The female midlife crisis – and how to survive it feeling better than ever
-Oct 22, Hannah Hargrave, Mind -
A midlife crisis has traditionally been thought of as a male phenomenon, but it can happen to women too and it’s much more common than you’d think.
While the term midlife crisis all too often conjures up images of a 50-year-old man speeding off into the sunset in a too expensive sports car with a 20 year old girlfriend in the passenger seat, studies show that more women are now having their own existential crises.
The term was first coined in 1965 by Canadian psychologist Elliot Jaques who described how people entering middle age are confronted with the limitations of their life and their mortality.
Whether it’s a hopeless feeling that you are no longer in control of your life, or you’ve lost your purpose, a midlife crisis, is not to be taken lightly.
Psychologist Emma Kenny explains to Lumity magazine what it’s like for women to go through a midlife crisis and how they can get through it feeling happier and more focused than ever.
How common would you say midlife crisis in women are?
“Very common,” says Emma. “Very common indeed. In fact I’d go as far to say that more women are struggling with this than men today.”
Why has it been associated with men and not women for so long?
“I think the reason that men were thought about more regarding midlife crisis in the past was because it was put down to their careers, which a lot of women didn’t have,” explains Emma.
“Even today for men their midlife crisis is often based on their unhappiness within their job or they’re just disappointed with their lot.
“But with women it’s much more about them. Men can change their job and buy a new car. A woman can’t just change herself. It’s often deeper and more reflective.”
What are the symptoms you see in women going through a midlife crisis?
“You may feel like you are losing your mind or going crazy and that’s perfectly normal,” explains Emma.
“Insomnia becomes really prevalent, while some women go the other way and get really lethargic.
“Lots of people say they get catastrophe thinking. For example a woman could be sitting there thinking life is unbearable, panicking about how she’s going to become throwaway.
“Suddenly worrying that you can’t find your passion is another symptom, as is frustration and fear of your future, but the biggest fundamental thing that women express is loss, they have a monumental sense of grief.”
Why is loss and grief such a powerful feeling in this particular type of crisis?
“The timing of a midlife crisis for women often correlates with the years when you realise your body can’t have kids anymore and you have to start saying goodbye to things which are completely out of your control. Your fertility, your youth and even loved ones.
“You start losing parents and have to deal with that grief too. When that happens you truly realise there is a time limit to acknowledge and when you realise there’s a time limit you also look at all the things you haven’t fulfilled. This can cause immense fear.
“There’s this panicking sense of ‘what haven’t I done?’ Then you get frustrated because you still want to do all these things and you don’t know how or can’t do them all.
“You have to make peace with all of this, just as you do with grieving a physical human being, and that takes time.”
You say a woman’s midlife crisis is mostly internal but the external effects of ageing must play a large part in it too?
“Yes, it does. It was once a linear route where you would see women going through the motions of ageing and they’d have to just accept that.
“Now women’s bodies are going through the menopause, something they can’t control, but they still look and feel like they’re in their 20s.
“This is frustrating.
“Women spend a lot of their younger life – especially in the modern day – thinking about the gaze of society. I’m talking about beauty, youth and vitality, the values that are placed on a younger women regarding her body, they’re quite abundant and positive.
“But unfortunately because we still live in what is unfortunately quite a misogynistic society, when a woman is becoming her most creative also correlates to when a woman starts to lose her visibility.
“So at a time when you feel more capable and should be more empowered the world around you starts to turn the volume down on you. So I think it causes a juxtaposition about process and where you are with society’s perspective of your worth.”
In your experience do women know what is happening to them but just brush it under the rug through embarrassment, fear or confusion?
“It’s true that women often just deal with the crippling frustration of their position because they probably don’t know what to do about it. While men often go out and buy fast cars or spend their savings and gamble, women FEEL it much more and have to deal with those feelings before things can improve.”
How long will it last?
“How long it will last is completely subjective. If you have a lot of support, a lot of caring around you and people making you feel like you have worth and vitality it’s simpler than those who feel lonely and isolated and loss.
“If you work hard to draw the positives from a midlife awakening/crisis and thinking about your identity you will get to the other side sooner. I would say around two yeas is about average, but it’s not unusual for people to spend five or six years going through it.”
Will it get better?
“The good news is that although going through this can be distressing, it’s usually a time when decisions are made and those decisions tend to be excellent.
“I like to describe it as like the shedding of your skin, that can actually be empowering and embracing once you get to the end of it.”
What can a woman do to help?
“To combat these feelings you need to keep busy,” explains Emma. “If you ask someone who tends to their allotment, then volunteers and goes home and looks after their family they generally won’t have these indulgent times for worrying about their crisis.
“There is an indulgence around crisis like this. If you feel you have too much time on your hands find something to do, whether it’s baking or knitting, exercise. Whatever you enjoy doing.
“Do as much as you can with your time.
“Also make yourself look good. You’ll always feel better if you look in the mirror and like what you see. This won’t happen if you haven’t done your hair and makeup. Even if it’s just from the head up, it’ll help.”