Your identity constantly changes throughout your life but you might go through the most significant changes in your sense of self as you reach retirement age. As you get older, your role in your family and community can shift dramatically, which can lead to notable changes in your understanding of yourself. Although your retirement years can be a time of true peace and fulfillment, “age identity” is a common source of distress for older adults.
If you’re struggling to understand and accept yourself as you age, you’re not alone. However, it is possible to come to terms with your age identity and embrace your life regardless of your age. We all should know why identity can change so dramatically with age and what we can do to overcome aging anxiety.
The Impact of Aging on Identity
Identity is a complicated mixture of roles, values, life experiences and personality. It constantly changes as we enter new stages of life and redefine what’s important to us. When we age, we go through a number of major changes that can significantly impact the way we understand ourselves and relate to the world.
The Following Are Three of the Most Common Ways Identity Can Change with Age
1. Family Roles
The role you play within your family is probably one of the biggest contributors to your sense of self. People with children tend to derive a great deal of meaning from being a parent. If you have kids, you probably felt like a caretaker for years as your children grew up. Then, as your children became adults, you continued to be a source of advice and wisdom for them.
When you age, though, you might need support from your children. Many older adults rely on their kids to some degree for transportation, financial assistance, or help with personal care. It can be jarring to go from being the caretaker to being the one requiring help. Seniors may experience feelings of shame or low self-esteem when they need additional support from family.
Becoming a grandparent can affect age identity as well. Welcoming a new generation into the world can be an incredibly exciting and meaningful experience, and many older adults are very excited to take on their new role as a grandparent.
The loss of a spouse can also drastically affect your understanding of yourself within a family structure. When you and your partner have had years together, adjusting to life without them can feel almost impossible. If being a spouse is no longer a part of your identity, you may feel lost and/or lonely.
2. Professional Status
Retirement is a massive life change and one of the most common causes of a shifting age identity. While most older adults are thrilled to retire and get extra time to enjoy life, putting your career behind you can also be very difficult if there was personal meaning in the work.
Careers and jobs take up so much of our time that they usually contribute to our sense of self in some capacity. Even if you’ve been looking forward to retirement you might feel like you’ve lost a big part of who you are. The sense of purpose and accomplishment from work can be very satisfying and after retirement, we have to find other projects and passions.
3. Personal Values
The role you serve to other people is a major component of your identity, but your sense of self also includes your personal beliefs and values. In some ways, your personal identity may stay the same throughout your entire life. The things you valued most as a young adult may continue to be meaningful to you today.
In other ways, though, you might notice internal changes as you age. You may find yourself becoming more or less social, patient, temperamental or empathetic. You may value your solitude more as you age or you may feel a new desire to surround yourself with other people. Some people feel more connected to their emotional and mental health as they get older while others find that mental health gets harder to manage. Because your life can change so much with age, you may feel that your personality and priorities change as well.
Accepting Your Changing Identity
Coming to terms with your age identity may feel difficult, especially if you’ve experienced a decline in health and rely on others for support. No matter your health status, though, you have the ability to accept your identity and feel at peace with who you are.
Finding New Strengths and Passions
You may lose certain aspects of your sense of self as you age. Finding new hobbies, projects and passions is essential for maintaining mental health and retaining a sense of drive and purpose. This looks different for everyone, but you can find new ways to build up your identity by reflecting on your core values. Maybe volunteering for a cause you love will help you feel fulfilled. Maybe it’s the time to dive into an artistic that you have been wanting to try. Often, seniors have to think ‘outside of the box’ and consider activities they have never given much consideration to.
Although your roles in your family or community may have changed the memories of what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve offered to the world still exist. Reminiscing on your life can be a beautiful way to reflect on your life and acknowledge your accomplishments. When you can look back fondly on past memories, you may find it easier to embrace your new age identity.
Counseling for Seniors
If your age identity is causing mental or emotional distress that you can’t overcome, consider working through this challenge with a therapist. You deserve to love yourself regardless of your age and abilities and counseling for seniors provides an opportunity for you to explore and embrace your identity. Sometimes seniors need to mourn their old identities and process the changes in their lives in the safety of a therapy session. Then, they can take steps toward healing and accepting their age identity.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers mental health therapy for older adults with anxiety related to aging and other concerns. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health challenges, please reach out to us to connect with a senior counselor in your area.