or going to a dance group or something like that that might give you that sense of community that you’ve been feeling that you’ve been lacking. So, that can push you really to do things that you haven’t done before that you’ve always had on your list. Now again, remember this difference between superficiality and actually trying to engage in something that you’ve always wanted to do and something that’s meaningful to you.

So, if you’ve taken that time to think, “Oh, you know what, I have always wanted to try out dancing,” then that is a meaningful change that you might be able to make for you in your life. And so, if you can find a group where you would feel comfortable being there and experiencing that and experimenting, this is really all about experimenting. That could open up a whole new avenue for experience for you though, that could be very positive. So again, this is another thing that is good about, a potentially good about a mid-life crisis is that it’s an opportunity to step back, reframe and plan, and decide who am I now, who do I want to be, and what do I want the rest of my life to be about.

Helping Someone

So, what happens if someone you love or someone who’s close to you is going through a midlife crisis or you think they are? Well, first of all, probably not best to say that they are going through that or to suggest that and perhaps let them come to that conclusion. But if you feel like the signs are there, there might be a few things that you could do to help them. One is to listen. That’s probably the most important thing and something that anyone who’s going through trouble in their own lives is needing first and foremost is someone to empathetically listen to them. So, it’s not to be guided, it’s not to be given solutions, it’s not so much to be given reassurance that, “Oh, you’re not that old” or anything like that. It’s just to listen to how they feel and listen to what they’re going through and be there with them and experience it with them. Um, and once you get that out, start to start to query that. It’s like, “Okay, what do you think this means for you?” And then, if you feel like something is missing, “What do you think that is?” And, um, is there anything I can do to help you? If you feel like you know there’s something missing, do you want to explore something new with me? Can I help you discover new parts of yourself in some way?” And just get that curiosity going and turn it from a negative into a curiosity element. Bring it, bring the adventurer into this. Um, yes, fear might be the thing that brings you into it, but you don’t need to sit in that fear the entire time. You can instead use that fear to say, “Right, this is going to propel me to somewhere new.” And you, as their friend or loved one, can say, “I’m here with you if you just want the support, but also if you want me to go in with you and help you in any other way, then I’m here for that too.” Thank you for watching. Please reach out to the private therapy clinic if you do need any help of your own or guide someone else there if they need help with a therapist.

The text above was derived (in part or whole) from the video transcript and cleaned for your reading enjoyment.

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