Hormonal Changes and Fear
Many men find that as they approach middle age, they experience restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, and depression. This prompts many men to behave in ways that they would normally consider irrational.
When men enter this stage and respond with behaviors, such as buying sports cars, making abrupt career changes, and dating younger women, it is often referred to as a midlife crisis. While many people think that a midlife crisis is caused by a man’s realization that he is running out of time to fulfill his dreams, there is actually a medical cause for the feelings that these men experience.
As men grow older, their bodies begin producing smaller amounts of testosterone and human growth hormone. This lowered level of hormones can have a dramatic impact on a man’s psychological and physical well being. Low levels of hormones are often associated with weight gain, decreased libido, decreased mental alertness, and depression. Many men respond to these changes with intense fear. They fear that they are losing their youthful vigor.
This fear can cause some men to behave in ways that they normally would never consider. The psychological implications of losing youth are intense and complex, and many men do not know how to handle these feelings because they do not understand that there is both a medical reason and a cure for the changes that they are experiencing.
Among psychologists there is also a different point of view on the mid-life crisis in men. The theory states that many middle-aged men do go through midlife crisis, but it’s not because they are middle-aged but because their wives are. Just as it is the wife’s age, not the husband’s, that determines the risk of spousal abuse and murder, it is the wife’s age, not the husband’s, that prompts the constellation of behavior commonly known as a “midlife crisis.” From an evolutionary psychological perspective, a man’s midlife crisis is precipitated by his wife’s imminent menopause and the end of her reproductive career, and thus his renewed need to attract younger, reproductive women.
Accordingly, a 50-year-old man married to a 25-year-old woman would not go through a midlife crisis (he’d be too busy murdering his wife), while a 25-year-old man married to a 50-year-old woman would (although, once again, there are very few such couples), just like a more typical 50-year-old man married to a 50-year-old woman would. It is not his midlife that matters; it is hers. So when he buys a shiny red sports car, he’s not really trying to regain his youth. For men, there is usually very little that’s good about being young so they would not want to relive their youth. Very few 50-year-old men would want to return to their life as a 25-year-old. He is instead trying to attract young women to replace his menopausal wife by trumpeting his flash and cash.
Most people who have a difficult time during midlife and go into crisis mode do so because of external factors. They may be experiencing stress in their life that makes the transition more difficult or they may have childhood issue that were never dealt with that come to the surface during this time. Some external factors that may cause this time in life to be problematic are:
- Debt: It is easier to accumulate debt due to the availability of credit cards and loans. We are bombarded by credit card companies and it is easy to find yourself with large balances owed. We live in a society where it is commonplace to be living above our means. Finding yourself middle aged, in debt and facing retirement can add stress to an already stressful time in life. A normal reaction would be to seek help from a debt management company or consolidate your loans. A person who is finding it difficult emotionally during midlife might find it easier to walk away from their family in order to rid himself of what he feels is the cause of all the debt.
- Significant Loss: The death of a parent or family member can cause grief, which is difficult enough to come to terms with, without having to also cope with the feelings of a midlife transition. Put the loss of a loved one with the feelings that accompany midlife and the whole process becomes bewildering and overwhelming.
- Sandwich Generation: The Sandwich generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children, those with dependent (or college-aged) children and parents over the age of 70. The numbers and demographics of how many are simultaneously providing support and care to both generations vary depending upon the breadth of the definition of care and support. It is natural, that dual-directional responsibilities mark the same period as mid-life crisis in people’s life. Physical, emotional, and financial challenges might be too heavy to bear for the people, for male especially, since there are seen as the backbone of the three- or occasionally more generations in the family.
- Empty Nest Syndrome: The conventional public perception about the empty nest syndrome is that mostly mothers naturally suffer from its consequences. And this perception is wrong. Many women actually look forward to their children leaving home. And when they do, the reduction in day-to-day friction can actually lead to better relationships. But fathers surprisingly have the harder time when their children leave. They didn't expect it to be a major event, didn't plan for it, and so were more affected by it than their spouses, who saw it coming. There are patterns among those who are susceptible to feelings of grief when their children move out. People who rely on their roles rather than their self-worth to define their identity and people who only have the role of parent may have significant trouble when their children move out. An unhappy marriage also makes the empty nest more of a problem.
Psychologists noticed that if a person has a tendency to avoid conflict in their personal relationships, suffers from feelings of inadequacy, are emotionally distant and has low self – esteem they will find midlife transition harder to navigate. This personality type has a deep fear of feeling shame and rejection. Such feelings will keep them from seeking help should their emotions become overwhelming. More than likely, they will run from their problems instead of trying to find solutions to them. It’s this personality type that normal ends up in divorce court during midlife.
Another study performed in University of South Australia offered a framework where all mid-life men were could be assigned one of two broad personality types: intuitive and feeling people, and people who are logical thinkers.
Men who fall into the “Logical Thinkers” category have a wider and greater awareness of their priorities. The research stated that these men are less likely to go off the rail. However, the most men falling into the category of “Intuitive and Feeling” pursues the traditional goals of career like business, law, finance and they don’t have a richer inner life. In their adolescence period, these men achieve the goals they set for their selves, but in the middle age they change direction and realize that they are not happy. In the second half of their lives, they find their selves having no directions anymore.
Whether there are external factors that make the process more difficult or not, there is an internal process that is gone through. If a person lacks understanding of the process, he may find himself making irrational decisions he may later regret such as leaving a job, divorcing his spouse and throwing away the security that he built during the first part of his life.
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