Self Improvement — 09 November 2009
The courage to age gracefully

Watching oneself age may be a painful process. It is like observing an architectural masterpiece slowly eroding towards its collapse. Emotionally, the irreversible changes evoke sadness, grief, fear, shame, and even guarded panic. Yet, there are those who handle their aging process with enviable equanimity and grace.

Our culture deifies youth and abhors aging. Older people are often ignored, disrespected and presumed to be physically frail and/or mentally impaired. The elderly are overlooked and shunned, even by those who profess to admire their accomplishments and wisdom. It is no wonder, then, that many individuals go to great lengths to avoid becoming society’s unofficial outcasts.

Psychologically, just being classified as “middle aged”, “mature”, or “older” may imply impending rejection and may cause insecurity. The need to belong and be a desirable member of the group is so strong that some individuals seek extreme measures and undergo great physical pain to retain a youthful appearance.

Those who go under the knife to eradicate wrinkles and sagging skin may be deluding themselves about their newfound youth. Their age is still apparent to others by their gait, pace, body shape, posture, strength, level of energy and overall aura. In addition to their physical image, mature people declare their life position by their attitudes, styles, beliefs, perspective, opinions, life-views and personal delivery. Age is inescapable and middle-aged folks, who embrace it with comfort, often appear healthier and more youthful than those who attempt to alter it.

Oprah Winfrey, talking about ageless beauty affirmed her beliefs that it is not something “we can buy, nip or tuck”. She states: “I have found, for myself, that the best secret to aging is about your attitude … I think it’s how you feel about yourself at any given moment … if you’re in love with yourself, if you feel that you have something to offer to yourself, your family and the world.” Loving oneself is reflected in your personal glow and enlivens your youthfulness.

In “The Psychology of Ageing”, the British author, Ian-Stewart-Hamilton cites research identifying five personality styles regarding aging: Constructiveness (worry free and striving to interact with others, Dependent (relying on others’ help but viewing aging as leisure time), Defensive (proved they were self-reliant), Hostile (blamed others for their misery), and Self Hatred (hostility turned inward). The first three faired well while the latter two were less successful in later life.

To age gracefully:

• Resist societal misconceptions about aging. Treat it not as a shameful affliction that needs drastic change, but as a natural process you can go through with acceptance and grace.
• Consider the journey of life as akin to a hard long hike up and down a steep mountain. The descent can be eased by the glow of having reached the peak and seen the view and being braced for the return to the starting point, with a few lessons to share.
• Cultivate a healthy body, an active mind and interest in others. It will make you more appealing to people of all ages.
• Stay abreast with current events, social concerns, technological changes, and political and ideological issues that matter to younger people.
• Avoid telling youngsters about “the good old days”. Instead, be a curious student of their “good new days.” Don’t tell them what you have done – admire them for what they are doing.
• Pursue your passions. An active and actualized individual draws the interest, attention, and even admiration of others.
• Abstain from worrying about how you are being viewed. Live the life that evokes your self-respect and pleasure. Your inner peace will enhance your exterior beauty as well.
• Change any negative self-talk. Replace it with confirmations of all that is positive and desirable about you.
• Concentrate on being helpful, caring and contributing to others. Being other-focused keeps you vital, interesting and youthful at any age.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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