©iStockphoto.com/Joshua Hodge Photography Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/Joshua Hodge Photography
To learn more about midlife crises we turned to Jeff Richardson, founder and director of The Centre for Midlife Renewal. "What often happens at midlife is that parts of ourselves that were set aside or ignored in our twenties and thirties start to clamour for more attention. Rediscovering them and finding ways to bring them into our lives can take time, patience and self-trust," he explains.
Being supportive of your friend or loved one will help them achieve the patience and self-trust they need to understand their new emotions. Here are some ways you can help.
1. Recognize the signs of change
One common characteristic of a midlife crisis is a drastic departure from usual behaviour and activities.
"At one end of the spectrum, the individual might appear depressed: lacking energy, uninterested in things that he or she usually enjoys, unmotivated and unwilling to do much about it," says Richardson. "At the other end of the spectrum, the person might be devoting considerable time and money to new or previously minor activities."
If your friend's new attitude seems harmful or risky, bring it up with her. Talking about changes you've noticed will let your friend know that you're there for her if need be.
2. Don't judge
In order for your friend to feel comfortable speaking with you about her feelings, she must feel safe and secure. "Try not to label or judge your friend's behaviour," says Richardson. "If you truly care, keep an open heart and an open mind, and be sincerely curious."
Richardson suggests letting your friend know that you've noticed she's been going out more often than she used to or that she's engaging in activities that are out of character, and asking what brought on the sudden shift. It's possible to ask questions without being pushy or judgmental.
Page 1 of 2 -- If you're friend is going through a midlife crisis, find out why it's best not to assume he or she needs an intervention on page 2.
3. Be honest
Your friend's new emotions are uncharted territory for the both of you, and chances are he or she is just as confused as you are. The best way to help a friend work through this confusion is to be honest.
"He or she is just trying to sort out his or her identity because, after being a certain way for many years, something is saying it's time for a change," explains Richardson. "Gather up all the empathy you can muster and be truly curious," he advises. Asking questions will help you better understand what your friend might need from you.
4. Don't assume a change needs an intervention
While you might be shocked and concerned about this new side of your friend, it's important to know that his or her new behaviour isn't necessarily harmful. The changes or desires that manifest in midlife can be just as natural as changes that happen in our teens or twenties.
"Midlife is not an illness or an accident. What you might label as your friend's ‘midlife crisis' warranting intervention may actually be part of your friend's vital personal evolution," says Richardson. "For instance, a woman who has been a homemaker for many years, focused on her husband and children, might now decide it's time for her."
Rather than automatically jumping into "help mode," be open with your friend in trying to understand what's really happening in his or her life.
5. Help your friend work toward her goals
Underneath the superficial changes is a bigger issue: the desire for a more meaningful fulfillment from life, explains Richardson. "In the midst of a midlife crisis – whether we're totally aware of it or not – we're asking ourselves fundamental questions," he says. "Who am I? What's my place in the world? What truly, deeply matters to me? If the clock is ticking in my life, how do I want to spend the time that's left?"
While you may not have all the answers for your friend, you can help her work toward finding the fulfillment she craves. This could be in the form of yoga, meditation classes, art courses or group therapy. Experiencing a shocking midlife change can be scary, but with honesty and an open mind, you can help your loved one discover the person he or she wants to be – and that's something to look forward to.
"In a sense, a midlife crisis is great news. It forces us to grapple with the really important issues in our lives. Without it, we might coast from young adulthood right through to old age on automatic pilot," explains Richardson. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of inner grappling to realize our true goals.
Page 2 of 2