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Last Updated on January 4, 2022

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

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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 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 Midlife “Crisis” in Women Is Really About

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.

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.

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

Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis in Women

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

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  • 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.

Factors Impacting Midlife Crisis in Women

The midlife crisis for women is often misrepresented in pop culture and various forms of media, leading many to believe it stems from menopause, personal dissatisfaction, and insecurities. However, instead of looking at it as an entirely internal formula, it is important to see the external factors that contribute to women’s midlife crisis taking such a volatile form.

A lot of pressure is put on women to manage their responsibilities alongside societal expectations when they reach this stage of life. They are often taken for granted when they do things associated with the ‘female’ role and hardly get much encouragement. Above all, the natural process of aging is often demonized for women. One of the most important external factors is:

Societal Factors

We live in a society that is fixated on achievements and productivity as measures for human worth and life’s value. For women, when their children leave the house and their job reaches a point where they won’t be getting more promotions, they are seen to have reached their limit. From there on they are expected to act like their life is over.

It could also be due to cultural differences and society’s attitude towards aging women. In most western societies, aging is not celebrated for women. They actively go out of their way to look like anything but their age, and they have every right to do so. As society has associated the middle-aged woman to be a background character, women actively struggle with accepting that as their reality once they reach that age.

“Imagine what our story would look like if, rather than succumbing to the insistent voices of family or culture, we determined that our vocation was to be a better human.” – James Hollis, Ph.D.

The Internal Factors Impacting Midlife Crisis in Women

Similar to external factors, internal factors also heavily weigh the reality of a midlife crisis on women. This is because biologically and psychologically they feel at odds with themselves. It is hard to accept aging, especially when younger women are the only group considered desirable. It is even harder to accept new roles in life that are out of their comfort zone. Two of the most important internal factors are:

Psychological Factors

Once women start experiencing midlife crisis, they reevaluate their role in the lives of others around them. The children that they once looked after, have now left home and care for themselves. Their own aging parents remind them of their future and how their role in everyone’s lives has been reduced greatly.

When women are going through this phase, their lives are drastically changing. This can lead to a clash of interests and feelings and they often feel victimized. Their behavior is often described as irrational. With reduced responsibilities, the days seem longer and life seems to lose meaning.

However, this doesn’t mean one gives up. The best way to tackle the excess time on your hands is to think about what made you happy when you were younger. Think about the talents you had that you couldn’t invest in due to work or family. Spend time rediscovering yourself and building upon the hobbies that bring you joy. Additionally consulting with a mental health professional can also prove to be helpful.

Biological Factors

Certain physical and hormonal changes bring about the most prominent symptoms of a midlife crisis. Aging is a natural process and yet loose skin, grey hair, and wrinkles can be a cause of anxiety for many. Biologically, many women are also going through menopause during this time, which makes them more emotional and moody.

Menopause is not easy to go through, the active changes in estrogen and progesterone levels can lead to hot flashes and a generally irritable mood. It can also lead to a severe onslaught of depression. Many women have to face this without having someone to talk to and without the understanding of their families at times. This severely impacts their experience of going through a mid life crisis.

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.

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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]

    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.

    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.

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    They are about reassessment, reflection, and the opportunity to become an improved version of yourself[9]. It can be a long-term silver lining when experiencing moments of regret.

    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.[10] 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.

    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

    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.

    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.[11]

    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.

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

    8. You Can Change a Course of Your Life

    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.

    9. You Will Learn 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.

    10. 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.

    11. 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.

    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.

    12. 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”[12]. 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.

    Tips on Handling A Midlife Crisis

    There are some important tips that you need to take into consideration when going through a midlife crisis. They will help you handle things better and navigate through this chapter of your life with more clarity. Some useful tips are:

    • Prioritize yourself. Take the time to invest in yourself through spas, skincare, a vacation and generally improving your own wellbeing.
    • Now that your children are independent, choose who stays in your life. Realize that you’re the main character of your life and you decide what goes in it.
    • Make time for investing in hobbies and activities that improve your wellbeing and are good for your mental health.
    • Find ways to give back to the community, the feeling of being needed can extend the boundaries of your home.
    • Learn to be the main character of your life again, reaching a middle-age is no time to lose gumption, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

    Summing It All Up

    In the end, there are a few takeaways regarding a 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 with your behavior.

    We 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.

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    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 January 14, 2022

    Where Am I Going? How to Put Your Life in Context

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    Where Am I Going? How to Put Your Life in Context

    Are you wondering…

    Where am I going in life? Where am I supposed to be going in life?

    And to answer your questions, here’s what the great writer and thinker, Christopher Morley famously wrote:

    There are three ingredients to the good life – learning, earning and yearning.

    Where Am I Going? Is It the Right Direction in Life?

    There are many times in life where one does not know what comes next or where to go in life. The realization that you are lost and don’t know where to go, or that you don’t like where you are going often comes as an epiphany.

    Most people describe this as being in a rut. It’s like you have everything you want and still so much is missing. You could have everything in the world but something about your life still doesn’t feel right.

    Signs That You Need to Change Direction in Life

    It is important to identify when you are unhappy with your life and want to change where you are going. Some of the most common signs of needing a change in life are as follows:

    1. You feel unhappy with your life and often reminiscence about the choices you made.
    2. You feel as if you are forced to go against your morals and intuition at work or home.
    3. The situation that you find yourself in currently is causing you a lot of stress.
    4. There is a fear or dread of the future and the consequences of your life decisions that have been causing you anxiety.
    5. You feel like you had to give up on your passions and interests just to make it in this world.
    6. The future that you are currently envisioning seems nothing like what practically lies ahead.
    7. You find yourself surrounded by unhappy people who often think you’re too idealistic.
    8. You often look forward to having a ‘good day’ even when nothing is particularly wrong with the days right now.

    If you feel like most of these signs apply to you, then it’s time to re-evaluate where you are headed in life and how you want to change that.

    The 3 Key Phases of Life

    Before learning how to choose the right direction for yourself, first try to understand the 3 key phases of life:

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    The Learning Phase

    The Learning phase typically stretches from the age of five into the early twenties and its over-riding characteristic is freedom.

    Your thinking is unfettered, you are chock-full of dreams and aspirations and (happily) someone else is footing the bills. It’s not a cliché to say that schooldays, for many of us, really were the happiest days of our lives.

    Contrast it with adult life – no one expects very much of you, and other than passing a few exams along the way and you can just swing along, having a great old time …

    The Earning Phase

    The next phase is the Earning years; the period from leaving formal education (at 20-something) to retirement (at 50-something or 60-something). Welcome to the grown-up world, welcome to the tax net.

    The overriding concern in this Earning phase is the security (I spell that word as follows: $ecurity because, for many people, this phase tends to be all about generating sufficient income to pay the monthly bills.)

    Reality bites. This can require sublimating the dreams of youth as a life of routine takes over. Few in the Earning years question the choices they have made because, typically, this questioning process can be quite disconcerting – oddly, I find this is particularly true of people who are less than happy with their working lives.

    Routine generation of wealth becomes paramount and you get swept along with the current. This is fine if you made sound choices in your late teens and early twenties with regard to your career. But if you didn’t … for routine, read ‘RUT’.

    Which brings us to Morley’s Yearning phase – from ceasing your full-time occupation until … well, ceasing.

    The Yearning Phase

    What is yearning? Unfortunately, yearning is not the same as simple hankering, wanting or desire. The dictionary definition of yearning is:

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    “A feeling of intense longing for something lost, absent or unattainable.”

    A bit gloomy. So for many people, the Yearning years are about looking back over a life not quite fulfilled and saying ‘I wish, I wish. If only … if only …’

    With the wisdom of years comes regret for the road not taken, the too-conservative choices made.

    Studies conducted in the geriatric population and on terminally ill people consistently demonstrate that regrets in human beings arise as a result of decisions not taken. The wise old owls that I have talked to over the years all speak with one voice on this.

    It is better to look back and think, ‘I wish I hadn’t …’ rather than wistfully saying, ‘I wish I had …’

    Think about where you are…

    As you think about your career, your life, and your plans for the future, you are, at the very least, going to have to contemplate some uncomfortable choices about yourself, your personal style and your level of happiness.

    I make no apologies for this – that’s just life. But I contend that it is better to take the time and spend the effort now to improve the choices that you make for later, rather than to have those choices made for you at a time that may not suit you.

    Some people get these choices unerringly right and they do so early in their lives. Others come to a realization of the right path much later in life. Ray Kroc changed his whole approach to his McDonald’s business in his early 50s. [1] Colonel Sanders didn’t start his KFC franchising efforts until he was in his early 60s.[2] And the list can go on.

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    It’s never too early and it’s never too late – but you have to think about it.

    How to Choose the Right Path

    Do you know at what phase of life are you now? Once you understand where you are now, the next step is to find the direction you want to move to.

    You have the motivation and direction to take your life where you need it to be, you just need to get up and do it. The best time for change is now, and if you procrastinate any further you might miss out on a great opportunity.

    To live a meaningful life, it is important to pick a direction that brings both peace and success. Here are some things to take into consideration when choosing a new direction in life:

    1. Chose What Your Inner Child Would Want

    It is very important to acknowledge the needs and opinions of our ‘inner child’. That’s because we often have real happiness at this age and develop passions that last us a lifetime. To calibrate your direction in life, think of what the younger you would feel about your current situation and what would they want to do.

    2. Think About The Things You Want To Change

    Make a list of the things in your current life that you are dissatisfied with and want to change. Then think of the alternative options you have to give yourself a life where you find happiness and fulfillment by avoiding these things. This will help you understand what must be done to feel good in life.

    3. Find Inspiration to Follow

    Everyone has an idea of what they want in life and finding inspiration isn’t hard in this day and age. Just think about those you admire and see as role models and try to follow in their footsteps. As they have already reached a place you associate to be a goal, you will find it easier to navigate your way through life to reach that destination as well.

    4. Be Clear on What You Don’t Want To Be

    To find out where you want to be headed in life, try finding out where you don’t want to end up. This would help identify situations and placed you would try and avoid at all costs. It keeps you on the right track because if you minimize the wrong paths, then choosing the right one becomes much easier.

    5. Learn to Enjoy Where You Are

    There is no such thing as a perfect life. What you need to learn, is to work hard and to find things to be happy and grateful for.

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    Live in the moment, appreciate the things you have. Only this way you will see clearly the meaning of your life.

    6. Commit to Getting or Staying Healthy

    Nothing is more important than your mental, spiritual and physical health.

    Getting your life on the right path isn’t something you can achieve in a day. But, with hard work and dedication, you will get there!

    7. Help Others

    By helping others you will increase your sense of purpose and improve self-esteem.

    There are many ways to do this. Volunteer in your community, mentor young people, or just help neighbors.

    You will be surprised by the feeling you will have after.

    Start Making the Change Today

    After reading all this, you are surely ready to change the direction of your life. Start by making a change today instead of just thinking about it. Every difficult journey starts with a single step, and this is the sign to take yours. Once you make one change, the rest follow suit and soon your life will be exactly how you want it to be.

    Need more help to get out of the rut? Take a look at these articles:

    Featured photo credit: Johannes Plenio via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Britannica: Ray Kroc
    [2] Biography: Colonel Sanders

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