As a major evolutionary stage in middle adulthood, the midlife crisis corresponds to a change, a transition, or an existential turning point that is not necessarily pathological and takes place somewhere between the ages of thirty-five and fifty.
Based on a more or less deep questioning of oneself it may contribute to the possible emergence of psycho-pathological disturbances that in all probability stem from the personal history and constitution of each person (depressive reactions, suicide or attempted suicide, manic or hypomanic defenses, and psychotic outbursts). Somatic complaints may also often come to the fore.
From a psychopathological point of view, the mid-life crisis has its roots in a complex interweaving of different biological, psychological, and social factors. Some Anglo-Saxon authors (among them Eliott Jaques and Daniel J. Levinson) have studied the factors that may contribute to the fragility of the mind; in particular reduced physical performance, the approach of menopause in women, or a painful awareness of the time that has already passed.
From a psychodynamic point of view a role may be attributed to the reverse parental identification with the children, who are approximately going through adolescence when their parents are having their mid-life crisis. These reverse identifications run an implicit risk of causing depressive moods by virtue of the fact that they are based on an existential impasse.
In relation to the midlife crisis it is worth referring to Carl Gustav Jung's already quite old writings, particularly the article titled The Stages of Life. Having described the "archetypes" that constitute the collective unconscious (the true substrate of the psyche, an immutable structure, a sort of symbolic heritage that is proper to all humanity), Jung then went on to complete this view of the psyche with the notion of "psychological types." Here he described individual characters that are organized around the introversion/extroversion dialectic and are centered by a process of individuation that leads the human being toward a unification of the personality through a series of metamorphoses or stages, among which the midlife crisis occupies a relatively important position.
The concept of crisis has lost some of its importance in modern psychopathological writing both in relation to adolescence and to this midlife period that is sometimes called maturescence and then considered to be a sort of second adolescence or a third phase in the separation-individuation process. Nowadays we tend to lay more stress on the processes of psychic mutation or transformation with reference to the concept of "catastrophic change" (René Thom), but without the harmful aspect that is often associated with the term crisis.
See also: Catastrophe theory and psychoanalysis; Horney-Danielson, Karen; Psychobiography.
Jaques, Eliott. (1965). Death and the mid-life crisis. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 46, 502-514.
Jung, Carl Gustav. (1930). The stages of life. In Modern man in search of a soul. New York: Harvest Books.
Levinson, Daniel J. (1978). The seasons of a man's life New York: Ballantine Books.
Millet, L., Pon, J., and Millet-Bartoli, F. (1994). La crise du milieu de la vie. Paris: Masson.
Porot, Antoine. (1952). Manuel alphabétique de psychiatrie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Ellman, Jon P. (1996). Analyst and patient midlife. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 65, 353-371.
Segal, Hanna. (1984). Joseph Conrad and the mid-life crisis. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 11, 3-10.
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