How do you feel about the midlife crisis or midlife chaos and the stereotypical male and female depictions?
Stereotypes flatten the depth and complexity of the midlife experience. Midlife can be a time of deep introspection, reevaluation, and growth.
By reducing it to mere materialistic pursuits or rash decisions, we fail to recognise the genuine struggles and opportunities for transformation many individuals face.
They also mock and trivialise the midlife experience as simply a which can make people reluctant to get help or discuss their feelings, fearing they'll be dismissed or ridiculed. This is especially important for women facing the consequences of menopause or an empty nest. This biased view can marginalise women's experiences.
And when we only focus on the crisis narrative, as often seen in the movies, we can overlook the positive aspects of midlife. Many people find this period to be one of increased confidence, clarity, and a deeper understanding of oneself. Stereotypes can overshadow these growth opportunities.
Being constantly exposed to such stereotypes might cause some to believe that a midlife crisis is inevitable, leading them to interpret their feelings and experiences through this lens even if they might have navigated their challenges differently without such preconceptions.
With all that said, recognising and challenging these stereotypes can pave the way for a more holistic understanding of the midlife experience.
But first, let’s take a trip to the movies where many stereotypes abound. Get your popcorn ready…
Many movies often show men getting a motorbike or a fast car and heading to the bar to pick up a younger woman. Women, on the other hand, normally go off to find themselves.
That got me thinking about some great movies I have seen.
Shirley Valentine (1989) - A bored, middle-aged housewife heads to Greece to rediscover passion. Aw, who doesn’t love this movie?
Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) - After a painful divorce, a woman buys a villa in Tuscany and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. I found this one dreary Sunday afternoon about a year ago and did rather enjoy it.
Eat Pray Love (2010) - A woman sets out on a journey around the world after a painful divorce, seeking self-discovery. I loved both the book and the film.
And For Men
American Beauty (1999) - facing a midlife crisis, Lester Burnham becomes infatuated with his daughter's best friend. I thought it was weird.
City Slickers (1991) - Three friends face midlife crises and decide to participate in a two-week cattle drive to find meaning in their lives. Billy Crystal was sweet and silly.
The Weather Man (2005) - A weatherman struggles with his failing professional and personal life. I need to watch this again.
Midlife Crisis Differences and Similarities
What movies and books do is show us quite clearly many of the stereotypical differences, but they also offer a perspective on the similarities.
The Nature Of The Crisis
For many of the female protagonists, the midlife crisis revolves around feeling overlooked, undervalued, or trapped in domestic roles. Films like Shirley Valentine or Under the Tuscan Sun highlight the desire to break away from routine and rediscover oneself outside the confines of everyday responsibilities.
The movies centred on men often showcase fears of inadequacy, whether in their professional roles, as seen in The Weather Man, or their intimate relationships and virility, as depicted in American Beauty.
Response to the Crisis
Female characters often embark on journeys of self-discovery, either by travelling (e.g., Eat Pray Love) or pursuing a passion or romantic interest previously suppressed. I don’t know about you, but I love a heartwarming film with a happy ending.
Male protagonists may indulge in activities that remind them of their youth or do something about their appearance or dating life, often leading to mishaps…
There's often an emphasis on the female character's relationships — whether mending relationships with children, forming new romantic bonds, or rediscovering friendships.
While relationships are also crucial, male characters might initially gravitate towards solitary introspection or bonding with other men in similar situations, as seen in City Slickers.
Search for Meaning
Both men and women grapple with existential dilemmas – don’t we just. So many of us question our life's purpose, past decisions, and the future. Oh, to reconnect with heart's desires, passions and purpose – but what are they?
Desire for Connection
Whether seeking new romantic relationships, reconnecting with old friends, or strengthening family bonds, both genders often yearn to connect with others during their midlife transition. Though you may be more like me, and your desire for connection is with yourself.
Reevaluation of Self-Worth
A dominant theme is the desire to feel valued, relevant, and alive. We want to be seen and heard at a time when we often feel invisible. People, irrespective of gender, confront feelings of inadequacy, unfulfillment, or obsolescence and aim to redefine their sense of worth.
Escape from Routine
When hit by a midlife crisis, men and women often break away from their regular lives in some manner — be it through travel, new activities, or drastic life changes.
I haven’t had a midlife crisis, but have been in midlife chaos. I have gone through burnout (I’ll write more about this again). I can identify with the main female character in many movies who looks into the mirror, notices the lines on her face, and whispers to herself, "Is this all there is?" Or "Who the hell am I?"
It's a feeling many women over 50 can relate to—a sense of midlife chaos. But what if this chaos didn't have to morph into a crisis?
Understanding Midlife Chaos
This is what I feel midlife chaos is. Midlife chaos is that point in life where everything seems uncertain and blurred. It's about feeling stuck and directionless, where a woman feels a loss of passion, purpose, and drive. This phase isn't about drastically changing one's life; it's about reigniting the inner spark, refocusing on the heart's desires, and finding a renewed sense of purpose and inner peace.
According to psychologist Dr Jane Adams, women tend to question their choices, realising life's clock is ticking. It was certainly like this for my mum, who felt that Mother Nature had abandoned her and she no longer had any use.
The thing is, where to start?
What I know is, like so many things that need healing, it’s a process. You have to know that you are on the edge of chaos and potentially a crisis and, in that awareness, decide to take one step towards recognising where you are and things need to change.
I also think that this is a time of acceptance.
Acceptance is a gateway to finding inner peace and contentment. It helps you find strength, cultivates empathy and encourages you to focus on things that are actually important. Moreover, acceptance is important to your mental health and will help you to be at peace with everything going on in your life.
Navigating midlife chaos can be challenging, but it's possible to spiral back into control with the right tools and mindset.
Enter the Awareness Cycle. I’ve used this awareness cycle in many different ways for the stuff I have been going through. I offer it here as a starting point with some reflective journaling, which you may want to tackle over 10 days. After which, pause and reflect – ask what you learn.
When you have some insight, decide what you want to do next. Asking for help is a sign of strength.
The Awareness Cycle: Navigating Through Midlife Chaos / Midlife Crisis
When you look at these three things, notice what each brings up. Do you feel resistance – why is that? Was a prompt hard to write about – why?
This is a pause and an invitation to come into what I call the creative space, where you slow it down and open yourself to creative solutions.
Exercise: Begin with 10 minutes of stillness every day. Listen to your breath. Feel the rhythm.
Journal Prompt: Write about a memory from your past. How does it shape your present?
Reflection: The past is an encyclopedia, not a road map. Let it guide, not define you.
Exercise: Dedicate a day to self-reflection. Revisit your favourite spots, and listen to your favourite songs.
Journal Prompt: Ask yourself, How did I get here? Map out your journey, both the highs and lows.
Reflection: Every moment, good or bad, has contributed to the masterpiece that is you.
Exercise: List down events or decisions you regret. Instead of dwelling, write one lesson from each.
Journal Prompt: What would I tell my younger self about acceptance?
Reflection: Letting go is the ultimate act of self-love.
Exercise: Identify one behaviour you want to change. Commit to altering it for a week.
Journal Prompt: What barriers do I impose on myself?
Reflection: Every wall can become a door (which you can open) with the right perspective.
Exercise: Write down your core values. Review daily actions to see if they align.
Journal Prompt: What makes me genuinely happy?
Reflection: True happiness stems from authenticity.
Exercise: Begin each morning by setting an intention. Focus on it throughout the day.
Journal Prompt: Where did I direct most of my energy today?
Reflection: Energy flows where attention goes.
Exercise: Pick one small task you've been avoiding. Do it today.
Journal Prompt: What's the next step towards my heart's desires or my dream?
Reflection: Every journey starts with a single step.
Exercise: Count your blessings. Literally, make a list.
Journal Prompt: What does abundance look like to me?
Reflection: Abundance isn't about having everything but cherishing everything you have.
I’ll be back with some other thoughts soon. But in the meantime, I want to leave you with this quote:
The true magic of midlife is discovering you've been the magic ingredient all along.
Stay present, stay resilient, and always remember the magic within.