aging, counseling, psychology, self-help

Do You Feel “Old?”

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There is a lot of things that suck about getting older.

There is a reason they say getting old is not for the faint of heart.

Fine lines, high blood pressure, slower metabolisms, gray hairs, never-ending bills. Just to name a few.

Psychologically speaking, aging can be daunting, to say the least.

Then there is the narcissistic injury that comes with aging. NONE of us get to escape it. As we pass our prime, it is with a growing awareness that younger people coming after us haven’t yet reached their peak. You look at younger people and see the torch has been passed to a new generation. The generational guard has changed. It is THEIR turn. Yours has come and passed to a larger extent. The next generation is still building and designing their lives: education, marriage, kids, houses, careers, ambitions. Whereas you life in comparison feels relatively set.

It can be a bummer to say the least.

Perhaps “excitement” feels like an emotion of yesteryear.

And then of course is the startlingly realization there are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it once we reach a certain age.  Everyone is winging it, some just do it with more aplomb.

Yet there is also something extremely liberating about getting older: a shift in perspective, one that comes hard-won.

At some point you start to say to yourself: “I’m too old for this.”

This has become my M.O. for how I view certain things in life. I have been practicing it frequently and often, amazed at how I can ignore nuisances that once would have gotten to me or upset me. How much easier it gets with each passing year to be comfortable in your own skin.

Getting older helps you gain such awareness of yourself and all the trivial things you have wasted your time on over the years.

All the silly things that you spent your time and energy on. Oy. Wasted moments, days, months…(hopefully not years).

What have I come to realize I am too old for?

Judgments. My own (self-directed ones mostly). You know that voice in your head. The one saying you aren’t smart enough, strong enough, wealthy enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I’m trying not to judge myself so harshly for being human. For some reason, this non-judgment comes so naturally in my role as a clinician, working with others, but is more of a challenge with myself. I feel we struggle for years to accept our imperfections. Yet the fact remains we are all flawed. I can list off my many flaws– I sleep with my makeup on. I eat sweets more often than I should. I skip the morning workout session to get the extra 20 minutes of sleep to power through a 14 hour work day. I skip exercise on the weekends to do a bottomless mimosa brunch. I cannot draw or do anything artistic to save my life. I can on and on.

Letting others make my decisions.  When we are children, we yield to our parents. Sadly many people never outgrow this inclination to yield their decision-making to others. Some live their whole lives yielding to the will of others. Sure, you may have family/spouse/friends whose insight you may seek, but you are no longer making decisions based on what others think you should do. You are making decisions based on what is right for you. It’s liberating. There is nothing sadder than someone who lives their whole life living for the approval of others (which may never even be granted).

Expectations–Unrealistic ones specifically (both for myself and others). Figuring out how to manage my expectations without sacrificing my sense of idealism has been a struggle. I see the struggle play out with clients in our sessions, many who find it challenging to manage expectations in their relationships. It is so hard for many of us to accept other people are not here to meet our expectations. You see our expectations are based on our experiences and we all travel different paths on journey through life. I am mindful that all people have their own hopes, dreams, identities, ways of operating, and plans for their lives. Letting go of expectations are a must if you want to have an inner sense of peace and healthy, enduring relationships.

In my work as a therapist, I’ve met with many clients who share with me their disappointment with their friends, family, and coworkers. Disappointment is a soul crushing emotion. Clients share it is hard for them to let go and forgive the mistakes of others. Others cannot forgive themselves. I can relate to the feeling-I have been there far too many times than I care to admit. A huge part of my own personal growth was freeing myself from external expectations–the ones held by others towards me and vice versa. I gently remind clients (and myself) we are ALL doing the best we can at our personal level of development. It is important to live with an internal locus of control.

I am too old to keep my mouth shut when I see injustice— Life is not fair. That is a given. But I cannot enable bad behavior–especially in the large issues facing our society (in politics we see bad behavior playing out on the daily). I no longer want to keep my mouth shut when I see an injustice. Or feel one. It’s not that I never spoke out, there were times when I did, but it was usually on behalf of someone else. I never tolerated people mistreating people I cared about. But I learned life is short and the older you get your time is PRECIOUS.  We need to serve goals and issues outside of our selves.  Injustice to others is injustice to all.

Thinking something is the end of the world. Emotional scenes are tiring and pointless. Nothing is the end of the world. You have been through enough downs to know there eventually is an up. Reacting no longer seems necessary. If you get treated like shit, it would be wise to exit stage left.

Spending unnecessary time with people I don’t care for — I struggle to be around people who mean, petty, and close-minded. I think we all can relate to being in situations where people are squabbling over something asinine and thought what am I doing here? Life is too short to spend unnecessary time with people who are not in aligned with your values.  The friends you keep in your life have your back… you weed out the others. It saves a lot of emotional angst. Ones of the perks of getting older is your circle gets smaller, but with quality people.

I am too old to try to change people.  People’s youthful quirks can harden into adult pathologies. What is cute and harmless at 25 is pathological by 40. Be wary of people who are committed to the same misery instead of trying to change things for the better. By now I’ve learned, the very hard way, that what you see in someone at the beginning is what you get in perpetuum. I have come to realize people find comfort in the predictability, even the ritualization, of the same problems with the same people over and over again. Instead of going through the struggle of changing dynamics for the better, people rather stay stuck in the familiar misery they know.

Marriages, friendships, family relationships….people do-si-do, round and round until the music stops. People will go through the same toxic, unhealthy patterns just because it is familiar.

Toxic people? Sour, spoiled people? We should simply walk away. We get to not just be too old for but too wise for such nonsense.  At my age and in my field, I can spot trouble coming a mile away  (believe me, this is a big improvement). I spare myself a great deal of suffering, and as we all know, there is plenty of that to be had without looking for more.

To think I am special. Growing up, the “special” movement was full swing. Trophies for everyone! The fact remains more about you is universal than not universal. I feel a small percentage of us is unique but for the most part we are part of the cohort. A bit disappointing and also a relief.  We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But the fact is, most of us are pretty average at most things we do.

For firsts. When we are young, we have plenty of firsts.  So many great new experiences! First day of school. First day of summer vacation. First date. First kiss. First real relationship. First terrible breakup. First real job. First… you get the point. When we’re young, life is full of firsts. I am too old for many firsts. But I look forward to not firsts, but different times. It may not be a first time but it will be a different time.

As you can see with time you evolve, just as the world does.  One upside to getting older? Research shows the older we get, the happier we are. Studies show as we get, our overall mental health, including mood,  sense of well-being and ability to handle stress, just keeps improving right up until the very end of life.

Something to look forward to.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

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