There’s a fun thing going around on social media where people show how they’ve physically aged over the last 10 years. But what about the internal aging process?
We all know that it’s what inside and how you feel that counts, but focusing on the physical can make it difficult to grow older and feel good about it. We may feel obsolete, irrelevant, or just not ‘with it.’ How we feel is rooted in the meaning we create. If old means closer to death, immobility, or losing touch I understand why we don’t want to age. But aging can also mean progressing, learning, and moving forward.
Erik Erikson, the German psychologist, theorized in his Stages of Psychosocial Development that we face specific tasks at different ages, where we must understand and accept two opposing extremes. If we are successful, we incorporate the positive action of the struggle into our personality. Erikson’s first 5 stages deal with childhood and adolescence. Skipping to adulthood, ages 18-40 is where the struggle of Stage 6 comes in: Intimacy vs. Isolation with the goal of creating a positive action of Love.
During this stage, we may attach too quickly to others. Or we have difficulty connecting; preferring isolation. Successfully resolving this conflict can look like striking a balance between the two. Accepting that we need both to be able to be comfortable with either. If we don’t resolve this conflict, we may end up feeling insecure and lonely. Here is where we can challenge ourselves to learn trust; learn how to love and be loved.
Erikson’s next stage is Generativity vs. Stagnation, from 40 to the mid-60s. The resolution of this conflict is caring for family and society. Here is where we can find meaning in our lives and work. We can give back to society, take care of our family, and feel productive. Incorporating these concepts into our personality can combat against feeling stuck; mired in meaninglessness or a lack of self-improvement.
At 60+, we then move to Integrity vs. Despair. The point of this conflict is to resolve the feelings of a life well lived, or a life wasted. In this stage, we can feel satisfied about our accomplishments from previous stages. We can feel a sense of a life full of integrity. This stage being unresolved can lead to feeling bitter, regretful, and full of despair.
Viewing aging as different stages with naturally occurring conflicts, each with a task given for us to resolve can help excite us, energize us, and compel us forward.
When thinking about aging well, are you up for the task?