The first recognized reference to midlife crisis came in 1965 when noted Psychologst Elliot Jaques published the article entitled “Death and the Midlife Crisis,” written for the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.
In the article Jaques described how midlife is comparable to the ‘peak’ of one’s life, the period immediately prior to being ‘over the hill’. This peak is often a period when people look back at their lives, evaluate their achievements, and then compare them to an idealized vision of what their life should have been like.
Jaques went on to describe the midlife crisis as part of the ongoing process of maturation and adaptation that characterizes aging. People do not stop maturing when they become an adult, adaptation continues throughout a person’s lifetime. Midlife crisis was also linked with the realization of one’s own mortality, the strong likelihood that death is now closer in time than their birth.
Even before the term midlife crisis was coined by Jaques, Carl Jung (1875–1961) described a similar transitional period in midlife. He identified stages associated with a normal midlife transition and that during this transition people may find their natural desires, likes and dislikes, do not match the environment they live in.
Everyone adapts to try to fit in with the external factors in life, having to conform to work, social and family expectations. Around the stage of midlife people sometimes question who they are, often realizing the person they are trying to be is not the person they want to be. The combination of being at the ‘peak’ and being faced with being ‘over the hill’ can cause people to question the years of conforming, and highlight the differences between their reality and their desires.
The greater the distance between a person’s natural desires and their environment, the greater the likelihood it will feel like a ‘crisis’, and the greater the chance for dramatic changes in personal behavior or preferences.