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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

Midlife Crisis for Women: How It Makes You a Better Person

Midlife Crisis for Women: How It Makes You a Better Person

A couple of years ago, the wife of my cousin “snapped.” She had recently crossed the north side of forty-five, had a teenage son, a good job, a steady marriage, and comfortable living. That is, your perfect epitome of a “normal life.” However, that didn’t stop a midlife crisis in women from appearing.

Something was “off” with her, a common friend told me. And indeed—because they live abroad, when I saw her, I barely recognized her. She looked great, no doubt—courtesy of the combination of a fitness instructor, a tanning bed, and regular visits to an aesthetic clinic.

“I feel different,” she told me. “I have more self-respect now and want to take better care of myself. I refuse to feel gloomy that my life is over.”

To outsiders, though, it looked like she was having a midlife crisis and entering menopause. Everyone in the family expected her to run off with a hunky barista so that she could feel young again for a while.

Well, this didn’t happen (to some people’s disappointment perhaps), but the stereotype prevailed. Why go through such a sudden transformation and life crisis if you don’t want to prove that forty-five is the new thirty, and that you still “got it”?

This is the typical way of thinking, indeed—the midlife crisis narrative fueled by the image of a guy buying a luxury sports car and driving into the sunset with his 20-something new girlfriend. Or a middle-aged woman finding a younger fling so that she can feel wanted and sexy again.

This social cliché paints a picture of a reckless behavior—of overspending, unfaithfulness, and an uncontrollable desire to turn back time. And all this is presumably fueled by a bubbling frustration the person feels underneath—because of dreams unmet, goals unrealized and life, and feeling unable to leave a dent in the universe.

But all this begs the question: Just because something is a decades-old stereotype, does it make it true today? Does midlife foster more carelessness or thoughtfulness?

What Is a Female Midlife Crisis?

A midlife crisis in women is basically a period of transition of identity and usually occurs between the ages of about 45 and 65. It’s often thought of a psychological crisis triggered by an awareness of age and mortality.

First coined in an article by the Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in 1965, the term has quickly become a mainstream explanation for anyone who “snaps” after they pass forty. “Must-be-the-midlife-crisis” adage makes it all easier for us to understand and label this transitional period as something that seems more of a catastrophe than a catharsis.

An interesting thing to note is that one study shows[1] that it manifests during different times for middle aged women and men. For the former group, it is between thirty-five and forty-five, and for the latter, it’s between forty-five and fifty-four. Other studies place lock-bottom around fifty for both genders.

Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis in Women

As described in the common literature, the “typical” symptoms of midlife crisis are:[2]

  • Feelings of depression and disappointment
  • Anger at oneself for not being as successful as others
  • Nostalgia about the younger years
  • Dissatisfaction with one’s life in general
  • A sense of pressure that there is much you still want to do in a shrinking timespan
  • A heightened need for a change or “something different”
  • Doubts about your achievements and the choices you have made so far
  • A desire for passion, intimacy, and to feel wanted again

Simply put, you may feel progressively but somewhat unfoundedly unhappy. Life appears to be hollowed out of meaning.

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Why Is the Midlife Crisis Getting Such a Bad Reputation?

Going through the typical manifestations of a midlife crisis, it is easy to understand why it is not a time one should excitedly anticipate.On top of the above-mentioned signs, there are deeper and darker waters running underneath your sense of unhappiness.The period marks the beginning of the sunset of your life. It’s the stage where you start to notice more vividly the streaks of grey hair, the wrinkles, the sagging skin, or your feeling out of place amongst younger crowds. In a sometimes-desperate attempt to summon back youth, some may embark on, as shown in the movies, rather reckless behavior, such as overspending, excessive working out, or a fling with the young hot gardener in the style of Desperate Housewives.Most importantly, however, a midlife crisis has come to be associated with a dip in happiness, as described by the famed “U-shape” of Happiness. One of the first pieces of research supporting this idea is from 2008 by two economics professors, David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald.[3]

Under 50? You still haven't hit rock bottom, happiness-wise. - The Washington Post
    Using data from 500,000 people from the U.S. and Europe, they found that the lowest point of subjective well-being happens around the age of 46[4]. After this, it begins to increase. However, it’s unclear what exactly causes this—there seem to be different explanations floating around.The prevailing rationale seems to be that it’s due to “unmet expectations,” which are, naturally, accompanied by the gloomy feeling of depression and a sense that we have wasted our lives without achieving anything truly remarkable.Therefore, a rather joyless picture emerges—a period which feels more like the Dark Ages—to be dreaded rather than celebrated as the new chapter of one’s life.

    Why the Hype Is Untrue

    The evidence from studies has been somewhat controversial on whether a midlife crisis really exists.

    Some research has shown that midlife transitional period does exist, but not at a specific point in time.[5] It’s more part of the aging and maturing process, which happens gradually during adulthood. It is more a hype about the hype, an expectation that creates a “reality,” which is not nearly as dramatic as we have been led to believe.[6]

    Other recent tests also chime in with a similar tone—two Canadian longitudinal studies found that, when accounting for variables as health, employment, and martial status, our happiness tends to rise, not fall, during adulthood. That is, people in their 40s are generally more joyful and satisfied than people in their 20s or 30s.[7]

    A piece in The Atlantic points out that, as more research began to come in, “most scientists abandoned the idea that the midlife crisis is biological. They regarded it mostly as a cultural construct. The same mass media that had once heralded the midlife crisis began trying to debunk it, in dozens of news stories with variations on the headline ‘Myth of the Midlife Crisis.'”

    However, the same story points out that “the idea was too delicious to be debunked. It had become part of the Western middle-class narrative, offering a fresh, self-actualizing story about how life is supposed to go”[8].

    Basically, it became a convenient way of putting a name to moments in our life that were difficult to explain.

    A U-shape of happiness may exist, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to a crisis. And there is no proof that the experiences are universal to all people.

    Decades ago, by the time aging women hit their forties, they were considered to be well into their mature, older years. They would marry in their twenties, have kids almost right away, and twenty years later, they would be sending them to college and going through the empty-nest syndrome.

    Now, we live longer, and we have kids later in life, often after thirty-five. The way our career and personal life trajectories unfold is very different.

    Do not fall a victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because we are told to expect something dreadful, it doesn’t mean it will happen.

    What Midlife “Crisis” in Women Is Really About

    Although many may be bracing themselves for the dark times that are coming, it’s important not to develop tunnel-vision and to only focus on the bad.

    Midlife transition is part of the natural aging process that everyone goes through—it is about the physical changes to your body.

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    Apart from the outer shell, it may also change our inner landscapes, and often in a positive way.

    Here are some of the benefits to the midlife transformation:

    It’s a Great Time to Do a Life Audit

    You can reflect on what has worked and what has not.

    Once you reassess the past, you can have a better idea of your strengths and how to put them to work in the most efficient way in the future.

    It’s a Chance to Change Course

    When you feel the imminence of old age and realize that time is limited, you learn to appreciate it more.

    There is no deluding yourself that you have unlimited number of years left—it can be a sort of “Now-or-Never” moment in your life.

    You Learn to Let Go of the Petty Stuff

    You can see the bigger picture now and are able to figure out that some things are just not worth your energy, anger, or time.

    Therefore, you can really focus on achieving your goals with less distractions.

    It’s an Opportunity to Let Go of the Past

    You have lived long enough now to fully recognize that the past is not a predictor of the future. Leave it where it belongs.

    Therefore, midlife is also a time for a mental cleanse.

    You Can Learn Proper Self-Care

    This is more relevant for those with grown children. It is finally time to treat yourself better.

    After all the years you spent neglecting yourself to be a good mom or wife, it’s finally the time to give yourself some appreciation.

    It’s a Chance to Make a Lifestyle Change Through New Habits

    A midlife crisis for women can be a turning point where you can let go of bad habits that are holding you back. It’s high time you start going to the gym as you have always wanted—one New Year’s resolution after another.

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    It is also the period to attempt quitting smoking, eating better, or reading more. Whatever it is that you want to improve, use the midlife years as a “wake-up” call to do so.

    It’s a Chance to Figure out How to Make Your Life Count

    Finally, according to the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, between ages of 40 and 65, we start asking ourselves how to make our lives count.

    The answer, he advises, is something called “generativity”—which is simply a “concern for establishing and guiding for the next generation”[9]. That is, what makes your life meaningful is to ensure that you care for and guide your kids into the future and raise them to become good human beings.

    If you don’t have children, there are other ways to “care” and “guide.” You can volunteer, start a charity, become a mentor, etc. Find what helps you feel that your life means something to the world.

    How a Midlife Crisis Can Make You a Better Person

    The midlife years do not have to feel like a stone around your neck. They are not about depression and mood swings, or about feeling stuck in a rut and having an existential crisis.

    They are about reassessment, reflection, and the opportunity to become an improved version of yourself[10]. It can be a long-term silver lining when experiencing moments of regret.

    Choices women made at midlife - graph based on two long-term studies

      Here are some ways in which this period can also make you a better person in the process:

      1. Your Mental Health Improves

      Faced with the transience of your existence, you realize that some things are not worth stressing about. You become calmer and wiser, and you learn to accept the things you can not change.

      In fact, studies have shown that, as we age, responsiveness to regret decreases.[11] Therefore, our “emotional health” improves.

      2. You Have Stronger Relationships

      You become nicer with people—you let go of old grudges and are willing to overlook small disagreements. You don’t get hinged on the trivial stuff, as you start looking at the bigger picture.

      In fact, you may become more appreciative of your relationships and spend more time with those who matter in your life.

      3. You Are More Motivated

      As you have gone through some ups and downs in the past years, you can become more focused, driven, and motivated.

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      You can craft new goals, use your lessons learned, and find better ways of going after what you want.

      4. You Take Better Care of Yourself—Both Physically and Mentally

      You will seek balance, will stray away from extreme emotions, and may adopt a more philosophical way of life—more in line with the Eastern philosophy of focusing on the Now.

      5. You Feel More Connected With Others

      As you think more about leaving a mark on Earth and doing something meaningful during a midlife crisis for women, you may look for ways to make the world a better place. You will want to have a positive legacy, so you may start helping others more, donate to charity, or volunteer.

      You will come to realize that the good life is more about connectedness and less about social competition.[12]

      6. You’re More Grateful

      In this vein, you also start appreciating more what you have—i.e. there is a spike in gratitude as we age, studies tell us.

      You may shift focus from career to personal relationships and start nurturing them more. You will spend more time with family and friends and rekindle your connections.

      7. You’re More Positive

      Finally, if you chose to see the positive regarding what you have achieved and what you have in your life, you will adopt a more optimistic outlook, too.

      You will be proud of our life unfolding the way it has, rather than feeling miserable that it has not taken another direction.

      Summing It All Up

      In the end, there are few take-aways regarding the midlife crisis for women.

      Remember that it is more about an opportunity for a re-assessment, improving your life and relationships, not about going haywire in your behavior.

      e should, in fact, stop calling this period “crisis”—as it is really not. It is more about midlife chances to finally summon the courage to become the person we are meant to be. If it really does feel like a crisis, it may be time to seek professional help or look into life coaching.

      Rather than being scared, you can anticipate it with excitement—it is finally the time to “put your ducks in order” and focus on what truly matters to you.

      More Tips on Surviving a Midlife Crisis

      Featured photo credit: Christian Gertenbach via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Evelyn Marinoff

      A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

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      Last Updated on April 19, 2021

      Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: 5 Levels Explained

      Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: 5 Levels Explained

      Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation that lists five categories of human needs that dictate individual behavior. These five categories refer to physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.[1]

      Motivation plays a big part in athletic coaching. I spent 44 years coaching basketball and each day at practice, I was trying to motivate our athletes to give their best effort. In this article, I will examine Maslow’s hierarchy and five areas of needs from an athletic perspective.

      1. Physiological Needs

      These needs represent the most basic human survival needs. They include food, water, rest, and breathing, and all four have importance in athletics.

      Food has had an evolution in the world of athletics. I cannot recall my coaches in the 1950s and ‘60s mentioning anything about food. As time went on, the pre-game meal became important. Steak seemed to be the meal of choice early in the evolution. Research then indicated pasta would be the better choice.[2]

      Today, I think most coaches prefer pasta. However, if the players are ordering from menus, some coaches believe the players should stick with their regular diets and order accordingly.

      The next step in this evolution was that the pre-game meal, although important, is not nearly as critical as the athletes’ overall nutrition. At our University of St. Francis athletic seminars, we invited nutritionists to speak and to educate our players on their nutritional habits.

      The ultimate change in food intake may be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, Tom Brady. He adheres to a specific, disciplined diet that has allowed him to play superb football at age 43.

      Water also has had an evolution in sports. It went from not being allowed in practices to coaches scheduling water breaks during the practices.

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      Rest is extremely important in all sports, and statistics validate its importance. NBA research found that during the course of the season teams win 6 of 10 games at home but only 4 of 10 on the road. In the NBA playoffs, the statistics change to 6.5 at home and 3.5 on the road. Many coaches believe rest is the key factor to these statistics because the players are sleeping in their own beds for home games.[3]

      Our St. Francis basketball team found the importance of breathing on a trip to play in a tournament in Colorado. In our first game, we were playing great and winning by 12 points early in the game. Then the altitude kicked in, adversely affected our breathing, and we lost the lead and eventually the game.

      In our second game, having learned our lesson, we substituted more frequently! Maslow’s idea of physiological needs plays a major part in the athletic arena.

      2. Safety Needs

      Safety needs include protection from violence, emotional stability and well-being, health security, and financial security.

      If a fight breaks out during a basketball game, there can be serious injuries. This is the reason a coach steps in immediately when there is any violence or dirty play in practice. The coach must protect the players. You drill your teams to play hard—never dirty.

      The importance of emotional stability has gained more credence in sports in recent years. Many teams hire psychologists to help work with their players. There is a great deal of player failure in sports and it is critical for the players to stay emotionally stable.

      Health security is much more prevalent in sports today than in my playing days. I once got a concussion during a basketball game. We had no trainers. The coach handled it by telling me after the game, “Sullivan, you play better when you don’t know where the hell you are!” He was right, and my medical treatment ended there! Games today have trainers available to protect the health of the athletes.

      Financial security is predominant in professional sports. Most players today use free agency to go where the money is because they consider sport not to be a sport at all. They believe it is a short-term business at their level. I personally appreciate the athletes who have taken less money so the team can retain teammates or use the dollars to bring in new players.

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      3. Love and Belonging Needs

      These needs can be summed up with two words: love and relationships.

      After teams win championships, you will often hear coaches say, “I love these guys” or “I loved coaching this team.” You can tell by their body language and the tone of their voice that they really mean it.

      I think coaches say this because the season can be a tough grind. Practices, scouting, film work, travel, and problems that arise take a toll on coaches. However, when you have teams that give all they have every night in practice, you do come to love them.

      ESPN did a 30-30 segment on the North Carolina State national championship team coached by Jim Valvano. I was especially interested in watching it because I knew a player on the team who used to come to our camps. Terry Gannon played a major role in their championship.

      The program was a reunion of their players. This was 20 plus years from their title, and if you were to take one thing away from the show, it would be how much the players loved each other.

      In the last analysis, sport is all about relationships. You can meet former teammates with whom you played 40 to 50 years earlier and that athletic bond is as strong as it ever was. Although you may have not seen each other in years, your friendship is so cemented it’s like you have been seeing each other weekly.

      David Halberstam’s book, The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, validates the relationship between athletics forges. Ted Williams is dying and three of his former Boston Red Sox teammates—Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio—make the trip to Florida to see him. Even though 50 years had passed since they played together, the bond among them never waned.

      Love and belonging epitomize the essence of sports.

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      4. Esteem Needs

      These needs are characterized by self-respect and self-esteem. Self-respect is “the belief that you are valuable and deserve dignity.” Self-esteem is twofold—“it is based on the respect and acknowledgment from others and esteem which is based on your own self-assessment.”[4]

      Often the players on the bench are the ones the coach respects the most because they work so hard in practices yet receive none of the glory. The best coaches never let the starters or stars ever denigrate the players on the bench. Coaches must always acknowledge the value and the dignity of those who play little. They often turn out to be the superstars of their professions.

      Some coaches will never get “it.” They think they can motivate their players by degrading them. They embarrass the athletes during games and they constantly berate their performance in practices.

      Great coaches are just the opposite. They are encouragers. They do push their players and they push them hard, but they always respect them. Great coaches enhance the self-esteem and confidence of their players.

      5. Self-Actualization Needs

      “Self-actualization describes the fulfillment of your full potential as a person.”[5]

      I believe three words are the key to self-actualization: potential, effort, and regrets.

      You often hear in athletics that a player has potential. It also is not uncommon for the person introducing the athlete to rave about his potential. I was fortunate to work with an outstanding man in the Milwaukee Bucks camps, Ron Blomberg. Ron had the best definition of potential that I ever heard: “Potential means he hasn’t done it.” Will he do all the work necessary to fulfill his potential?

      Effort is great, but it’s not enough. If you want to reach your full potential, you must have a consistency of effort in your daily habit. Only consistency of effort can lead to success.

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      John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said that success is becoming all your ability will allow you to be. He agreed with his friend, major league umpire, George Moriarty, even though he used to kid him. Coach told him he never had seen Moriarty spelled with just one “i.” He followed this with, “Of course, the baseball players accused him of having only one ‘eye’ in his head as well.”

      In his poem, The Road Ahead or The Road Behind, Moriarty wrote,

      “. . . for who can ask more of a man
      than giving all within his span, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory.

      When your life is winding down and you look back if you can say you gave “all in your span”—that you consistently gave it your best effort—you will have reached your full potential and there will be no regrets.

      Final Thoughts

      Now that you’ve learned more about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, consider reflecting on the last two needs (esteem needs and self-actualization needs) and ask yourself the following questions:

      • Are you doing all you can to enhance the self-esteem of those around you?
      • Are you doing all you can to self-actualize the potential you have been given?

      Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

      Reference

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