On the surface of your life, everything is basically fine.
Perhaps you have a stable job, are relatively successful, have a decent income, a few children and pets, a spouse, and you live in a good neighborhood.
The only problem is that all this feels false.
Yes, you love your kids and your partner. But you can’t deny the fact that underneath it all, you feel hollow inside.
The walls around you that were once solid are now crumbling. And something within your gut is gnawing away at you like a rabid animal.
But what’s wrong with you? You’re middle-aged and should feel settled by now, right?
Enter: the midlife crisis.
As “cliche” as this term may sound, it carries rich depth and meaning which we’ll explore below. Get ready for the ride.
Table of contents
What is a Midlife Crisis?
A midlife crisis is a period of life, usually occurring between the ages of 45 to 65, in which a person feels fundamentally dissatisfied with their life and goes in search of more meaning and happiness. Coined by psychologist Elliot Jacque in the 1960s, the midlife crisis is fairly common, particularly in the western world.
Known in psychology as a ‘developmental crisis’ or existential crisis, in astrology as the Saturn return, and in spirituality as the Dark Night of the Soul, the mainstream culture refers to this death and rebirth period as a “midlife crisis” which is what we’ll refer to in this article.
12 Signs and Symptoms of the Midlife Crisis
Let’s now examine some of the major thoughts, feelings, and experiences that accompany the midlife crisis. How many can you relate to?
- Fears of mortality – As your body begins to show signs of wear and tear, you realize that you ain’t a ‘spring chicken’ any longer. When you were a 20-something you were able to pretend that life was endless, but now you can’t. This increasing realization may trigger the next symptom:
- Asking deep questions about your life – You begin to ask questions that you perhaps avoided when you were younger such as, “What is the meaning of life?” “Is there life after death?” “What is my destiny or soul purpose?” “Is there more to life than just making money and running a family?”
- Feeling stuck and stagnant – You feel almost a sense of claustrophobia or being “shut in a box” that is hard to logically understand. Your ego has become overly solidified, hardened, stuck in its ways, and stranded in routines.
- You long for adventure – You want to break free, do something new, or be something new – anything to avoid that dreaded feeling of being static.
- Feeling depressed and anxious – You struggle to feel the motivation to do anything. Apathy fills you. Identifying what exactly is “wrong” with you or life becomes a preoccupation of yours. You don’t know what will bring you that sense of joy or being fulfilled anymore.
- Sense of disillusionment – As you reflect back on your life so far, you realize that nothing you’ve done has ultimately brought you the long-lasting peace, happiness, or fulfillment you’ve been searching for.
- You don’t know what your purpose is – What is your destiny in this life? Why are you here on earth? What’s the point? These are the types of questions that enter your mind.
- Time feels more precious – As you edge closer to your later years, you start to see time differently. You might feel remorse looking back on pursuits that now feel hollow. You’ll want to start spending your time doing activities and spending time with people that feel valuable.
- You’ll rethink your relationships – As time becomes more precious, you’ll think carefully about your close relationships. Do they bring you joy? Is there still a spark of love there? Do the significant others in your life fulfill your mental, emotional, or spiritual needs?
- You feel the impulse to do something, anything! – With the fears of wasting your life knowing that it’s now “half over,” you want to do something to get yourself out of that rut, out of the uncomfortable feelings you’re having. Perhaps you decide to purchase an expensive car, sell your house, or move to another country. Some of that stuckness might disappear, but a deeper craving still remains.
- Psychosomatic illness emerges – With all the stress you’re experiencing due to undergoing a crisis, you might experience strange illnesses that have no clear biological cause, but are instead triggered by your mental state. Examples of these psychosomatic illnesses include chronic fatigue, chronic pain, insomnia, headaches and migraines, and gastrointestinal issues.
- Your values start to shift or become more dominant – If you spent most of your life pursuing success, financial stability, or status, you’ll find these values dissolving as you reflect on how they never brought you what you truly wanted. If you value family, love, connection, and authentic living, these values will become more dominant, particularly if you never got a chance to fully immerse yourself in them.
Take a moment to reflect. Which one of these twelve points really hit you in the gut? What insights emerged as you read the above list? These thoughts and feelings are important and shouldn’t be ignored, I’ll explain why soon.
Midlife Crisis For a Man vs. Midlife Crisis For a Woman
Is there a difference between the way a man experiences the midlife crisis versus how women experience it?
Yes and no.
Midlife crisis for men often manifests in the following ways:
- Loss of sex drive (sometimes the opposite)
- Toxic comparison with other men regarding status, success, happiness
- Increase in impulsive decision making due to feeling trapped
- Feelings of numbness
Midlife crisis for women often manifests in the following ways:
- Becoming overly preoccupied with one’s looks or totally giving up and not caring
- Feelings of increased anxiety
- Inner emptiness (often due to kids leaving)
- Identity crisis or “who am I now?”
Keep in mind that it’s hard to have a clear line of delineation here: many women experience symptoms common to men, and vice versa. (As for those who don’t conform to the gender spectrum, there will likely be a mix of symptoms as well.)
Mostly, however, both men and women experience similar feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
The Deeper Meaning Underneath the Midlife Crisis
There is a crack, a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
There are many sources out there that advise you how to deal with a midlife crisis: “Don’t worry, it’s only temporary, it happens when you really need a change” “Talk to your therapist, they can prescribe medication if it gets really bad,” “Use it as a chance to purge your life, “Don’t worry about labels, go get that new house if it will make you feel better!”
While some of this advice can be really helpful and useful, I’ve rarely found spiritual resources out there that explore the soul-deep meaning of the midlife crisis.
So what is the deeper meaning underneath the midlife crisis?
Quite simply, the midlife crisis is an archetypal call to adventure – a spiritual gateway into deeper communion with your heart and soul.
This crisis is an opportunity to reclaim your soul connection that has been suppressed through daily life and reconnect with who you truly are at a core level.
By facing the truth of your mortality, you’re called to ‘inscend,’ to step over the threshold of your ‘normal life’ and enter a new way of being.
Call of the Wild: The Three Crises
Before we explore how to actively embrace the opportunities presented by the midlife crisis, let’s rewind a little.
In our Western soul-suppressing societies, many of us experience the ‘call of the wild’ towards the spiritual journey through life, but most of us never truly hear or answer them.
The spiritual calling presents itself in many ways throughout our lives such as the death of loved ones, suicidal depressions, illnesses, near-death experiences, divorce, and so forth. But there are three main milestones that call to us the most loudly.
The first calling is what we modernly refer to as the “quarter-life crisis.” The quarter-life crisis happens in the first quarter of life: generally after we finish high school or university. At this time in our lives, we intuitively know that we need to “find” ourselves by leaving behind our family, friends, and hometowns. These people and places formed our juvenile identities as children and teenagers.
When I answered this calling, I remembered feeling intense fear and uncertainty. The religious belief system that my family had indoctrinated me into began to shatter, and my sense of identity dissolved. I didn’t know who I was, what was true and what was false, and where I was going in life. It was a traumatizing but deeply medicinal time that resulted in me separating from my family of origin. Saying goodbye to everyone and everything you love is a profoundly painful task.
The second great call of the wild presents itself as the “midlife crisis” – what we’re discussing in this article. This crisis may come in the form of an affair, a divorce, an illness, severe job unhappiness, an empty nest, lifeless relationships, ongoing life dissatisfaction, or the death of a parent. Ultimately, in my opinion, the midlife crisis comes at a moment when you’ve gathered enough wisdom to know that you’re not going to live forever.
Most people who experience midlife crises have spent their entire lives raising a family or working in a career. They haven’t had the time, or capacity, to ask the important questions in life. Eventually, something triggers the question, “Is this all there is?“
The third and final calling often comes as a deathbed crisis if we didn’t answer the previous two callings. The inevitability of imminent death creates such immense turmoil and ego distress, that the light of consciousness is finally permitted to shine through us. Many hospice workers can confirm this.
Although answering the deathbed crisis is “better late than never,” what a shame that so many people wait until their last moments to taste deep insight, soul connection, and peace. In fact, some people never experience this freedom at all.
We all have to accept our imminent death someday to live life more fully. The quarter-life, midlife, and deathbed crisis are all gateways through which we can access deeper fulfillment, meaning, joy, and spiritual expansion.
Now that you’re aware of these three crises, take a moment to reflect on how it makes you feel. What comes up for you when you consider your midlife crisis?
Remember that anything and everything you feel is valid. And you’re welcome to share your reflections in the comments.
How to Be a Spiritual Alchemist and Accept the Call
You are not dead yet. It is not too late
To open your depths by plunging into them
And drink in the life
That reveals itself quietly there.
— Rainer Marie Rilke
Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung is a powerful example of a ‘spiritual alchemist’ who transformed his midlife crisis into gold.
Right after his break from Sigmund Freud (his mentor and in many ways, surrogate father figure), he experienced a profound spiral into a crisis. After a series of bizarre and frightening dreams and visions, he began to wonder if he was going mad. Many of these dreams and visions are now available in posthumously published The Red Book or Liber Novus.
Instead of running away from or condemning what would otherwise be thought of as a psychotic break, Jung concluded that he was going through a kind of midlife crisis, and began exploring his unconscious mind. The result of this inscendence, this inner journeying, was mental, emotional, and spiritual renewal for Jung, and much of the work we have from him today.
To accept the call of the midlife crisis, to go soul searching, you need to first be open. You need to be willing to face what makes you uncomfortable slowly and steadily.
Here are some ways to find the gold within your crisis:
1. Learn the art of surrender
Without learning to let go and surrender to the process of death and rebirth, your midlife crisis will feel like nonstop a terrible ordeal. It’s much more beneficial to let go of the reigns – and this might mean taking a break from work, surrendering old responsibilities, and making space to take care of yourself.
Surrendering is extremely important for two additional reasons. Firstly, surrender allows you to let go of your former limiting self, e.g., all of your beliefs, ambitions, roles, and perceptions of how you were supposed to be. And secondly, surrendering allows you to embody your Soul, that is, all of your deepest longings, dreams, and wildest passions.
A few practices that can help you let go are mindfulness, meditation, writing letters to past facets of yourself and burning them, and even physically decluttering your environment.
Remember: breakdowns come before breakthroughs.
2. Journal about your experience
Journaling is a wonderfully simple way of processing everything you’re going through. If journaling intimidates you, try the freeflow or stream of consciousness method and write without editing or correcting yourself.
You might like to explore questions such as:
- When did your midlife crisis start (what came just before it)?
- What are you feeling right now?
- How are you practicing self-care in the face of this big change?
- What are your deepest values?
- What unlived parts of you would you like to now express?
- How can you be a lone wolf and walk your own path?
- What is the gold hidden in this crisis?
3. Find a mentor
As you walk into the heart of your midlife crisis, you will need to confide in others who are going through similar experiences.
This connection with others can bring a great sense of emotional alleviation and kinship, and you can find many online and local groups dedicated to inner awakenings. (For example, you’ll find a lot of kindred spirits on this website!)
Finding a trained counselor, life coach, or therapist will also be a great help for you, particularly if you’re struggling with feeling empty inside, anxious, or depressed.
4. Loneliness is normal – befriend yourself
Be prepared to experience loneliness as your old patterns, anchors, comforts, and even family or friends drift away. The healing balm for this is to learn how to practice self-love and befriend yourself.
Now is the ideal time to get to know yourself more. What do you truly like eating, watching, wearing, and doing? Ignore what others expect of you, what do you authentically crave?
Shed the old layers of self that keep you held back and allow yourself to blossom. If this process involves you taking yourself out for dinner every week, buying yourself flowers, going to that place you’ve always dreamed of, mastering that weird skill, or simply practicing kind self-talk, do it!
You might benefit from our Self-Love Journal during this self-befriending journey.
5. Find your spiritual path
Many people are rightfully suspicious of spirituality, especially if they had a dogmatic religious childhood.
But spirituality and religion aren’t the same things.
You can be spiritual but not religious. Furthermore, you can be a rational person, but also have a healthy respect for the great Mystery of life.
Many people who experience a midlife crisis don’t understand that it’s a call to deepen and go soul searching. In an attempt to try and satisfy their Soul’s craving for more depth, they go into addictions – or else splurge on a Ferrari, hook up with younger more beautiful people, or give in to the temptations of consumerist culture.
The midlife crisis is a period when the shadow self, the suppressed part of ourselves, comes out to be seen, healed, and transformed. But it can be easy to let it consume us – or else, totally ignore it and fight to hold onto some semblance of “normality.”
To find your spiritual path, something that will enrich you on a deep level, simply begin exploring. Start meditating each day. Go for walks and immerse yourself in nature. There are many ways to reconnect with life and yourself.
Here are some resources that you might find helpful:
- What is Spirituality? & How to Choose YOUR Path)
- How to Trust Your Intuition & Find Total Clarity (9 Tips)
- Spiritual Guidance: 11 Types & How to Find True Teachers
- How to Find Yourself When You’re Lost in Life (9 Steps)
This whole website is one big resource, so feel free to explore around!
There comes a moment in our lives when we realize the truth of our mortality – this is the midlife crisis.
Although the midlife crisis is indeed painful and shattering, it is also a deep call from the Soul to start our spiritual journeys, find our true path, and reconnect with our True Nature.
As psychoanalyst James Hollis writes,
In the second half of life, the questions become: ‘Who now, apart from the roles you play, are you? What does the soul ask of you? Do you have the wherewithal to shift course, deconstruct your painfully achieved identity, risking failure, marginalization and loss of collective approval?’
If you accept this call, as painful and challenging as it may be, renewed love, joy, and meaning lie ahead of you.
What is your experience with the midlife crisis? I’d love to hear below in the comments. Also, feel free to share this article with a friend if you think it might benefit them.
My name is Ioana Duda, I am from Romania and I am 39 years old. One year ago, more or less, I started being afraid of my death. My midlife crisis begin. Starting this summer, it itensified. The insomnia cicle(it happens every year) started to be cronicle, but my spiritual journey also began. I started reading the Bible, about hinduism, I started practicing meditation and the books I used to read don’t satisfy me anymore. There is more out there than this reality. I crave for finding my path, answers, guidance. I feel the need, from my guts, for a spiritual menthor and I can’t find one. Sometimes I feel that I am going crazy. I start to accept my own death and the fact that this form of consciousness will end some day. But what comes after? This realization makes me treasure life even more, still I need some answers and I don’t know where to find them. I need to understand. This is how I work: if I understand, peace comes. How to transform this journey into a fulfilling one? Which are my true values? How do I find my own path, among so many? I struggle so… Read more »
Man I wish I would’ve read this two years ago. This entire process describes my experience to the tea. Especially about Carl. My ex-husband and I flew a bit too close to the sun. I am eight years older and started to feel very unfulfilled even though we were very successful and had all of the things that people wanted. We were deeply in love but something was missing. As a gay man, I ran from all spirituality at a young age. I got sucked into the trap of materialism, consumerism and all of the pretty shiny things. But something was missing. Something very big that no person could have provided. I had many issues with trust Through this, I realized , I was not able to trust myself. Divorce after suicide attempts followed by trying to do all of the things that used to be fun. And then that all didn’t provide anything of substance in my life. I frozen place. I literally couldn’t find the motivation to even leave the house. I saw my worth only for my physical appearance. Through the process of awakening, I lost every friend except one. The people who used to be in… Read more »
Ok. Total oh Shit moment. I had the quarter crisis and just finished or are in the process of finishing my midlife crisis. Almost exactly what I experienced as I read your words. Wow, what a long way I have come. Thank you so much.
the worst form of mid life crisis is caused by the realization that you are alone because you are not physically attractive enough to ever be loved so will remain single & unwanted for your remaining time on this planet. there are few worse circumstances than living with the knowlege that you are simply not good enough to experience the most important parts of life.
Oh the blessing of feeling dissatisfied amidst all that is well and reaching for a deeper meaning in life … Nope, real life after 50 does not always work this way. For me turning 50 was pure bliss. Loved my marriage, love my children more now that they are older, returned to a full-time job I love, love my faith, love my friends and community, and finally I love my body. But for the man at my side turning 50 was exactly as you described … and so I find myself forced into a crisis: no more love and marriage, homeless, bankrupt, job-hunting for a better paying work to be able to provide for said kids. The deeper meaning in life must be discovered while I scramble for survival. Relationships and the sense of belonging are all gone – so that my soul’s whisperings can be heard. Like broccoli: forced upon me, horrid and bitter, but also nourishing, cleansing and what my soul needs to be truly well.
I appreciate this article
I feel like am going through the quarter life crisis and there is really no one to turn to, am from a very religious home and it difficult to find guidance from anyone
So I see you articles I feel like am understanding myself more, thanks