Within our struggle to accept the aging process, Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist Dr. Liz Hale shares some insight into what maturity really is…and how we can better accept the inescapable face of maturity.M.i
Very simply, we live in a society that values youth and beauty. I’m not saying this is correct; eventually we realize youth and beauty alone were overrated. However, the irony is, even when we have youth and beauty we don’t recognize or enjoy it! I remember being a teenager standing in front of this large bathroom mirror next to my beautiful mother and she commented on how she envied my smooth, wrinkle-free skin and how I should not take it for granted! All I could see was a red spot on my chin that looked like it was going to soon turn into a pimple! I was mortified. Those wrinkle-free days: wasted! It’s the pain of hindsight; the joy comes when we stop resisting reality and our stage in this life cycle. Resistance causes suffering. Acceptance breeds freedom.
I received an e-mail from a viewer with not only a darling sense of humor but also a truthful exploration on how looking older can be painful – we first recognize the aging process in our physical being. Dorothy speaks for many of us:
“I caught a glimpse of my chin in the mirror the other day, and it wasn’t where it USED to be; firm against my jaw bone. Instead, it now sways like a tiny, little hammock! The hardest part about getting older is I’m no longer considered “pretty.” No more whistles or flirtations coming my way…..I have crossed the line into the unknown…what do I do now?”
Our youth-obsessed culture does make us panic in the face of aging. But I believe our vanity is just a cover-up for what is really worrying us.
Maturity is: Unraveling Your Anxiety
Our changing face and body brings about the reality of Act II: our own mortality. We, like all living things, will eventually die. This is not a popular topic, not easy to discuss, but nonetheless inevitable. Not only do we recognize that we are no longer the youthful beauties we once were but that are lives are growing shorter. Then there are the metaphysical questions: have I accomplished what I had hoped? Can I resolve any regrets in the time I have left, and what if I can’t? Determine where you anxiety is coming from. Perhaps you thought by the time you were 45 that you would have been a homeowner, traveled the world, or be in better health than you are now. Are these goals still a priority? If so, take the steps to make them happen. If not, let’s simplify and accept that goals have changed throughout the years, identify new ones, and create a plan to bring them to fruition.
Allow me to have a play on words with this topic. Let’s take the banking term of “maturity” and apply it to us.
Maturity is: When Your “CD Term” Ends
CD: Contention & Disillusionment
Maturity is simply the date when your CD (certificate of deposit) term ends. You have reached maturity when your CD term ends.
C: Contention (the rivalry and competition ceases – you no longer need to keep up with the Jones’ or your mother-in-law. You don’t have to have the holidays your way; you can give up control and allow others certain responsibilities)
D: Disillusionment (life is not always how we thought it would be ~ you discover what is good about what is. Your intention is to strictly focus on what is good. The happiest people are those who learn to love their lot in life.)
Maturity is: Taking Credit and Taking Care
Give yourself credit for what you have achieved. Perhaps you raised 5 children on your own; you went back and finished your degree; you recovered from a nervous breakdown. Celebrate what did go well. Take care of yourself as best you can. Improved your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. (Even just one of them!) Develop and maintain friendship and hobbies. Talk to other family members and friends about their own aging process; how are they embracing and struggling with getting older. Read books by Erma Bombeck or other humorists. I came across one the other day written by Nora Efrain; “I Feel Bad Bout My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.”
Maturity is: Accepting the Adventure
We all need to take risks and try new things, regardless of our current age. This is what keeps like exciting. Every season offers you either more time or more money – rarely both but use what is available to you. Learn to play tennis, write a book, learn to paint or draw, join a club. Whatever you do expand your experiences and challenge yourself with each passing year to celebrate and embrace life.
We also need to welcome the wisdom that comes from each passing year.
Maturity is: Welcoming Wisdom
We also need to welcome the wisdom that comes from each passing year. Just because our aging brains are changing doesn’t mean it’s all downhill. A study of psychologists from McMaster University have determined that older people appear to be faster and more adept at grasping the bigger picture that their younger counterparts. There is a flexibility ion the plasticity in the brain that continues trough the aging process. Instead of viewing aging as something to dread, it’s helpful to remember that each stage has its benefits.
The next item you spend time with an aging acquaintance, look for the beauty that is there. Marvel at the shape the body has taken, the sparkle in the eyes, their uninhibited mindset, and vast amount of knowledge and experience housed in their intellect. Honor this phase of life as you do all others. There’s magic in every phase if we choose to see it!
BOTTOM LINE: Grieving, accepting and even relishing the gifts that come with age, doesn’t mean we don’t want to look as good as we can. But if your deepest sense of yourself is shattered by a gray hair, that’s a problem. We can both accept aging and color our hair all while being honest about our state of mind. Everything depends on our motivation and attitude.
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular contributor on Studio 5. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.