Personality and Aging

The old person is largely responsible for his own place in society. What is experienced as rejection or exclusion by one person may be a welcome opportunity to shed responsibility by another. One individual’s lifestyle may keep him closely linked with society, while that of another individual may encourage an earlier withdrawal.

The reality of individual differences is well illustrated in several studies in the field of aging. As an example, researchers in their studies among men, have identified five types of personality.

In general, three types of men adjusted well to their place in society as they aged, while the other two types did not. The “rocking chair” men were of a passive disposition. Growing old gave them permission to withdraw from activities and responsibilities that they had cared for in the first place. What they gained in peace and quiet seemed to more than make up for what they lost by moving out of the mainstream of life.

Quite different were the “armored” men. These individuals dreaded the project of becoming passive, dependent or helpless. They tend to organize themselves to resist all forces, both biological and sociological that might place them in a dependent position. They maintained a physically and socially active lifestyle, hardly relinquishing their place in society at all.

The kind of personality most often seen among the well-adjusted elderly men was the one that researchers described as themselves and in their relationship with society.

As people who had been living fully for many years, they had the confidence to continue to function well, enjoying personal relationships and their favorite activities.

The “angry” men showed the most common type of maladaptive pattern to aging. These were people who felt they had not been treated well by life.

Given a reasonable opportunity, people will find or create their own place in society as they grow old. The variety and depth of individual experiences that men and women alike bring into old age is a rich resource that society ignores, only to its own disadvantage. The elderly person has helped to make society what it is and need not hesitate to make his or her claim to a meaningful place in it.

I am reminded of a convention I attended for Nursing directors where the keynote speaker’s topic was entitled, “Passion: love who you are, love what you do.” His suggestion for living with passion was the following: “…we live in a world of uncertainty. Most of us might call this uncertainty, stress. People with positive energy, however, call it excitement. The reality stays the same.”

Quotable Quote: “A man’s stage in life is only limited by his imagination.” Anon.
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