Is it possible to avoid a mid-life crisis? According to a recent study led by Joel R. Sneed of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, it is possible. Identity formation is an essential part of adolescence. Many studies have examined the impact of healthy identity formation on adulthood. But few studies have examined how identity formation throughout adulthood affected well-being in mid-life. “Identity develops as individuals transition into adult roles, such as gainful employment, committed partnerships, and parenting,” said Sneed. “Identity can be developed either through thoughtful consideration of alternative options, or through internalizing ideals espoused by others. In either case, a strong sense of identity appears to facilitate well-being and satisfying committed relationships in adulthood.”
The second component to well-being is intimacy. Although research has focused on the link between identity and intimacy, few studies have examined how that dynamic influenced well-being in mid-life. For his study, Sneed looked at data from 182 adults ranging in age between 20 and 54. The data was gathered at four different points in time, and revealed two key findings. “First, supporting Erikson’s postulate that identity and intimacy are crucial psychosocial issues in emerging adulthood and foreshadow later development, scores on both scales during the college years predicted midlife satisfaction—intimacy directly and identity through the course of development from age 20 to age 54,” said Sneed.
Sneed also discovered that intimacy and identity in young adulthood did not predict intimacy and identity in mid-life. “However, identity issues in midlife, when individuals reflect back on their lives and revisit their goals and choices, predicted intimacy at age 54,” said Sneed. “To the extent to which individuals in their 40s continue to maintain a positive and coherent sense of who they are and where their lives are going, they are likely to continue to enjoy warm and intimate relationships in their 50s.” Sneed added, “Because the so-called ‘midlife crisis’ is essentially a revisiting of identity issues in the 40s and 50s, resolving these identity issues in a coherent and positive way appears to facilitate satisfaction with work, family, and life in general.”
Sneed, J. R., Whitbourne, S. K., Schwartz, S. J., & Huang, S. (2011, December 26). The Relationship Between Identity, Intimacy, and Midlife Well-Being: Findings From the Rochester Adult Longitudinal Study. Psychology and Aging. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026378
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