I have watched a lot of people try to change.
Try to lose weight. Gain weight. Stop lying. Be more affectionate. Stop yelling at their kids. Learn to not be as critical of others. Learn to not be so critical of themselves.
Accept what they cannot change. Focus on what they can.
The general wisdom is that we older folks are set in our ways. We can't learn "new tricks."
Not my experience. It is sad but true that we often carry around burdens from the past way into our 40's, 50's, even 60's that have never been addressed or healed. Abuse or other trauma. Feeling guilt. Shame. Old angers and resentment.
Letting those go and actually moving into a more productive life? I have found that older people can be just as motivated to do that as their younger counterparts.
What does research say? I recently read an article from the New York Times (2013) that validated my clinical experience. The author states, "...seniors generally have a higher satisfaction rate in therapy than younger people because they are usually more serious about it. Time is critical, and their goals usually are well defined".
Time has more meaning.
Let me give you an example. Had a male patient several years ago who had held himself responsible for a sibling's death. He was 9 when it happened. His mother blamed him for absolutely no rational reason. There had also been sexual abuse in his past by a close relative. Those facts and other trauma that I can't reveal due to confidentiality factors caused him to feel like he really wasn't a good person at his core. He was a tremendous man. Had been very giving to his community. But even though he was a father and husband, he was withdrawn and a bit aloof from those who loved him the most.
He came into therapy with his wife. Was there a handful of times. They got better. A few weeks later, my phone rang. It was him. He started coming by himself. Slowly but surely, these facts came to light. I began to see the man that could have been. That really was. He forgave himself. He got a better understanding of the abuse. The other trauma we discussed. He stepped into the light that was his life.
Grandchildren. Volunteering with youth at his church. Work in his neighborhood association. Asking his wife to go on dates.
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He was 68.
He told me that for the 1st time in his life, he was enjoying each and every day.
Change is possible at any age.
If the motivation and courage are there.
You just have to find them.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford is a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for over 20 years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She began blogging in 2012 after her only son left for college, coining the term "NestAche" for her empty nest experience. Not only here on Boomeon, she has been featured on the Huffington Post, Midlife Boulevard, BetterAfter50, BlogHer, Readers Digest, The Cheat Sheet and ArkansasWomenBloggers. Her new eBook, "Seven Commandments of Good Therapy", a basic guide on choosing a therapist or evaluating your current therapy, is available for free on her website. You can find her at DrMargaretRutherford.com or on Twitter @doctor_margaret.
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