Staying Emotionally Young Requires Purpose

Losing One’s Sense of Purpose


Older adults suffer many losses, memory, physical abilities, friends and relatives. But, no loss is greater than the loss of your sense of purpose. Purpose that has driven you through your middle age to sometimes great accomplishments is often lost when the family disperses, your career comes to an end, or what was compelling has just lost its power. Without purpose you are rudderless This is particularly important to you when other losses make having a sense of direction so important, for it gives meaning to those sacrifices.

Can Even Cause Anxiety or Depression

A personal story is an example. When I changed careers in my late 50’s I was full of excitement and ambition to succeed at my new venture. I entered my new vocation with laser like focus and I succeeded. But somehow a birthday arrived that was a magic number to me and when the clock ticked over marking that new year I flew into a panic with all kinds of fears about my health, finances and even the direction of my new profession. Had I made the right choice? Was I foolish to have left the corporate sector? What if I had a major illness? I foundered, sought help, and with that help faced my fears. I came out of my funk and found greater peace, a greater dedication to my new career and redefined my purpose to emphasize working with others facing the dilemmas of aging.

Like me when you have lost sight of your guiding star often little taste for real life remains, anxiety or depression set in, and you look for ways to escape or numb out: sitting in a big easy chair endlessly watching reruns; eating and eating without hunger; or any activity that suits the escapist intent. According to statistics, don’t ask me how they arrived at this, lack of purpose can even shorten your life by eight years! It’s a vacant existence without color.

Getting Emotionally Fit; Regaining Purpose

But this is a state of mind that can be addressed. Depression and lethargy have their own way of motivating and although our original ideas may no longer apply we still have values; we still have things that, at least, at one time gave us joy. So, if you are in this state, make a list of your values and a list of the things you love to do or have loved to do. After you have named what you think was and is important to you, narrow your list down to the three most significant things between both categories, values and likes; then pick the most important one.

Now perhaps you have come to a place where you decide that going to the theatre is the thing from which you get the most pleasure or meaning. Going to the theatre alone may seem too self-absorbed, seem not to be giving enough of yourself, not a motivating enough purpose. But, what if you helped with the theatre program at the senior center, organized trips to the theatre for your local high school or just did a little bit of theatre yourself reading to young children at the library or your own grandchildren. Maybe playing baseball is the thing from which you get the most joy. Playing and watching baseball may seem to be a shallow purpose, but what if you turned that into coaching or umpiring kids, teenagers or the handicapped. Again, maybe just teaching your own grand or great grandchildren the joys of the game. Having a purpose could simply be taking care of your spouse. Purpose does not have to be grandiose, but from my experience it needs to include a broader reach than oneself alone.

There are infinite choices. Often, after narrowing your list down, it is a good idea to keep writing variations on a particular theme until it resonates emotionally. Some say until you cry. I don’t know about that; but, sometimes you hit it right on the head just making the list.

However you come to your sense of direction, the next step is taking action and trying out your new vision for the future. Although the above process may improve your outlook in general, do not delay in getting started or you may start to question yourself. The key here is to commit to at least one action right away.

Good luck on your journey and if you think you need a guide in this process or you have other concerns involving aging that you would like to explore with a therapist who is dedicated to helping you stay mentally and emotionally fit at any age please call me at: 201-543-9587 for a free 20 minute consultation.


Internalizing Ageism


The Invisible Senior

Older Adults are experiencing discrimination in the United States. Just the other day I almost got trampled to death as people got off a subway car and it was not even crowded. That, of course, can happen to anybody, but it seems to happen a lot more now that I actually look older. Increasingly I feel discounted and invisible whether it is on a busy street where apparently I am not physically present or in a social gathering of people, middle aged or younger, where my voice often gets ignored, until I insist it not be. Almost no one offers a seat on a bus or subway any longer.

It feels both disorienting and aggravating. Our pride is hurt at these injustices and our belief in ourselves can waver. And it’s not just strangers; it hurts most when it’s colleagues and family. Colleagues, if we are still working, can make us feel like our opinions don’t matter, “Don’t bother to listen to her or him, he or she is old.” is the unsaid message; or worse yet there is no recognition of what we said what so ever. It makes us feel like we’re losing our mind. “Was I actually speaking or did I just think I was?” Family, of course, is the most biting when as in some families we are seen as irrelevant and ready for the shelf, the retirement home, no consideration for whether we think we’re ready. And even our friends, who are our own age, can discount us as well as themselves, “Oh, at our age, nobody really wants to hear what we think.”

Elder’s Embarrassment

The movies are a favorite pastime of mine, but I frequently see older adults with canes hobbling up the stairs to general seating when handicapped seating is available. It is, of course, much more difficult to reach general seating, less room to maneuver a cane or a bad leg, and then there is the annoying jumping up and sitting down whenever someone goes for popcorn or the toilet. Obviously some of us suffer the stairs because we wish to sit with friends or relatives or dislike sitting as close to the screen as senior and handicapped seating is; but just as obviously it is often because we don’t want to be seen as “old”.

That is the point. We begin to internalize the message we are getting from the larger society that “older” equals “bad”. We start buying the idea that we should be invisible, that our opinion doesn’t count. How many of us actually take the priority seating on a train or in a movie theatre when it’s available? I personally love to stretch my legs out now in the priority seating in the theatre, but I see very few of my fellow seniors doing the same.

Sometimes someone disabled will come into a theater and want to use the seats closest to the exit and will have to move some young person or middle aged man out of a chair clearly designated for handicapped and elderly. Sometimes the person is so intimidating they don’t even try. Sometimes management comes to the rescue; often they ignore the issue.

Stand Against Ageism

It’s discouraging and makes you want to say, “Why bother?” Again we often internalize saying to ourselves, “We don’t truly deserve special treatment.” Yes we do! It makes me angry to hear that! We’ve paid our dues, contributed to the society for a long time and raised the generations that are disrespecting us. We deserve respect for what we have given.

We don’t have to swallow the society’s prejudices. We can stand up for ourselves, we can make our voices heard; after all, we do have financial clout in the market place and we do vote.

If you are feeling marginalized, have internalized the ageist messages about you and you feel you might like some help call me at: 201-543-9587 for a free 20-minute consultation. My practice specialty is working with older adults. If you want to know more about how I work, click below.