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Mid-Life Crises

One of the tutorial questions of 101 Developmental Psychology in my undergraduate studies three decades ago read: "Does mid-life crisis exist?"


Many people in their 40s or 50s ask themselves ponder over issues of changing the way they used to live for many years, and searching for a new career, lifestyle or even a new identity. Should I leave the 30-year relationship that turns out to be stagnant, suffocating and emotionally abusive in recent years? Should I work in a new profession and give up the high salary and prestige I have been earning? Should I stay in Hong Kong or relocate to another country and start a totally different life? Should I come out with my closeted sexuality and be true to myself, my partner and my children? Should I start a new relationship with someone 20 years younger than I am while risking the security I had always enjoyed from previous relationships? Should I invest a large part of my savings to set up a new business that I have always been dreaming of? ...


Some of these questions become more conspicuous especially when we realize that we have accumulated wisdom and wealth up to a point where, without the pressure of worrying about food and shelter, we think we need to actualize ourselves further and look for something more important in our lives . Some issues emerge because of a change in the environment, be it political, social, economic and/or family. Some people, on the other hand, have been overwhelmed by the accumulation of dissatisfaction, frustration and imperfections over the years, which are perceived as their "psychological baggages", and now they want to sort them out and live a "new" life. The ideas of creating a parallel universe and discovering the other facets of own identity may always be somewhere at the back of our mind.


Drastic changes apparently involve a big toll and high risk in whatever way you can imagine. Some people try to balance the pros and cons attempting to make the best choice or the "right" decisions but the weighing process always seems never-ending. Some people listen to their gut feelings that are interpreted as a sign of calling from the "true" self or from the divine. A therapist may tell you "love conquers all" when you want to start a relationship that no one has been optimistic about, and she is in fact telling you an aspiration, a goal or an ideal that you need to work towards diligently. Another therapist, who tells you that the chances for that addictive but attractive person, whom you have a crush on, to be engaged again in whatever he/she has been addicted to in the last 30 years are high, is warning you about the risk that you have to bear. No matter how you come up with the decision or which decision you make does not preclude a period ahead that is full of uncertainty, turbulence, exhaustion and frustration, and a delayed gratification of vibrancy, fulfillment, satisfaction, stability. Psychotherapy cannot take away the inevitable nuisances.


What psychotherapy can do is to help you understand your reactions to the past experiences, current circumstances and future options, how you feel and what they mean to you, in order to set up a compass based on what you need. The therapists help you listen to your feelings, deep inside, be it insecurity, jealousy, fear, anger, shame, etc., which intertwine together so that you have been confused and lost in the intricate life experiences. You will then become a well-informed person of your own inner world before you steer yourself towards the promised land. This path-searching or self-searching process may sound unfamiliar but when we live our lives, we have in fact been doing it without conscious awareness all along.


My answer to the tutorial question was that searching for directions and one's identity started from the days when we were conscious about ourselves as a person, and will never end, but perhaps I should have added a comment from one of my friends, "there will no longer be any mid-life crisis when you are at an old age", because there is highly likely that a late-life crisis is awaiting.



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