June 7

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5 Sure Signs that Midlife Change is Occurring


“Change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” – John C. Maxwell

When “life happens” meaning that change inevitably occurs in our life, we often view it as a problem or even a crisis. We could be facing a situation of loss such as ending a relationship or losing a job. Or, it could be a growing feeling of emptiness like we are just going through the motions of life. Or, it could be a feeling of restlessness that we want something to change but not sure what it is or why it’s happening. Or finally, it could be a feeling of being trapped in our current situation and don’t see an easy way out. These are all feelings that signal that midlife change is occurring.

Sometimes we are the cause of change in our lives either consciously or unconsciously. We may have been unconsciously neglecting our health or our relationships until the negative consequences inevitably appear. Maybe our spouse gives us an ultimatum to change or get out. Or, maybe our doctor tells us that if we don’t change our diet and get some exercise, we are headed for a heart attack. Change may also be the result of conscious decisions because we felt bored or trapped in our lives and made a rash or unwise decision like having an affair or making a large purchase we can’t afford.

Whether change comes as a result of external circumstances or as a result of our own actions or inactions, the important thing is to recognize that change is occurring and consciously adapt in the best way possible. How we adapt to change depends primarily on our attitude about how we view the change that’s occurring. When change happens, we either get better or bitter, and the difference is “I”.

5 Signs of Midlife Change

Here are five sure signs that you are experiencing midlife change:

  1. Dissatisfied with our career: We may feel stuck in our job without any future for growth or upward movement. Or, we may feel like we aren’t appreciated or our work doesn’t matter. We may suddenly feel like we want to quit our job or escape our responsibilities. We might even be envious of younger colleagues, especially if they seem to be advancing in their professional career.
  2. Obsession with looking or feeling young: We may start dressing in a way that makes us look younger, dye our hair, or get cosmetic procedures in an attempt to reduce the visible signs of aging.
  3. Relationship dissatisfaction: We may feel isolated or alone or stuck in a bad or unfulfilling relationship. We may get irritated or mad about unimportant or trivial things or overly criticize our spouse or children. We may even consider changing partners or having an affair.
  4. Emotional distress:  We may feel like there’s nothing to get excited about or nothing makes us happy. We may feel empty inside for long periods of time with a lack of energy, or we may get angry quickly and be short-tempered. We may have an intense desire to escape uncomfortable feelings  Or, we may start behaving recklessly and possibly turn to alcohol or drugs for relief.
  5. Long periods of time contemplating mortality and the purpose of life: We may question our values or religious beliefs. Or, we may find ourselves asking ‘Is this all there is?’ ‘How did I end up here?’ ‘What happened to my life?’ ‘Why can’t I have something better?’ ‘Isn’t there something more?’.

If you are experiencing any of these signs, you are likely facing midlife change. However, you are not alone. Midlife change is normal, and it happens to everyone. We all experience changes in midlife and we will experience different types of changes at different times. The important thing is to recognize and acknowledge change so that we can choose positive ways of adapting.

The Psychology of Midlife Change

Midlife change occurs naturally as our roles, relationships, and circumstances change over time. Psychologist Carl Jung says that in the first part of our life, we build our Ego in relation to our family, career, and social status. We build a mask or a Persona in order to better fit the exterior norms of society. However, this mask is actually quite different from our authentic Self or true identity.

After building a life of what society expects, the events of midlife start to show the disconnect between what our true self desires and what we thought society expected of us. With each day, the contrast between the life we have and the life we desire gets bigger and bigger causing more and more tension and frustration.

Some people ignore or repress these thoughts and feelings and either become numb just going through the motions of life or lash out at others or the world making rash decisions. There is, of course, a healthier way to adapt to change. However, it requires a recognition of the problem, some soul searching, and the courage to take action.

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Jung calls this the beginning of a process called individuation where we start to see ourselves not as just a member of society, and not just as an individual, but as an individual that is inextricably linked with others. Jung tells us to examine whatever we have been doing that does not serve us and to examine constructive ways to change that align our authentic self with serving ourselves and others.

If we want to live more in alignment with our authentic self, Jung describes two developmental stages we need to complete. We need to go deep within and reclaim those parts of ourselves that we have repressed in the past and the ones that we may not even know exist. And secondly, we need to reshape our lives based on the newfound understanding of who we truly are and develop a deeper connection with the spiritual side of our existence.

Do men and women experience midlife change in the same way?

Specialists agree that the reasons for midlife change are the same for everyone.  However, men and women manifest midlife change differently.

Studies show that in men, this change period can last somewhere between 3 and 10 years while in women it usually lasts no more than 5 years. Also, for men, the trigger more often seems to be professional dissatisfaction or wanting more income. Meanwhile, for women, relationships are more often the trigger as they seem to put more emphasis on relationships with their spouse and family.

It is important to note that since midlife now ranges from roughly 35 to 75 years of age, midlife change will happen frequently throughout life. And, learning to deal with midlife change successfully is an important life skill to develop.

Application Tips

Here are 7 tips to help recognize midlife change and begin to adapt in a positive manner:

  1. Acceptance of Change – Accept that midlife change is normal and that it will occur multiple times. And not only will you go through midlife change, everyone else you know will go through it too. It is not a matter of if we will go through midlife change. It is a matter of when and how we go through change. As the average age expectancy has risen from 47 in 1900 to close to 80 now, the length of time we spend in adult life has tripled. The rapid speed of technology change has increased and will continue to increase the speed of change in our lives. As the quote from John Maxwell says, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”
  2. Denial Doesn’t Work – Understand that ignoring or procrastinating in dealing with midlife change only delays the inevitable. The reality is that change is happening and denying it does not make it go away. The longer we wait to deal with it, the greater the chances of experiencing negative consequences. It is best to recognize change as soon as it is happening and be prepared to adapt.
  3. An Opportunity for Growth – Realize that midlife change is not just a problem to be dealt with but can be an opportunity for something better. Taking a positive attitude towards midlife change is the first step towards making healthy adjustments. We often procrastinate dealing with issues when we aren’t able to visualize a successful outcome. We are afraid to act because we are uncertain of what will happen in the future. However, if we can begin to see change as an opportunity for something better, it becomes less scary and less uncertain.
  4. Make Time to Reflect – Personal growth always happens from the inside out. Often times midlife change sneaks up on us because we are constantly busy filling our lives with activities and distractions with no time to think or reflect. One of the healthiest things we can do is to schedule a quiet time to think about our lives. Quiet time can be going for a walk, exercising, going for a long drive, or sitting quietly at home without the TV or computer on. Just allow your mind to relax and spend some time thinking about what you would like the future to look like
  5. Develop Gratitude – Spend time in gratitude for what you currently have. Our brains are programmed with a negative bias that looks for faults and problems as a survival mechanism. When we focus on the negative, our mind has trouble developing creative and positive solutions. Forcing ourselves to be grateful frees the mind of negativity allowing us to see the possibilities of a better future.
  6. Listen to Thoughts and Feelings – Listen to your inner thoughts and feelings and write them down as they come to you. Do not judge them. Just let them flow. There is amazing power in writing down our thoughts and feelings because it frees the mind to think about other things. Our thoughts and feelings just want to be heard. Writing them down acknowledges that they have been heard so that the mind can move on to other things.
  7. Reflect on Your Life – Examine your life honestly and without judgment. One of the most valuable investments we can make is spending time thinking about our future. The future is going to happen, and it can happen either by default or by conscious intention. So, the best way to improve our lives is to look at each area and decide what we want the future to look like. Being honest with where we are helps us develop a path to where we want to be. Judging our life harshly only brings feelings of unworthiness, guilt, or shame which only hinder our growth.

Using these application tips will help to recognize midlife change as it is occurring. It will also provide tools for adapting and adjusting to change positively. Midlife change is going to happen. In fact, it is probably happening right now. So, let’s take a look at some action steps to help recognize the change that’s occurring right now.

Action Items

  1. Schedule 15 – 20 minutes of quiet time to think and reflect on your life. Choose either a paper journal or software program to record your thoughts. If you choose to use an electronic method of journaling, you can use Word, Google Docs, a notes app like Evernote, OneNote, or a variety of phone-based notetaking or journaling apps.
  2. Think about the different areas of your life and how you feel about them. Are there areas of life where you feel bored, blasé’ or like you are just going through the emotions? Are there areas of your life that make you anxious, stressed, unhappy, or angry?
  3. How do you feel about your health, vitality, energy, and general appearance? If you improve your health, how would it impact the other areas of your life?
  4. If you could only change one area of your life for the better, which one would it be?
  5. What is stopping you from making changes right now? Are you afraid to make changes? Are you waiting for permission from someone else to make changes? What is the worst that could happen if you make changes? What will likely happen if you don’t make changes?
  6. What would be the easiest and simplest step you could take to improve that one area of your life? Take that first step or schedule a time to take the first step!

Summary

Midlife change is inevitable, and ignoring change or procrastinating making adjustments can only make things worse. However, change can also be an opportunity for personal growth. Change can come from external sources or internally from shifts in the way we think and feel about things. Learning to recognize change and positively adapt is an important life skill. Positively adapting to change requires the inner work of thinking and reflecting. Inner work takes time and patience and requires that we make time in our schedule where we can be free of distractions. Thinking and reflecting on our life with honesty and without judgment allows us to more clearly see what we want and don’t want in life. Choosing one area and taking action immediately gives us personal momentum propelling us on a path of positive change.

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References

Abigail, Stewart. (2001). Middle Aging in Women: Patterns of Personality Change from the 30s to the 50s

Barbara, Newman. (2010). Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach

Barret, A.(2004). Gendered experiences in midlife: Implications for age identity

Bennett K.M., Gibbons K. & Mackenzie-Smith S. (2010). Loss and restoration in later life: an examination of dual process model of coping with bereavement. Omega (Westport), 61(4), 315-32.

Helson, R. (2005). Up and down in middle age: monotonic and nonmonotonic changes in roles, status, and personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 89(2), Aug 2005, 194-204

Otto Driessen,E.  (2018). You Only Live Twice: Midlife as a Creative Transition Into Our ‘Second Act’

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Bruce Fleck

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