What Are Self, Mid-Life and Existential Crises?

by: Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych. & Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

Many of us will experience a self or existential crisis during our lifetime. These crises are usually precipitated by life transitions. Life transitions that can trigger a crisis include: aging, changes in relationship status (i.e., marriage, separation and divorce), betrayals and loss of loved ones (e.g., death of parent, partner or child), changes in our identity (e.g., children leaving home, loss of youth, and perceived attractiveness), and recognition of our own mortality and the end of our life. Such moments may spawn a search for meaning, purpose, and connection to others and the world around us, or result in a downward spiral and deepening crisis involving hopelessness, despair and anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
Some individuals struggling with such crises have spent numerous years disconnected from their own selves by virtue of not pursuing their authentic feelings, needs, and desires in the world. Instead, these individuals may have surrendered to the expectations and demands of others. Recognition of the freedom to create one’s entire world may be daunting for some individuals in these circumstances, but is key to the recovery from such a crisis. 
Some individuals experience a mid-life crisis brought upon by specific concerns about mid-life transitions and an impending sense that a decline is imminent. Mid-life can involve a reframing of life and deep reflection on life in terms of years left to live. With parents passing away, children moving out of the family home, and dissatisfaction with self (i.e., physical and bodily changes related to aging, dissatisfaction with relationship, career and accomplishments), some individuals will experience despair and hopelessness. A crisis can ensue upon realization of the passing of time with very few opportunities to change life’s course. This realization may precipitate intense emotions, a desperate search and effort to change one’s life. Seeking out younger partners, drastic changes to physical appearance, or career may ensue.
The Self-Growth and Self-Esteem Service at CFIR supports clients to deal with particular life issues that involve one’s questioning of the purpose, meaning, and value of one’s life, and difficult feelings associated with being alone and isolated. Such moments can leave us questioning past and current decisions related to our choices in occupation, residence, and relationship partners.
Read more about our Self-Growth & Self-Esteem Treatment Service.