(This is the first of a two-part article)
You gave a lot of thought to how you would maintain your health and financial well-being once you were retired. And you looked forward to reconnecting with old friends, traveling, and throwing yourself into a new or old “hobby.” The one thing that may not have crossed your mind is how you would safeguard your self- esteem. You didn’t think it would ever be an issue! While many retirees happily state “This is the best time of my life!”, others are blindsided when they realize that they don’t feel as good about themselves as they used to. So, what’s going on?
A study published by The American Psychological Association found that self-esteem was lowest among young adults but increased throughout adulthood, peaking at age 60, before it started to decline. The study’s co-author, Richard Robins, PhD, observed that, “Midlife is a time of highly stable work, family and romantic relationships. People increasingly occupy positions of power and status, which might promote feelings of self-esteem…In contrast, older adults may be experiencing a change in roles such as an empty nest, retirement and obsolete work skills in addition to declining health.”
All of these significant role changes are about loss. Add other losses such as the death of a spouse, a divorce, or profound loneliness, and these “threats” to self-esteem feel very real.
There are other threats, as well. Consider these:
Telling yourself that you no longer serve a purpose. This one is on you. Remember that a steady diet of negative self-talk can chip away at your self- esteem and, if inertia sets in, become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Being “told” that your retirement should be nirvana. People look at you with green-eyed envy or question why you aren’t “happier.” After all, you’re retired right? This could make you think there is something wrong with you. Just because you no longer work doesn’t mean that you live on cloud nine.
Being treated as “less.” People may drop subtle digs about your value as a human based on your age alone or because you are no longer on the hamster wheel, contributing to the economy. They might minimize your work and life experience and consider you “obsolete.”
Being compared. Comparisons to younger people or to a younger version of yourself are not helpful. In a youth-obsessed culture, some people can’t help but point out how you “stack up” against your younger self or others who are younger. This behavior may be conscious or unconscious, but either way, it can sting.
Being labeled. There is nothing humorous about being called or referred to as an old geezer, old biddy, old hag, old fogey, old fart…and so on. It’s hurtful to be dismissed or made fun of simply on the basis of your chronological age.
Being treated as feeble or incompetent. Age, by itself, is no measure of physical ability or mental agility. Nonetheless, some people may treat you in ways that feel condescending, or at least naïve, simply because you’ve got some years under your belt.
You may have noticed one or more of these threats because they are “active” in your life. If so, remember this: You don’t have to buy into any of it. By being aware and making a few different choices, you can keep these threats at bay and, best of all, feel VERY good about yourself.
(Look for Part Two, “Maintain your Self-Esteem in Retirement” in the November issue of Forsyth Woman!)