In life it isn't what you've lost; it's what you've got left that counts.
- Hubert H. Humphrey
Erik H. Erickson discovered that, during life's various stages, each of us must deal with personality issues. If we deal with these issues properly, we will grow and develop a healthy personality.
As we prepare our aging plan, we need to be ready to address the personality crisis associated with older adulthood. Erickson calls this crisis integrity versus despair.
Integrity, according to Erickson, is "the acceptance of one's own life as something that had to be lived and could not be lived by another." It is an attitude that my life is a uniquely positive contribution to all humanity but especially to my family and people I touch throughout life. Integrity can be summed up in the phrase: "I did good."
Despair grows out of one's fear of death. It is the feeling of regret that life was too short to accomplish any good and what time we have left is too short to attempt a "do over" to correct perceived mistakes. Whereas integrity gives one a sense of wholeness, despair gives one a sense of fragmentation, a feeling one's life is in pieces.
As we age, some life experiences become the playing field where this age-related personality conflict surfaces. If we develop plans to handle these events, we have a better chance of developing integrity.
Three common but powerful experiences we need to prepare for are grief, regret and depression.
Grief is a natural experience and healing process we must go through when we suffer a loss. As we get older, we have an increasing number of losses over which we grieve. The obvious losses are the deaths of a spouse, loved ones and lifelong friends. But we also grieve the loss of our occupational role, co-worker relationships, physical health, leadership status in church or community, and personal dreams and goals.
It is very important to express grief, find a way to deal with it and get over it for one to continue to grow toward integrity. In our aging plan, we need to develop strategies and support networks to help us process our grief so it will not paralyze us emotionally.
Regret is futile focus on an unchangeable past. It is a fixation on things done or undone in the past, resulting in pain and remorse in the present. Regret, too, can paralyze our development so we need to develop strategies to let go of past decisions and focus on the future. To continue developing a heal_thy personality, we need to realize there is no way we can change the past, but we can shape our future and the future is to be our focus.
Depression is an attitude of doom, gloom and darkness with no apparent cause. We must understand this depression is NOT a natural part of aging. It is often the result of hormonal or chemical imbalance. To defeat depression, we need to learn the signs and treatments for depression in our aging plan. But most importantly, we need to make a commitment that if we go into a state of depression, we will seek counseling and medication to get to the causes of it and to a cure for it.
For two columns, we have focused on the "aging attitude" chapter of our aging plan because having the right attitude may or may not add years to our life, but will put joy into it.
Frank Fain is director of senior adult ministries and educational services at The Baptist Home.