One of the things I find really amazing is the openness of people in their 20s and 30s to do deep work in therapy. For many years most people who came to work with their trauma or family of origin issues were middle-aged or older. It’s heartening to see how incredibly astute, brave and receptive younger people can be to the benefits of plumbing their depths and learning to be more self loving and self compassionate. In essence, to give themselves what they may have missed in their childhood.
That said, it seems as if there is a dearth of information on the benefits of therapy for older adults, people in their 50s and beyond. If you assume, as I do, that we evolve, change and grow until we drop the body, then psychotherapy becomes a fascinating and useful tool throughout life‘s journey.
As people become more aware of their mortality different issues arise. Life reviews are more frequent. Figuring out who they are, who they have been and who they want to be becomes more important and intriguing.￼ Last but not least, the benefits of finally learning to love oneself after what feels like a lifetime of self-denigration can be incredibly freeing. Practicing self compassion after spending decades being compassionate and generous to others can feel like shedding a heavy winter coat on the first day of spring.
Good therapy is truly life-changing—even miraculous. So why is it that older people don’t come to therapy as much as people under 60? I think the prevailing belief is that once you hit a certain age you are who you are and you’re destined to remain that way until you die. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just as your body changes from minute to minute, your mind, perceptions and self awareness are also capable of changing. Even more miraculously, your heart can soften and heal from numerous woundings. Life changing epiphanies can happen at any age.
Learning how to love yourself is a practice. It’s not simply saying “I love you” to yourself as a personal mantra, it’s being aware of what you want and doing your best to attain it. This takes lots of repetition before it becomes automatic, but starting now is better than stagnating with self criticism, self blame, and anger at all those who have failed you.
People can be rigid or flexible at any age. To assume that older adults are more rigid is unfair. I think their perspective often enables them to be more flexible and open to psychological growth. When they’re not, you can be sure it’s from a place of fear and wounding. Luckily, we can work with that.
Most adults have been spending the years from 20 to 60 actively involved in raising children, community work and making a living. This generally does not allow a lot of time for introspection and therapy.
It’s easy to confuse resiliency with joy. Being resilient, making it through the slings and arrows of life, is fantastic. If you’re living, breathing and reading this right now you are by definition resilient—a wonderful thing. But resilience isn’t joy, even if you are proud to have weathered life’s storms. You can be resilient and still have more joy.
Therapy is about creating some inner peace, and that comes from feeling safe in oneself. All the accomplishments you may have had in life are fulfilling, but they don’t necessarily make you feel safe. Developing true self compassion, self appreciation and self love help you feel safe in your heart, mind and body. Luckily, there is no age limit on creating a better relationship with your own sweet self.
Copyright Nicole Urdang