Age and Resilience

Aide buttoning shirt of elderly woman.As I age, I often think about how I will cope as my age related challenges increase. Will my current ability to bounce back be maintained when I am weakened and tired? Will I repeat the patterns of my predecessors as if biologically determined? What if I fall down and can’t get up?

My education and experience tells me that I will age as I have lived. I believe resilience is determined by the skills and attitudes I have learned over the years. To the extent that I have learned from my predecessors, that learning will be relevant. But I am not destined to follow any pattern of behavior that does not work for me. There will come a time that, when I fall, I will need help to get back up and I will need to adjust my strategies to allow for that.

I have seen individuals age with grace and dignity and I have seen others rail against growing dependence with loathing and hostility. Is there a right and wrong here? If I believe that I will age as I have lived, then it follows that others might do so too. If I apply the skills and attitudes that have worked for me over my lifetime…do you see where I am going with this?

Behaviorists teach us that our responses are learned through reward. Reward is something that reinforces our behavior. If we assume that much of our behavior is driven by our needs, and if what we need is to be left alone, hostility works. Positive Psychologists teach us that we strive to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, cultivate what’s best within us and enhance our experience of love work and play.  If what we love is solitude and independence, would not railing against dependence make sense?

I understand the aforementioned strategies and acknowledge it as resilient if those behaviors allowed an individual to rebound from whatever personal tragedies they faced in life. Resilience is not always pretty. It doesn’t always call forth the best in us. It elicits the strategies that have helped us bounce back from adversity. Our identification of adversity is as diverse as our responses to it.

Since aging tends to require the care of others at some point, and independence and solitude don’t fit well within that scenario, it behooves us to take a closer look at the skills and attitudes we currently apply and understand that those skills should evolve just as we do. Strategies that worked when we were young and independent may need to be adapted to changing circumstances. Life is a journey and the terrain is ever-changing. If we are to remain happy in the latter part of that journey we will need to adapt accordingly.

Charlene Fernald Moynihan