More than one author/researcher questions whether a “midlife crisis” exists. I wrote about it a year ago here. Psychology Today outlined the Top 10 Myths about the midlife crisis, citing a number of books and studies corroborating that a midlife transition represents only one of several guideposts we experience in adulthood.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, writes in her book, The Search for Fulfillment, that of the nearly 200 adults she studied from college through the late 50s, only one subgroup experienced midlife discontent: those on the “Downward Slope” of psychological development.
Without even reading her definition, we can likely remember a few friends from high school who might fit in this category—people making poor choices throughout their adolescence, carrying those decisions into adulthood, choices costing them relationships and careers along the way, not just in midlife.
The term “midlife crisis” has become a catch-all for selfish behavior as though labeling something a crisis gives you the right to be an ass.
Whitbourne writes in a Huffington Post article, “For the midlife crisis idea to have validity, it should be linked to true midlife or at least the mid-40s…. It should also be a true crisis.”
“A large-scale survey of 3,000 midlife adults in the 1990s conducted by Cornell sociologist Elaine Wethington showed that the majority of midlife adults did not report that they experienced a crisis. The twist on this study was that of the small percentage who said they did have a ‘midlife crisis,’ the age of this ‘midlife’ event ranged from as young as 30 to as old as 65,” she notes.
According to a psychoanalyst, Elliot Jacques, the original assessment of what constitutes a midlife crisis included when a middle age adult starts to come to terms with mortality, realizing that the dreams of one’s younger days may go unfulfilled. This can set off a search for true meaning and purpose that does not necessarily include a red sports car.
In other words, a crisis can also mean opportunity, as the ancient Chinese understood it.