Author (Greek version): Christina Vaizidou

Psychiatrist – Psychologist

Translator: Harriet Spala


Charlotte: “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be”

Bob:”You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are and what you want the less you let things upset you” (Lost in Translation 2003)

We summed up two age crises, simply and in a beautiful way, while lost in translation. One crisis being this of 25-30, the so called quarter life crisis, which is mostly connected to doubt and personal identity and this of 45-50, the famous mid-life crisis, dealing with the realization of  who we are and in questioning again this realization. Age crises can be part of a normal stage in our personal identity development and its fortification.

So while one may live a normal life, he/she wakes up one morning, “here at the edge of 30 years old”. Although it may only be another candle on the birthday cake, it might make him/her wonder “Gee what is this number?”It’s scary.  He/she looks at their life and thinks: “you are supposed to be mature, to have settled. Once you had set your thirties as a landmark for your aims. Now you realize that you have not achieved your aims or you sit and wonder if that is what you wanted from life, if this is the life that suits you.”  Quarter life crisis is a period of existential anguish, insecurity, doubt, reflection and disappointment, that signals the entry to the “real world”. Uncertainty leads to internal conflict regarding a person’s identity.

Bob: ”What do you do?”

Charlotte: “I ‘m not sure yet, actually” (Lost in Translation 2003)

Erik Erikson, Developmental Psychologist, distinguishes 8 stages-crises during the formation of a person’s identity, locating one of them in the early adult life, the main focus of which is relationships (intimacy vs. isolation conflict, Erikson, 1959). He believes that after the formation of a person’s identity during his/her teens, people face existential questions and internal conflicts while in search of the ideal relationship.

You ought to have a serious relationship if not a family already, since everyone around you is getting married. You get anxious regarding when your turn will come, although you are not totally sure that marriage and children is what you really want. Your mother or an aunt asks you when are you going to get married and you don’t know what to tell her, or they ask whether you are happy you got married, or  your child asks you why the world is so mean, or your brothers or sisters when are you going to have a child. What is truly frightening is that you realize you don’t know what you want and time passes and not what your needs and wants are; in the end time is the only factor that exercises any sort of pressure on you.

The career and the financial conditions have intensified this crisis. Young people delay in finding a job, to be financially independent and thus walk towards the practical aspect of adulthood. They are almost in their thirties and thus appear opposite social and internal expectations that they are not ready to face. This is what led to the term “peter pan generation”. They spend time trying to find a job that fits through a game of disappointment, stress and rejection and finally reach a crucial point and wonder: Have I chosen what suits me? Can I do it for the rest of my life? If not can I risk going out to the career arena again? Will I be able to support me and my virtual family (which is part of my general plan)? Did I want to become a lawyer or an astrophysicist? Why did I give up my dream to become a hairdresser?

There are countless doubts and all lead to the following question: who am I and who do I want to be. One compares their life with those of their friends and others around and whatever he/she has already achieved is not enough, since he/she begins to recompose a new map of unfulfilled dreams and to spread it with the necessary anxiety regarding whether or not he/she will make it on time. One seeks the meaning of life, adds philosophy into its meaning, he/she may not find it but agree that maybe there is no meaning in life. One may decide to re-discover himself or herself, he/she might settle, or pick up a backpack to discover the world, as escape is always a solution. One may rediscover himself or herself. This crisis is an awakening, a new identity definition of a postponed puberty.

Charlotte: “I’m stuck. Does it get easier?” (Charlotte, Lost in translation, 2003)

One just goes on. Many times by making some changes in our way of living, following this age, that is a landmark. One goes on firmly, with new experiences and with the assurance that there is life after our thirties towards the next age crisis.

The term “mid-life crisis” was founded by Canadian Psychoanalyst Elliott Jacques in 1965; however he had something completely different in his mind when he created it.  Jacques described the mid-life crisis as a men’s problem, assuming the women’s mood swings in psychology totally connected to menopause and thus referred to a totally different procedure. He even tried to examine the relationship between mid-life crisis and creative intelligence (Death and the Mid-life Crisis, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1965). He thus separated three types of people: the first feels that he has exhausted his momentum and will never create again anything compared to what he did during his youth. The second is characterized by anxiety and anguish regarding the aims he has set. The third type is lifted by realizing the maturity of mid-life and creatively changes towards the best.

The phrase “mid-life crisis” was widely spread and spoken during the end of 70’s where Psychologist Daniel Levinson published his book titled “Seasons of a Man’s Life” (1978). According to Levinson, these crises are characterized by a painful demystification process that derives from the comparison of the dreams during youth to today’s reality. This life review causes depression, anxiety, a form of desperation, a wish like “now-or –never” in order for one to live what he/she has been denied until then.

Mid-life crisis hits most when most people around us have reconciled with themselves. Only suddenly we discover that many years have passed, we review our lives, we review ourselves and thus the search begins. It is a period of reassessment and disorientation. We have a clear picture of what our life is, who we are, what our career is, what our family is and we reassess whether we concentrated on the things we wanted or whether we neglected what we wished for. At this time, where a person is neither too young nor too old, an emotional charge is very often created as result of the reassessment process. The source of the problem is the bitter realization that the remaining time of the person’s life is less compared to what he/she has already lived.

Egocentric people with narcissistic elements in their personality are the ones who face the loss, the disappointment and the greatest narcissistic blow: growing old. Then a continuous and extended occupation with health issues begins and often an intense fear of dying. They realize that beauty fades, that stocks are drying up. Therefore it’s all about a self confidence crisis.

Charlotte: You’re probably just having a mid-life crisis. Did you buy a Porsche yet? (Charlotte, Lost in translation, 2003).

People going through a mid-life crisis, change their behavior. Suddenly they do not like their job, they discover that they have lost the enthusiasm in relationships and feel confined in them. They are short-tempered or depressed or have mood swings. Their behavior tends to highlight their stay to a stage of eternal youth and this will help them cover frustrations or wishes such as buying a fast car, have a modern haircut, change partner or even purchase expensive objects without a second thought. An adhesion has been observed regarding looks and the body by keeping fit, a fitness that will be achieved through a diet and work outs. Very often they feel unable to make changes as they have been stuck in a swamp like stage and apathy. They feel lonely. They re-seek the meaning of life.

Surely, whether a midlife crisis occurs or not, depends mainly on our role models – social ones, family ones – depicting the importance of youth and the prerequisites of happiness and success. Furthermore, our thoughts and concerns are defined based on our personal experiences and personal events. Nevertheless, maybe it would be best to sit comfortably in that rocking chair we always dreamed of having and listen to this whispering voice in our ear that says: “It’s not my fault I am growing up! It’s time that is back-stabbing us!


Lost in Translation (2003) a film by Sofia Coppola (director/writer) starting Bill Murray & Scarlett Johansson


References

Erikson, E. H. (1959). Identity and the life cycle: Selected papers.

Freund, A. M., & Ritter, J. O. (2009). Midlife crisis: A debate. Gerontology55(5), 582-591.

Levinson, D. J. (1978). The seasons of a man’s life. Random House Digital, Inc..

Neugarten, B. L. (1979). Time, age, and the life cycle. The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Brim Jr, O. G. (1976). Theories of the male mid-life crisis. The Counseling Psychologist6(1), 2-9.