You have an unexplained desire to buy a sports car. You’re happily married, but you have started fantasizing about younger women. You go on a crash diet, and dream about starting over, being free. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
All of these “quick fixes” are ways in which some men deal with coming face to face with their own mortality, more commonly known as “midlife crisis.”
It’s not easy to realize that we are all mortal. We start to panic, thinking there is little time left to finish out all the things that we wanted to do in our lives. But denial, or superficial actions like those mentioned above, waste time and energy. With patience, help and some self-exploration, you can restructure your life on a more satisfying, though mortal, foundation.
To help you understand the male midlife crisis, John M. Russell, Ph.D., a psychologist, explains some of the major themes that men experience during this phase of their lives.
Life as an Endless Burden
Some men have not made peace with personal issues such as their dependency needs, doubts about their masculinity, unrealistic ambitions and anxieties about being a family provider. Some even feel like “impostors,” expecting to be unmasked at any moment. Others avoid or delay “growing up,” as if being a child is the only way one can be truly happy and satisfied.
Adult life may be seen as “all work and no play,” or as a necessary sacrifice in order to provide children with their carefree lives. Yet, there are many “adult” satisfactions available, including challenging work, caring relationships, learning opportunities, friendships and spiritual renewal. One goal might be to see oneself as OK and the adult world as OK and learn to enjoy and appreciate adult life as a precious gift.
Unfinished Emotional “Business”
In the midst of an objectively “good” life, some feelings that have been buried in the unconscious may surface, much to everyone’s surprise. Since these emotions are being experienced in the present, it is difficult to understand that these reactions could stem from past conflicts.
Here is an example of “unfinished business.” A man who felt unloved or unworthy as a child pushes aside these feelings. He successfully compensates for them by trying very hard to be a loving husband, father and provider — and does a good job. However, his earlier feelings of being unlovable or unworthy emerge and undermine his present sense of security.
One theory suggests that these feelings of inadequacy ironically surface at a time when the man has finally reached a point in his life when he is strong enough to “come to grips” with and work through these emotions. These men may benefit from transitional counseling.
Some men may have been operating on dreams, illusions or unrealistic expectations that were set in motion before they entered adulthood. Over the course of their lives, these dreams have been shattered or discarded.
The death of a dream can result in unrecognized grief and discouragement. Old illusions die hard. Viewing life as a challenging, evolving reality that requires parallel personal growth is a perspective that is at odds with many of our simplistic and immature fantasies. Yet it is a useful perspective on the midlife period.
The Need to Move On
When a man is faced with the need to leave his family or job, he may avoid the confrontation, thinking that the situation somehow will get better. Following through with such major life changes often is avoided because of insecurity, complacency, fear of hurting others, lack of courage or fear of being alone. Such feelings often delay decisions to take action. An honest and frank appraisal may be useful in assessing a possible course of action.
Thus, whether psychological or biological in origin, many men do experience age related concerns that feel like personal crises. These crises often denote the onset of a transition and the need for a man to reinvent or redefine himself. However, the prospect for men undergoing midstream appraisals is encouraging. With patience, help and perseverance, most men regain their sense of purpose, meaning and satisfaction.