Is the "Mid-Life Crisis" an Excuse for Men Behaving Badly?

Could narcissism and poor impulse control be behind the "mid-life crisis?"

Posted Mar 19, 2012

You've heard the view that men in mid-life are often at high risk for throwing over their wives and children, buying the hot new red sports car, and having affairs with women half their age and younger. Often the "mid-life" crisis is mentioned to account for this behavior and is sometimes spoken of as if it was some kind of no-fault disease that successful men, in particular, catch once they hit 40 or 50. Don't buy it! The "mid-life crisis" is mostly a myth that has little empirical support. The culprit most likely is a combination of narcissism and poor impulse control.

I know of a number of clients, neighbors, and even some colleagues (who should know better by the way) who are suffering from the so-called "mid-life crisis." They have decided to have marital affairs, leave (or strongly consider leaving) their spouse and children for new love, and have left their jobs for more creative and enjoyable pursuits. It is certainly reasonable, natural, and expected that mid-life years would provide an opportunity for life reflection. Questions such as: "Where am I going? How should I best use the rest of my time on earth? Now that I have achieved many of my life goals such as educational, career, and family successes, what's next for me?" all make a great deal of sense at mid-life. However, too often this so-called "mid-life crisis" turns down a destructive path. Marriages are dissolved, the lives of children and families are torn apart, and men run off with a much younger woman in a fancy new sports car. I've counseled many in this situation... way too many in fact. Perhaps it is becuase I live and work here in Silicon Valley but I think that this pattern commonly occurs elsewhere too. 

While there really are never simple answers to human behavior and complex individual differences are so often the norm rather than the exception, typically this mid-life behavior is a byproduct of narcissistic tendencies (i.e., "It's about what I want and my needs") along with poor impulse control. Successful men in particular with many resources may feel that they are entitled to more in life that includes a variety of narcissistic fantasies and impulses. Rather than blaming their behavior on character and behavioral flaws in themselves it may be easier to attribute their behavior to a mid-life crisis as if it was some caught disease.

Perhaps the best antidote to the mid-life crisis is learning to say no to problematic impulses (never easy to do for most people) and reminding oneself that the world really doesn't revolve around your own needs and desires. This isn't so easy to do in our American culture. We are so often exposed an environment that reinforces and supports narcissism. "Have it now!. Treat yourself! You deserve more! Get all that you can get from life... all seem to be our cultural mantras. 

So, don't blame men behaving badly on the mid-life crisis. Consider blaming the behavior on the person engaged in the behavior. While they may feel entitled to fulfilling fantasies and desires with little regard to others they do so with consequences including the best interests of their spouses, children, and maybe even themselves too.

Sometimes doing the right thing means putting on your man pants, taking responsibility, and controling impulses and desires that are destructive and harmful to those you have committed your life to.

So, what do you think?

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