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Aging: It’s All About You

Aging is: ‘All About You”. The ‘Perception of Aging’ is about what you have witnessed and what you have experienced. For example, when I ask my college age students – what will childbirth be like? For women that have not experienced childbirth they describe the process quite accurately as: “difficult, painful, beautiful”. I ask these same students – (age 18-22) what will menopause be like? They respond by telling me it will be” filled with emotional ups and downs, an emotional roller coaster and hot flashes”. The question is how can they describe these events if they have not experienced these events? The answer is, they can describe these events with accuracy because of what they have witnessed. It is a term called “Anticipatory Socialization” coined by Samuel Stouffer 1949 and further analyzed by Robert Merton in 1957, i.e., Adoption of attitudes and values of a group to which one does not belong, serving the twin functions of facilitating a move into that group and easing the process of adjustment after becoming a member of it.

Every age has a “Voice” that permeates the air. In Adulthood, that “Voice” becomes laced with experience…and as a result changes over time. Unfortunately, there are times that the “voice” becomes muted or tired over time. The only thing that is guaranteed in life is that ‘everything changes”. One major change is the perception of time.

When my children were young – if the discussion centered on who they are…they would speak about who they are going to be. If that discussion was with my 97 year old Mother- she would tell you – who she was. My children – when they were younger – would look to the future to shape their view of who they are; my elderly Mother – constructed her sense of self from who she was.

Around the age of 45-50 years old – we all go through a shift in the way we perceive time. In fact, it is around this age period (45-50 years of age) that we begin to view time as “not what is available or ahead of us – but rather – how much time has already passed”. This phenomenon is clinically known as a: “Shift in Interiority”⁠. It is during this time period (45-50 years of age) that the “Peak Anxiety of Regret” and the “Peak Anxiety of Death” also surface. In fact, the person of Advanced Age (85- plus years age and above) is typically not paralyzed by the thought of dying….but rather, how they will die. Death for a person, who has been surrounded by the passing of significant others, has already begun to process that death is a natural part of the cycle of life. In conversation, with the person of advanced age, one begins to hear the theme surface of their desire for a ‘good death”, i.e., a death without pain and suffering. With this “Shift in Time Perception”, changes in how one sees the world also continues to ‘shift’.

The impact of time. One thing that is clear, as you begin to listen to the exchange between Middle-age parents and their adolescent or Young Adult children what you hear – that creates the most conflict – is the exchange about ‘time perception’. (For example, when my oldest son came to me right after the events of September 11, 2001 (9/11) to inform me that he was withdrawing from college to start a business that he always dreamed of – my first reaction was not to congratulate him on this decision. My first reaction was: “What are you kidding me – what are you going to do with your time?” His answer is one I will never forget. He said: “Dad, people went to work last week with the thought they had all of the time in the world. They had planned for the future, with their career paths and retirement planning and they weren’t able to benefit from that planning for the future. I want to start this business and I want to start it now.” Fast forward to today, 14 years later, he acted on his intention and today is a successful entrepreneur – who put into action his dream).

The reality is that, for sure, the perception of aging & the perception of time changes across the lifespan. Depending on where you are on the ‘Chronological Landscape’ will dictate your perception. Aging is all about you.

L.T. Force, Ph.D.

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