What if the mid-life crisis gave us a second chance?

20 January 2023

Stirring up our personal and professional lives, the mid-life crisis signals the time for an inevitable review, a source of discomfort, but also of hope and fulfillment.


In her book Surmonter la crise du milieu de vie*, psychologist and psychoanalyst Lisbeth Von Benedek discusses this pivotal period, as important as adolescence, in the construction of the self. It’s a key time to finally remove ourselves from the gaze of others and achieve the absolute freedom to be ourselves.

“It’s not so easy to become what you are”, said Albert Camus. If this quest for self is a lifetime’s work, it is marked by decisive periods. This is the case for what we call the living environment. An identity crisis occurring around the age of forty, generally triggered by an internal or external event: illness, bereavement, break-up in love, professional failure… As Lisbeth Von Benedek sums up in her book dedicated to the subject: “Here we are, in the middle of our lives, in a ‘natural’ phase of depression, induced by the loss of our illusions: la comedia è finita. »

The inevitable balance of the living environment

Investing in our studies, finding a job, starting a family… we’ve been busy during the first part of our lives! Even if it means multiplying our efforts, stifling certain aspects of ourselves to meet expectations and find our place. We’ve forced ourselves to “become someone”. When something clicks, or an event occurs, the transitional period offered by the mid-life stage prompts us to question ourselves. Sometimes we question our personal and family equilibrium, sometimes we identify a frustration in the workplace. So it’s not uncommon at this time of life to see professional reconversions and entrepreneurial desires. Why now? Because we’re cornered, we’re tired of striving for seemingly irreproachable models, and we can’t get away from them. It’s time to face up to the complexity of our identity, to mature and accept ourselves fully, just as we are.

The stages of this existential crisis

There are a number of key stages along the way, as detailed by the psychologist in her book. The first is to “become aware of what has weighed on our orientations and life choices, the first step towards seeing clearly what we miss, what anguishes us, what depresses us or makes us unhappy.” The second step is to distance ourselves from the way things used to be. He takes on the features of an eternal adolescent, living in the past and in a permanent quest for perfection. As we enter the second half of our lives, we’re going to have to come to terms with growing old, and extricate ourselves from the nostalgia of youth. But, as the author points out: “Saying goodbye to the illusion of eternal adolescence doesn’t mean giving up the vitality of youth. Rather than wanting to stay young at all costs, it’s up to us, by accepting that we’re getting older, to learn how to use the energy we have, to accomplish what we have to do today and tomorrow (…) discover untapped resources.”

Midlife crisis: how to grow from it?

This existential crisis is marked by an awareness of finitude and solitude. Not very joyful at first sight, but in reality an opportunity to tame our fears so we can better enjoy the present and anchor ourselves more deeply in reality. It’s time to put being before appearance: “the part of us that hasn’t been able to emerge needs to be heard and considered”. Because “social identity is shaped by external injunctions”, it’s now time to abandon our social persona and move forward unmasked: “Most of the time, we don’t realize the role we’ve locked ourselves into and the function it has for us.” Mourning the loss of this persona is initially dizzying. But it will also “free up the energy previously used to maintain it and keep it in place”. Let’s be clear from the outset: this will not be a smooth transition. Before the chaos gives rise to new personal or professional wealth, this state of transition can flirt with depression, which must not be denied: “Psychic balance is not the absence of depression, but, on the contrary, the ability to welcome it.

The questioning followed by the momentum that marks the mid-life crisis encourages us to strive for wholeness. The living environment is to be seen as an opportunity to be seized, not to become a perfect being, but a more complex and complete individual. In summary, 5 questions from the book can help you ask yourself about the midlife crisis:

  • What do you need to prove?
  • What dreams have you given up?
  • In which social or professional role do you feel particularly valued?
  • Do you appreciate the person you’ve become?
  • What do you expect and hope for in your future life?

*Overcomingthe midlife crisis, Lisbeth Von Benedek, Editions Eyrolles

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