Motherhood & Mothers

This is What a Successful Midlife Crisis Really Looks Like

I now officially wonder, what is midlife for women? Mathematically, I’m likely at middle age or I’ve passed it by. Is it a “crisis?” I’ll turn fifty this year and I’m starting to feel a little “restless.”  Although, I confess, it doesn’t feel much like a crisis.

It feels more like an experience, a small voice from within, or an urge to move than a crisis. We’re all going to go through it, and I’ve found two things that will help you rock this midlife “experience” successfully.

Are you wondering what is middle age? Is it a number or is middle age something that you can successfully navigate?

What is Middle Age? The Science Says…

Women experience midlife differently than men and may experience boredom, a feeling of worthlessness, loneliness, lack of meaning, depression or anxiety. We may start drinking too much, repeatedly changing jobs or partners, or obsessively shopping but never quite finding satisfaction.

Ummmm, check, check, and check. (Ok, maybe a few more, but who’s counting?)

Any of these feelings can be triggered by a divorce, a serious illness, redundancy, an empty nest, the loss of a parent, or nothing at all.

For me, it was my mother’s passing that jolted me into my “midlife experience.” So I’ve been wondering – what is a midlife crisis?

In The Middle Passage: From Misery To Meaning In Midlife, James Hollis explains how we all develop defenses as children that no longer serve us later in life. As a child and into our 20’s, everything was magical. In the second half of our 20’s and into our 30’s we thought we were invincible. We thought we could take charge, and that we could control anything and everything.

And then we turned 40.

You Can’t Control Midlife’s Unraveling

This Jungian view sits squarely with Brene Brown’s brilliant thoughts on midlife as “a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control…”

The writings of Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert have helped me start putting my own pieces into place. Here’s what Brene Brown says:

Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.

By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling. You can’t cure the midlife unraveling with control any more than the acquisitions, accomplishments, and alpha-parenting of our thirties cured our deep longing for permission to slow down and be imperfect.

If you look at each midlife “event” as a random, stand-alone struggle, you might be lured into believing you’re only up against a small constellation of “crises.” The truth is that the midlife unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control. By low-grade, quiet, and insidious, I mean it’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering – the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK. (cite, Brene Brown)

At the end of my 40’s, I find my mother’s death catapulting me into a realization that I mush shift my beliefs into a more realistic place. A college friend, with two young children, has been bravely kicking breast cancer’s ass for over 5 years. My college BFF died fifteen years ago from lymphoma and the world lost a beautiful spirit. Crappy things happen to good people. Equally disturbing, good things happen to crappy people.

The truth is, we can’t control anything. Not even this midlife thing that is charging toward us. *sigh*

Instead of Trying to Control Midlife, Try This…

We need to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks so that we can surge forward into the unexplored adventures that still await us. One of my favorite movies – Under the Tuscan Sun – portrays this life experience beautifully.

So I stay grounded by understanding the inevitability of my midlife experience. It’s coming. It will do me no good to evade – it’s coming. And since I can’t control it, I choose to be grateful that it’s coming.

I see every day as an opportunity to “get my life right.” Midlife is an opportunity to experience my genuine self – flaws, scars, holes and all. And to share with the world. I’m not trying to present a perfect picture of myself any more.

We each have a purpose here, and now is the time that we are given to fulfill that purpose and reach our highest potential. This creativity has become on of my favorite ways to spend time with myself.

Both Hollis and Brown describe the inevitability of this unraveling. So, actively choosing gratitude for this midlife experience helps free me from worry and fear about what is to come.

What’s Your Response to Midlife’s Unraveling?

I’ve always looked for answers outside myself. I’ve come face to face with midlife’s reality that maybe the answers aren’t “out there.” Like Dorothy, maybe I’ve had the power all along. It just wasn’t until now that I figured it out.

Maybe our most treasured answers are “in here.” That’s not always pleasant – it’s tough work. I think that’s why when people ask, “What is midlife?” the answer invariably contains the word “crisis.”

Are you wondering what is middle age? Is it a number or is middle age something that you can successfully navigate?

Brene Brown again illuminates midlife as:

…when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. The time has come to let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. (cite)

In one fell swoop, midlife made SO much sense. I’m exploring midlife’s “painful irony” that the very defenses that kept me safe growing up now interfere with my becoming the parent, partner, and person whom I want to be. It’s time to put those defenses aside and reach for my highest potential!

So the second thing that keeps me grounded is hope. I am hopeful, and confident, that my second half of life will bring new and amazing experiences and opportunities for growth and exploration. So summon hope. Stay hopeful.

I’d love to hear how you are making it through midlife! Let me know your successes!

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  1. All that you say is true, and if you truly would like to know more about midlife and my experience (I’m now 62) please read my books. I have been studying this from all angles for the past ten years. Midlife for me became a time between 40 and 60 where I began to question all of my previous assumptions about my life and where I was headed. Divorce, job loss and then career loss at age 49 were the misfortunes that just kept on giving until I had discovered a whole new me.
    As I note in my book, Find Your Reason To Be Here, boomers’ midlife transformation is a whole new rite of passage not available to previous generations. We simply didn’t live long enough in the past! Now we have time to change everything in our 40s or 50s and begin anew! Talk about liberation! My life is new in every regard now, and I thank my midlife crisis everyday for that…

  2. It sounds like you are brave, thoughtful, and intelligent. You already have experienced some loss and pain in your life. And, you will in the future. But, I imagine that you will come through “midlife” (however you define it) as a stronger, more compassionate, and more self-confident person. Best wishes. P.S. – I’m 66 years old and I remember some of my own midlife angst.

    1. I try not to worry. My Type-A prefers to think of it as planning. I’m trying to focus on making intentional choices that authentically suit me!

  3. My (mid-life) menopausal journey helped to focus my attention towards myself. I had to put myself on my own To Do List as my hormones were plummeting and I started experiencing insomnia, mood swings, hot flashes, weight gain and lots more. It is common for these symptoms to occur in “mid-life. At one point, I thought an alien had taken over my body. I did not like the new me. Then I found a menopause specialist who developed an individual plan that fit my health needs and helped me with all of these symptoms. I felt great again and I felt a new freedom and excitement about this time in my life. I came out an even better version of me!

    1. I love the idea of a menopause specialist! I understand feeling like an alien has taken over your body. But I LOVE that you’re a better version of you!!! That’s wonderful!

    1. Yeah…the unraveling is sort of a force of nature that just happens whether we want it to or not. But in the coming back together – there’s choice and there’s power and it’s not a race. We can take each step slowly and intentionally 🙂

  4. I love your positive outlook on midlife! I am 46 menopausal and I try my best to be positive but my hormones are getting the best of me! I have good and bad days, but I get petrified of the future! Great blog!

  5. Ahhhhh, Hollis’s book helped me too… depth psychology has intrigued me for a long time, but JH’s books plunge into those darker emotional/subsurface realms that our souls are begging us to give attention to.

    My crises have pushed me into solitude but awakened me to connection. The suffering we experience as humans connects us to a solidarity we can’t find without our authenticity.

    I love Hollis’s warnings. I guess they are Jung’s really. Face your shadow or face psychosis.

    I read the Middle Passage and found two others (also James Hollis) that I read immediately after… Swamplands of the Soul and The Eden Project.

    I did a write up of them if interested (and allowed by moderators here!)—

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