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Crisis of the middle age: are we condemned to suffer it?

Crisis of the middle age: are we condemned to suffer it?

February 27, 2024

According to a survey conducted in 1994, 86% of the young people consulted (of an average of 20 years) said they believed in the existence of the so-called "crisis of maturity", also known as the crisis of middle age . It is a concept known for a long time, although it was in 1965 when someone decided to name it.

Specifically, it was the psychoanalyst Elliot Jaques who baptized as a crisis of maturity certain patterns of behavior that he had observed in many artists when they entered the life stage that goes from 40 to 50 and a few years, something that could be interpreted as an attempt to revive the university age, something that went hand in hand with the frustration produced by not experiencing an authentic youth.

Nowadays, everything seems to indicate that the concern about the crisis of middle age is not less extended . At a time when the reign of appearances has become even more totalizing and in which the idealization of youth and aspectism covers virtually all marketing products, much of the forms of artistic expression and even political communication Having more than 40 years could almost seem like a crime, and we seem condemned to suffer an extra malaise when going through that phase of life. But ... is the crisis of middle age really widespread?

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The crises of the 40s and the 50s

Within the broad umbrella of possibilities encompassed by a concept as generic as the crisis of middle age, it is often distinguished between one that appears when around 40 years and another related to ages close to 50. In both cases there are similar situations.

On the one hand, every time a decade is completed from birth a threshold is crossed that, although not in all cases, implies a qualitative change in biological development (as it does with puberty, for example), it has a strong psychological impact. Artificially and socially constructed, but no less real because of it.

On the other hand, in middle age there is a greater awareness of one's own mortality, partly due to signs of physical exhaustion that are beginning to be felt in one's body, and partly also due to elements of the environment, such as the fact that at this stage the expectations of major life changes are greatly reduced and the biggest novelty that lies ahead is retirement, or the possibility that during those years more loved ones die, as fathers and mothers or uncles and have to go through the duel.

Thus, it is easy to imagine that the longing for youth grows, but a priori that does not mean that this will happen or that it will be a blow so strong that it can be called "crisis"; it is only a theoretical, hypothetical explanation, about elements that could propitiate this psychological phenomenon. Let's go now to what we know about the crisis of middle age thanks to the empirical test. To what extent does it exist?

Crisis of the middle age: reality or myth?

In his excellent book 50 great myths of Popular Psychology, Scott O. Lilienfield, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio and Barry Beyerstein offer important amounts of data according to which the catastrophic notion that most people will go through a crisis of middle age is exaggerated, although it has a bit of truth .

For example, in an investigation conducted with a sample of 1501 married Chinese between 30 and 60 years old, the psychologist Daniel Shek did not find significant evidence that as he passed through middle age, most participants experienced a growth in dissatisfaction.

With regard to people linked to Western culture, the largest study conducted on people in the life stage of maturity (more than 3,000 interviews), men and women between 40 and 60 years showed, in general, a few degrees of satisfaction and control of one's life superior to those experienced during the previous decade.

In addition, the worry and discomfort generated by the idea of ​​suffering a crisis of middle age were more frequent than the cases in which this phenomenon was really experienced. Other investigations have shown that only between 10 and 26% of people over 40 years of age They say they have gone through a mid-life crisis.

Maturity can also be enjoyed

So, why has this phenomenon been so exaggerated? It is possible that this is due, in part, to what is meant by midlife crisis is very ambiguous, so it is easy to use that concept when it comes to what causes us to suffer.

For example, a qualitative leap in consumption patterns, such as starting to travel at the age of 41, can be attributed to the need to live again the adventurous spirit of youth , but it can also be understood, simply, as the fruit of saving years during a period in which luxuries were beyond one's reach.

It is also possible that the problems of communication with adolescent children or the boredom produced by a more stable work context generate a malaise that we associate abstractly with aging, although technically it has nothing to do with this process.

In any case, everything seems to indicate that in most cases the worst of the mid-life crisis is its anticipation and the unjustified worry it generates. The maturity It is usually a moment of life that can be enjoyed as much or more than any other , and it is not worth creating artificial problems waiting for a crisis that probably will not come.

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Bibliographic references:

  • Brim, O. G. and Kessler, R. C. (2004). How healthy are we? A national study of well-being at midlife. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Network of Mental Health and Development. Studies on Successful Midlife Development (R. C. Kessler, Ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lilienfield, S.O., Lynn, S.J., Ruscio, J. and Beyerstein, B. (2011). 50 great myths of popular psychology. Vilassar de Dalt: Buridan Library.
  • Shek, D. (1996). Mid-life crysis in Chinese men and women. Journal of Psychology, 130, pp. 109 - 119.


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