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Do
you know of someone who is going through a midlife crisis? What symptoms do
they demonstrate?  Aga Muhlach, one of
the Philippines highest paid actor and endorser, turned 40 when he did the film
“Of All the Things” with Regine Velasquez. In an interview, he was brave enough
to admit that he was experiencing midlife crisis while doing the film. “I
turned 40 and I was going through mid-life crisis…my heart wasn’t in it”, Aga
shared.  Another popular actor who
admitted that he went through midlife crisis was Gardo Versoza. In an interview
in 2012, Gardo said “basta dumarating na lang yung ganung moment… sabi nila,
midlife crisis daw yun… dumarating ang mga sandali ng lumbay na hindi raw niya
maipaliwanag.” Traditionally, midlife crisis is associated with men. On the
contrary, it happens to both men and women. Sharon Cuneta, 53 years old and one
of the most popular celebrities in the country admitted that she went through
midlife crisis. As quoted from her Facebook page, Miss Cuneta wrote: “I was
going through a midlife crisis, the effects of which I could never have
foreseen. My reaction to it was awful; I became rebellious
because I hated myself for the way I looked… I hit midlife and didn’t know how
to deal with it. I got lost.”  Maricel
Soriano, a contemporary of Miss Cuneta revealed that she too, experienced
midlife crisis. “Yes, dinaanan ko rin yan. It was triggered by the death of my
mother five years ago” she revealed in an interview. Kinailangan ko psychiatric help, hindi ko kaya nung
namatay ang nanay ko. Siguro apat na araw akong gising. Hindi ako natutulog.”  

 

Confusion,
impulsiveness, and feelings of uselessness are just some of the most common
emotions associated with midlife crisis. For this reason, it is often a
dreaded, ridiculed, and negatively perceived period of time in a person’s
life.  But should it really be regarded
that way ?  Does it really occur in one’s
life? According to Daniel Levinson et.al. (1978), midlife crisis occurs between
40 to 45 years old during the transition period from young adulthood to middle
adulthood. Myers (1996) pointed out that as people enter their 40s, they
undergo a midlife transition to middle adulthood, which for many is a crisis, a
time of great struggle. There are people who go through the transition
smoothly, but others have a difficult time to adjust. Though the transition can
be very uncomfortable and overwhelming, midlife crisis is a normal process
(Development in Midlife, 2004) that happens to most people. In September 2017, economists
Oswald and Blanchflower presented proof that midlife crisis really exist. In a
survey of 1.3 million people across 51 countries, they found that people report
a measurable decline in happiness, starting in their 30s until around age 50.
“We’re seeing this U-shape, this psychological dip, over and over again. There
is definitely a midlife low,” said Andrew Oswald, co-author of the study. Moreover,
sociologist Elaine Wethington (2000) has found out that “although more than 25 percent of Americans over age 35 think they
have had a midlife crisis, more than half of these were no more than stressful
life events”. Additionally, TeamTechnology.co.uk (2017) wrote that
“midlife crisis is a part of “maturing”, something that happens to many people
at some point in their lives.”  These are
just some of the studies but more research is still needed to fully scrutinize
the growing concept of midlife crisis. Nevertheless, middle age and the changes
associated with it are part of human development and can be a creative part of
a person’s life journey when managed successfully.

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How
did the term “midlife crisis” come into being? Well, the very idea of a
mid-life crisis originated in 1965. The word was coined by a Canadian
psychologist, Elliott Jaques. He studied more than 300 famous artists such as
Mozart when he noticed that their creativity declined when they reached their
mid-thirties. He also found out that some of them became depressed while a few
committed suicide. Elliott then observed a pattern that as adult people reached
middle-age, they reported an increasing fear of death and that they might not
be able to accomplish their goals anymore. 
Aside from Jaques theory, there are some theoretical concepts that
support the idea of midlife crisis. It started with Sigmund Freud
and his followers. They
believed that during midlife, people’s thinking were affected by the fear of
forthcoming death.  One of Freud’s followers
was Carl Jung.  He had experienced a
midlife crisis when he reached the middle age (38 to 44) that resulted to a
better sense of direction and meaning in life. This encouraged him to develop the
concept of individuation. He defined it as “an experience during which the
conscious and unconscious mind become integrated into a single well-functioning
whole.” He then concluded that individuation was an important task of midlife. Although
Jung did not use the phrase “midlife crisis”, he described this midlife
integration process as an important yet difficult period in one’s life.

Erik Erikson’s
seventh stage of psychosocial development also supports the notion of a
mid-life crisis. According to Erikson, midlife adults face the crisis of
generativity vs. stagnation during middle adulthood (40 to 65). He further
explained that adults begin to ask probing questions:  “Am I doing anything worthwhile? What am I
contributing to others?” Otherwise, it will lead to a feeling of stagnation. Newman
(2012) defined stagnation as lack of psychological movement or growth.  Adults experience feelings of discomfort that
will encourage them to engage in productive activities. Erikson believed that
it is very important to go through this stage successfully so that one may feel
a sense of accomplishment later in life.

Another theory similar to Erikson’s
psychosocial stages is Daniel Levinson’s Seasons of Life theory established in
1978.  The fourth phase of Levinson’s
model called BECOMING ONE’S OWN MAN or BOOM phase was described as a period of
conflict when adults struggle with becoming an established adult and leaving
behind the failures of early adult. He called it the “breaking out” phase and
the start of a major transitional period in life structure called the mid-life
transition. During this transition, adults question their previous life’s
achievements and reexamine their goals in life. According to Levinson, this
difficult phase may result to sense of fulfillment, pride, and direction.

If midlife crisis is a part of human
development, when does it typically occur? A study in 1990s revealed that
midlife crisis occurs from age 41 to 60 and the average onset of a midlife
crisis was 45.  It lasts for
approximately 3 to 10 years in men while 2 to 5 years in women.  What then are the causes of midlife
crisis? Aging is the primary cause of mid-life crisis or in combination with frustrations
in career, relationships, children, sickness or death of parents,  and physiological changes of aging. 

Is it true that it occurs mostly in men?  Dan Jones, PhD, director of the
Counseling and Psychological Services Center at Appalachian State University,
Boone, N.C., believed that both men and women are likely to go through a
midlife transition process. Men are more concerned about proving something
himself and to the world. On the other hand, women are more worried about their
relationships as a spouse, a mother, or a daughter.

What changes occur during midlife in terms of
cognitive, behavioral, and emotional aspects?  There are some researchers who are interested
on cognitive ability during midlife.  The
Seattle Longitudinal Study which has followed the intellectual
abilities of a group of 5,000 adults for over five decades showed that most
mental abilities improve during middle age. Moreover, study leader
and psychologist
Sherry L. Willis, PhD found in a study published in a book she
co-edited called “Life in the Middle” (Academic Press, 1999) that
adult people at midlife score higher on cognitive functioning than when they
were 25 years old. She also found that verbal and numerical abilities,
reasoning and verbal memory improve during the middle age. On the other hand, Willis
(1999) stated that perceptual speed diminishes between 25 and midlife. With regards to behavioral changes, men
engage in more active behaviors such as scuba diving, skydiving, car racing,
mountaineering, motorcycling, etc. They try to prove their masculinity by doing
dangerous sports and activities including promiscuity. On the other hand, women
prefer fashionable clothes, cosmetic surgery such as Botox, liposuction, and
bust enhancement, and becoming more sociable to assert their youthfulness.  In the area of emotional changes, adult people
going through a mid-life crisis may experience depression for unmet goals, insecurities
in the presence of former classmates and friends who are more successful, confusion,
boredom, disappointment with their marriage, work, or financial status  in life.  

            In conclusion, midlife transition
certainly causes changes in one’s life. Some go through the transition smoothly
while others find it hard to adjust. However, a better understanding on midlife
development can help adult people who are experiencing a midlife crisis. It
will shift their thinking from dreading this stage to seeing it as an opportunity
to engage into more fruitful and productive activities. When managed
successfully, the outcome of this stage will bring forth sense of accomplishment,
peace, and better direction in later life. After all, the changes associated
with midlife, either positive or negative, are part of a normal process of human
development.