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Friday, September 17, 2010

Midlife crises and how to deal with them

Guest post by Udo Stadtsbuchler

In my work as a psychotherapist I have come across some causes for midlife crises, and one of the most common one was that men feel dissatisfied with what they had achieved and that they feel they can no longer rectify what "went wrong" in their lives.
Women main reasons for midlife crises were the onset of menopause and the empty nest syndrome, when the children had left home and no longer can be the focus point of motherly attention.
Oftentimes midlife crises for both sexes are temporary, and then life continues almost as before. But very often it has a very negative and lasting effect on the person and their families. These were the cases I mostly dealt with. Luckily all of them were resolved successfully. Here are some examples.
George (not his real name) is a typical example. He is in his early 50s, employed in middle management position in a "young" industry. His eldest son is on a similar dead end career path, his younger son works only occasionally whenever he feels like it. His wife is working in a very well paid and secure job. George buys himself a bike – you guessed it, it's a Harley Davidson – joins a biker club and now spends all of his spare time with his fellow club members. He completely neglects his wife and shows no interest in his sons. His wife endures this for many years. Only when she no longer just threatens with divorce but indeed files for it a few days short before his 64th birthday, can he be persuaded by her and the rest of the family to see me.
Hilda is in her mid 50s, with two grown up children no longer living with their parents. She is very unhappy in her marriage, unhappy with her life as a whole; but, for her more importantly, unhappy with her looks. She sees herself as being short (correct), fat (well, yes), frumpy (yes, it's true), and ugly (not true). She is incredibly jealous and is fearful that her husband has a girl friend (not true) and considers divorcing her (not true). She is insecure, has no confidence in herself, she is shy and withdrawn.
Bob and Mary both have been through their respective midlife crises, during which they went through emotional hell.  Bob's business had gone through a terrible slump and was close to going under; they both had formed other relationships and were about to getting divorced.  Now they both are in the 60+ years age group and they resolve to stay together. Business has improved dramatically, their respective other relationships ended. They decide to sell their house and the business, to retire and to move to Spain's Costa del Sol to have "a new start". What they did not know was that any form of change presents problems and challenges, and that a strong bond between the partners is needed to overcome these problems and to face up to the challenges. A strong bond gets even stronger under adverse circumstances; a weak bong gets weaker and can even break. Bob's and Mary's bond was still very weak.
What these examples have in common is that the individuals concerned experienced challenges, real or imagined, before they went into crisis mode. I suggest, therefore, that people do not go through midlife crises if they do not experience challenges, which can indeed be only imagined, and who are content or even happy with their life as a whole.
The best way of dealing with midlife crises and life's challenges is to follow my leitmotif, which is at the core of all my work: change the way you think and change your life.
In case of midlife crisis realize that this crisis is based on your feelings. Accept that you feel that way, do not deny it. Acceptance is the first step to change what you accept. Accept and resolve to make it better. And you make things better by changing the meaning of what is upsetting you. Reframe the circumstances that frustrate you. For example George, the chap in my first example, used his cognitive abilities – his intellect and his logic – to realize that he could not turn back the clock and become a youthful hell raiser again. He changed the meaning that he had given to his meaningless life as he saw it, to something positive and challenging. We created a new challenge for him, which he duly mastered and he runs now his own business with some 20 employees. He has shaved off his beard and sold his Harley.
The other examples that I presented - and many more - were resolved in similar manner. The sequences of how to go about it is accept, resolve, change meaning, and give yourself a meaningful challenge.
  Copyright ©2010 Udo Stadtsbuchler
Udo Stadtsbuchler is a retired psychotherapist and lives on Spain's Costa del Sol. He is the author of Happiness Discovered.
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