A bad outcome of a mid-life crisis tosses people into counseling. They report that the person they knew became entirely different over night. It is almost cliché that with a mid-life crisis comes the impractical sports car, the extramarital affair, late nights at bars, new friends who are twenty years younger, hipper clothes or a dramatic career change. They never thought it would happen to their spouse or friend, but it did. How?
Erik Erikson defines his seventh psychosocial stage as Generativity vs. Stagnation which occurs in the late thirties until the mid-sixties. This time period in an adult life encompasses the mid-life crisis years which can begin and end anytime in between. So what is a mid-life crisis? It is when an adult evaluates where they are in life compared to the dreams and goals they once had for themselves, to the status of others they desire to be more like, and to their potential to leave their mark on the world around them.
The Psychology. If a person sees how their contribution to home, work, church or community adds value to the lives around them, then they develop generativity. Generativity is expressed through concern for guiding the next generation, desire to leave a positive mark on the world, making a difference in the life of another, creatively using gifts and talents for the benefit of others, and feeling successful regardless of financial status. If a person don’t see how their contribution adds value, then they become stagnate or stuck.
Mid-Life Crisis and Generativity. Not all mid-life crisis’ need to end in disaster, some are actually for the better and can motivate a person to live up to their full potential. For instance, perhaps they are in a profession which they “fell into” mostly by accident but dream about another profession. This may just be the time to go back to school and get a desired new degree to work in a profession they are passionate about doing. By now as opposed to twenty years ago, they have a better understanding of their capabilities, talents, gifts and purpose in life along with responsibilities, time constraints, and natural limitations. This combination enables a person to be more focused on reasonable goals that are not selfish in nature but add value to the lives around.
Mid-Life Crisis and Stagnation. On the flip side of a mid-life crisis is the potential to become even more self-involved and to alienate others. This mid-life crisis is very different from the one mentioned above however it begins the exact same way. An evaluation of life leads to an even greater desire to satisfy all the needs, wants, and desires that have been put off. To justify the behavior, a person may say, “I deserve it” or “I have given so much to others, it’s time to give to myself”, or “I’m tired of sacrificing for others”. This is a heart issue more than anything. If someone really give out of a desire to show love to others, then no strings would be attached. This includes any anticipation of thanks, appreciation, or returning the favor. In essence, they expect nothing in return. If however giving is out of a desire for some type of reward, then the gift is selfish and manipulative. This includes verbal (a thank-you), physical (touch, hug or sex), emotional (happy feelings or feelings of obligation), or mental (think nice things about you or need to return the favor). This thinking is the seed from which a negative mid-life crisis grows.
The Cure. Since at the base of a mid-life crisis is the condition of a person’s heart, there is no other cure other than a complete change of it. It is not unusual for a trauma or crisis during this period to spark a dramatic change in direction. Unfortunately, this cannot be manifactured, rather it needs to be a more natural outcome, otherwise it will not be a real change.
Sometimes, something as simple as a 360 evaluation can help to spark change. When a person has the opportunity to see themselves how others see them, this creates discussion which can lead to change. It well is worth the effort to guide a person in the positive direction of a mid-life crisis for them, their family and the community as a whole.