The origins of the term: Midlife Crisis
Midlife Crisis was a term coined by the Psychologist Elliott Jaques in 1965. He was not attempting to describe a general experience shared by all who go through midlife, rather he was applying the term to creative/artistic geniuses who underwent abrupt changes at approximately age 35. Our culture—probably with help Daniel Levinson in Seasons of a Man’s Life and Gail Sheehy in Passages—adopted the term and has applied it more broadly.

Recently Chump Lady wrote a post at her blog about our forum: The Mid-Life Crisis Made Me Do It. Really?
I’ve addressed several things she said by commenting to her post, but she cited a couple of pretty common articles and I thought it might be a good time to address some of these universal ideas again.
I find it quite strange that people cite these articles as supporting evidence that MLC is a myth when the only place that idea is supported in them is the headline. The actual articles, though trying to support the idea that MLC is a myth, wind up failing. What some are doing is trying to give evidence that MLC is not common or not a guarantee—it doesn’t happen to everyone. But in doing this they dismiss its existence for all people.

Article Review Part I

I did a basic Google search for midlife crisis myth to see what I could find. I went through the first 10 and have listed a few below in the order of their Google rank and reviewed them; the two with an asterisk are those cited by Chump Lady. In another post I will review the research project from which much of the data is taken. It’s a huge project and quite fascinating, but I need to review the books again (several books and peer-reviewed papers came out of the project) so that I can pull out and clarify the information for everyone.

Midlife Crisis: A Myth or a Reality in Search of a New Name?
This was also posted at the Huffington Post with a follow-up article: Surviving Midlife Without a Crisis: Step One.
Basically this asks if MLC should be renamed because a person can have a crisis of the type associated with what we call MLC at any age or stage of life. That’s a valid question which I addressed in a response to that article.
Midlife Crisis: Should it be Renamed?
This article did point out that both Carl Jung and Erik Erikson considered it as a normal part of development which has likely lead to the research stating it is a myth simply because not everyone goes through an MLC. But that is MLT—midlife transition and of course everyone who survives long enough goes through it—just like all 25 year olds transitioned through being a teenager. Some may use the word crisis to mean a turning point in life and synonymous with transition, whereas others—like me—use it for transitions that involve avoidance, depression, fear, anger and projection. I use the word crisis in the context of danger + opportunity, so there is an opportunity in there; it’s the silver lining in the trauma.

Mid-Life Crisis-Myth or Reality? Turning Crisis into Wisdom
This turn your crisis into a blessing idea is common—and a great idea. But it does not deny that MLC exists. We don’t see a lot about turning your depression into a blessing, but that sounds like a good idea too. But maybe people would feel we were dismissing someone’s very real illness if we said that about depression. This article actually did not discuss whether midlife crisis is real or not—it merely used the headline as a hook to attract readers.

Better with Age? Midlife Crises are a Myth or *The Midlife Crisis Is a Total Myth
(These are the same article.)
This is another article disputing the commonality of the crisis—especially the assumption that it is inevitable. The headline says that midlife crisis is a myth, but the article actually says “the idea that midlife crises are common is a myth.” That is not the same as saying MLC is a myth. I agree that MLC is not inevitable and may not even be common according to how someone determines commonality—common being a relative term. In addition the article also brings up the argument that crises are not isolated to the midlife years. Hey, I agree with that too. Researchers often define midlife crisis as being about a fear or concern with aging or dying; that may be true for some MLCers, but it is by no means a necessary attribute. Many MLCers are not fearing death or even worried about their aging. Some may even be rejoicing in their continuing youthful vigor and showing off that vigor through their Replay behaviors.
“Epidemiologists have found no spike in negative events — such as career disillusionment — in middle age.”
What does it matter if there is no spike in negative events during the midlife years? That’s a generality and it does not mean that some people in those years are experiencing negative events. Just because something does not happen to my neighbor does not mean it won’t happen to me and vice versa. We are not all a bunch of bungeeless bridge-jumpers.
“The term “midlife crisis” caught on like wildfire, because everyone knows someone who fits the mold. …But what about all the people we know who don’t fit the mold?”
So what about those who don’t fit the mold, are we supposed to dismiss those who do because there are more who don’t.

I will post the remaining three articles in this review tomorrow.

Series NavigationMidlife Crisis, What Are The Odds? Part II


Midlife Crisis, What Are The Odds?1 Comment

  1. Chump Lady has her opinion and it is based on HER experience. Or, perhaps NO experience. That is how people are usually able to hold onto an opinion based upon nothing.

    It sounds to me like Chump Lady is ANGRY with women who get cheated on. Maybe she is angry with herself for being cheated on. Maybe she feels powerful telling other women what is wrong with them and what they should do. Too bad some people will seek her approval. She sounds like a blowhard.

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