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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #11 of 54: Comoros | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #12 of 54: Congo (Brazzaville) »

May 09, 2006

The Aging Process and Women's Psychology

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- The physical aging process, with minor exceptions, is the same in men and women, black and white. As the human body ages, it looses its vitality and becomes weak. At age twenty five, the height of youthful vigor, the average individual can run the mile in under six minutes, but at age sixty five and above it is doubtful that he can.

The human body slows down as human beings become older and this is a natural process. Of course, with good living habits: good nutrition, medications, regular exercises, not smoking, absence of alcoholism and drug taking, it is possible to slow down the aging process. Scientists now project that before the end of the twenty-first century that human beings, at least in developed countries, would be living up to hundred or more years. (120 years is projected as the optimal longevity for the human body.)

Whereas the physical aging process is more or less the same for men and women, the psychological process appears to be different for the two genders. This difference is probably due to the social expectations from the two sexes.

In most extant societies, men, for example, are expected to be strong and not cry; they are expected to grit their teeth and bear pain and do what they have to do to cope with the exigencies of this tough world we live in. Men are not expected to be soft or show sentimentality. The result is that many men, in childhood, resolve to be tough men.

As they grow old and their physical powers wane these men seem unable to accept their weaknesses. Some of them continue to pretend that they are strong and resent it if they think that other people treat them as if they are weak. Thus, you see eighty-something year old men acting as if they are still in their twenties. Unfortunately, this may degenerate into pretending to be powerful.

Acting as if one is who one is not often leads to delusional thinking and behaving. The deluded person (as in delusional disorder) is a person who, generally, feels weak and denies his weakness and posits an alternative strong self and tries to become that imaginary strong, powerful and all important self. He wants the world to validate his preferred powerful self concept and self image and feels happy with those who collude with him and confirm his imaginary important self and feels angry at those who treat him as if he is an ordinary mortal.

The deluded human being, at any age, acts as if he is an all important, powerful, wealthy and famous person, when, in fact, he is none of those persons and need not be, for he ought to accept his imperfect self.

In old age, some men become delusional. Nursing homes and assisted houses where old folks live tend to have a high concentration of deluded men acting as if they are strong men. You find a ninety year old man challenging a twenty five year old man to a physical fight, to prove that he can whip the young man; an impossibility.

The deluded old man refuses to accept his aging, hence weakening body and desires a strong body; he is therefore not accepting the truth and wants to make the untrue, that he is powerful, seem true. Delusional disorder is belief in what is not true as true and acting as such. If one is a human being, hence weak and imperfect, and one believes that one is powerful and acts as such, one is deluded. One is not powerful, for all it takes is a bullet in ones head and one is dead.

Society is very vicious towards women. Women are judged primarily by how they look. Professional women like newscasters are generally let go if they get to a certain age whereas older men are allowed to keep their jobs to old age. You find seventy year old male newscasters but seldom do you find fifty something year old female newscasters. It seems that society prefers young faces to grace the broadcasting world. This is interesting given that older looking women actually look wiser and believable and one would think that they would make more believable newscasters for the audience.

In most jobs it is simply true that older women are discriminated against and that women who are pretty looking or meet whatever is current social idea of beauty are hired. God forbid that a woman is overweight, not attractive and she presents herself for job interviews.

These practices obviously take their tolls on women, for they are aware that they are judged on how their bodies look like and are discriminated against if they do not meet society’s idea of ideal womanhood, and that their intelligence is secondary.

Women tend to have a different set of psychological issues as they age. Most human societies tend to want women to be pretty bodies. Women are generally evaluated as good to the extent that they are beautiful and well dressed than to the extent that they are strong and achieving in society. In fact, most societies expect women to be soft and weak not strong. If a woman is overly physically strong, many men tend to see her as an anomaly and shy away from her. (Nwayi Ike wu onye ahuhu, the Igbos say, meaning that a strong woman is a suffering woman; that is, they expect women to be soft and pretty and not work hard.)

Because women are judged as good to the extent that they are physically good looking, as they age and their bodies become weak and not so good looking, they tend to become aware that society, especially male society, does not value their bodies that much.
Even older men in their sixties seem to prefer younger women (less than forty) for sexual activities.

If it were not for social strictures against older men marrying younger girls, it would be the case that older men would discard their old wives and marry young girls in their twenties. Apparently, being with a young woman makes these old men feel young, again. Being with a woman who still can bear children, it seems, makes old men feel that they are still youthful and able to produce children (which they can do at advanced ages). Being with a post menopausal woman tends to make men feel that they are old farts, and are no longer able to reproduce and they would rather not have that feeling. But since society frowns on older men frolicking with girls young enough to be their grand children, such men desist from gratifying their wishes to have young wives.(In biblical times, men in their seventies used to marry teenage girls.)

Until recently, society forbad older women from having younger boy friends. In many parts of the world, a woman in her fifties (and above) who has a lover under a certain age is material for social gossip, if not punishment, the least of which is ostracism.

Simply stated, women did not have the luxury to gratify their fantasies of youth, as men did. They had to reconcile themselves to their aging realities, and, perhaps, pretend not to be old.

(It is culturally considered unwise to ask a woman above forty what her age is, for she probably would feel embarrassed by that question. Many women apparently tell lies about their age; they tell you the age they think that they look like but not their actual age; thus, if she is sixty and thinks that she looks forty five, if you must ask about her age, she tells you that she is forty five and both of you collude and accept this fantasy, knowing that it is lies.)

As women age, their bodies weaken and look old; this is a natural enough situation but because of society’s insistence that women look young and pretty, women tend to experience psychological issues from their waning beautiful bodies. Those women who had been socially sought after because of their physical beauty (not intellectual accomplishments), who in old age are socially ignored, tend to experience this situation more severely.

The aging model, gymnast, ballerina or actress who earned her living from being seen as very beautiful and sexually desirable to men (men often masturbate from merely visualizing very beautiful models; that is largely why they buy pornographic magazines…in secondary school, this writer’s friends used to masturbate looking at playboy centerfolds) tends to be shocked that men who used to drool at her in her youth now do not even acknowledge her existence.

That is correct; men her age, that in her youth would have gone to war to have her, now do not even notice the presence of the sixty-something year old hitherto graceful ballerina. Of course, younger men totally ignore her (unless she has something to give to them and they tolerate her aging body; this phenomenon is called being a Gigolo).

Some women tend to experience narcissistic injury as they grow old; their pride is hurt because men no longer desire their hitherto desired bodies; they feel attack on their vanity, their fragile self concepts, and self-mages. Their self esteem suffers from the aging process. If they had seen themselves as desirable based solely on their physical appearances and are now objectively not desired they may, in fact, experience depression.

There are all kinds of depression. In clinical depression the individual feels that his life is not worth living, and loses interests in activities of daily living, such as lack of interest in eating food, lack of interests in sports, work, making friends, grooming; fatigue and tiredness, to the point of not wanting to get up from bed and face the world, a desire to just lay there and mope; a feeling that since life is no longer worth living that he might as well kill himself; some depressed persons actually try and or commit suicide.

We are not talking major depression here, for that probably has something to do with the individual’s biochemical status. (The present assumption is that serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is not properly retained in the depressed individual’s brain, hence serotonin reuptake blockers like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil are given to him and they seem to help accumulate that neurotransmitter in his brain and dispel the symptoms of depression.)

We are talking about neurotic depression, dysthymia. In this type of depression, situational events makes the individual to feel that he is worthless and valueless and have low self esteem.

Loss of job, poverty, divorce, children leaving home, lack of friends, feeling that one is not sexually desirable to other people etc could contribute to depressed self view.

Older women tend to have situational or mild depression. Their depression is often exacerbated by the loss of their significant others (husbands, friends… as we age, we loose our childhood playmates to death etc).

Many women at nursing homes and assisted homes for the elderly tend to be mildly depressed and some of them are, in fact, on anti depression medications.

Whereas old men deal with their own depression by acting out (paranoia is a mask over underlying sense of weakness, pretence that one is strong when one is vulnerable), women accept their vulnerabilities, hence depression.

In old age, generally speaking, we see deluded men and depressed women. (Of course, there are deluded women and depressed men; we are speaking in general terms; exceptions exist in every general rule.)

Many of the older men at nursing homes are on anti psychotic medications to deal with their delusional thinking and behaving, whereas many of the women are on antidepressants to deal with their depressed thinking and behaving.


UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE SELF ACCEPTANCE

Clearly, a solution to this problem is for individuals, men and women, to have realistic and healthy self concepts. If the individual accepts himself or herself as he or she is, without external referents, he or she is less likely to become paranoid or depressed.

If a man says: so I am weak and powerless, so what, I will accept that reality and to hell with the fact that society expects me to be strong before it accepts me, he is likely going to avoid paranoia.

If a woman says: so I am not the most beautiful woman on earth, so what, I will accept myself the way I am, now, not the way that society wants me to become before it accepts me, pretty, she is likely to have a healthy self concept and positive self esteem.

Good psychotherapists enable their clients, women included, to develop positive self esteem and have high self confidence.

Good self confidence lays in trusting ones self to do what one needs to do to navigate this world without always wondering what other people think of one, or wishing for others to do things for one, what one could do for ones self. (Of course, we need each other and rely on each other’s help.)

Good self esteem and high self confidence means that one believes that one can do or, at least, try doing what existence on earth requires of one to do for survival, and if other people insist on preventing one from doing those things one insists on doing them. Women, for example, must tell men to get out of their way and not prevent them from doing anything they want to do.

I do not see why a woman should allow male dominated society to prevent them from doing any kind of job that they can do or accept being retired from doing certain jobs in middle or old age just because society prefers to see pretty young faces. A woman newscaster ought to do whatever she could to be on the job until she is in her seventies. (In my view, folks should not retire before age seventy; after that age folks are free to retire and spend the balance of their lives traveling the world and or sharing their wisdom with the younger generation.)

If people accept themselves in what Carl Rogers called unconditional positive manner, not conditionally, not when they meet some other persons’ standards for acceptance, they would not have to deal with the problem of paranoia and depression.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Most of us are products of society. Even our self concepts were influenced by our socialization process. We internalized the values of our society. We tend to think of ourselves as society thinks of us.

In North America, women are accepted to the extent that they are pretty. Just look at what the media does: the various magazines gracing newsstands show slim young women, seldom over age thirty-five. A woman over age thirty five in this culture is a goner. A fat woman does not even exist, as far as the media is concerned. All said, this culture prefers slim, athletic young women to older ones. The result is that women tend to construct self concepts to suit that social expectation.

Women tend to want to look slim and young and feel socially desirable as they age and become flabby and weak. Many older women, those in their fifties, patronize gyms trying to seem young…it is good to exercise, of course, it is good for our physical health…but the fact is that no matter what we do the culture does not prefer aging bodies. Nor does the culture even value the wisdom found in older women.

Women must consciously deconstruct social constructions of the role of women in society and reconstruct it. They must come to accept themselves as they are, not as society wants them to become.

A psychologically healthy person, man or woman looks at him, she, in the mirror, preferably naked, and says; this is who I am, I accept me as I am, not as I could become. I do not need to look different before I accept me. I am good as nature and nature’s god made me.

This is called having internal locus of control, as opposed to having external locus of authority. One accepts ones self internally, not because of what external others say of one.
The goal of psychotherapy is to enable human beings, men and women, children and adults, to accept themselves as they are, now, not as they should become, tomorrow.

One must accept who one is, not who other people think that one should become. It does not matter whether one is white or black, man or woman, boy or girl, tall or short, slim or fat, beautiful or ugly etc, one must accept who one is, now.

Accept your real self, not a neurotic ideal self. (The neurotic rejects his or her real self, uses his imagination to invent an ideal self, an ideal body, ideal ego and ideal everything and wants to become that idealized self. As a result, there is conflict between his real self and his desired ideal imaginary self. He lives in tremendous conflict and tension. The neurotic always has anxiety, exaggeration of human fears; this fear emanates from the conflict between his imperfect real self and his desired ideal perfect self. As long as one aspires after perfection, given our inherent earthly imperfection, one must feel inner tension, conflict and anxiety. The individual must accept his real self to reduce neurotic free-floating, generalized anxiety. If one accepts who one is, imperfect, one tends to become calm, peaceful and happy. See Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth; also see her The Neurotic Personality of Our Time and her Feminine Psychology.)

Psychotherapy, of course, does not provide a quick fix. It takes years for the adult individual to understand his self structure and then attempt to restructure it through cognitive reorientation. Reading books on the self concept and attending workshops that teach the individual to accept his or her real self is always a good supplement to secular psychotherapy.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, human beings are more than their bodies. We are spirit having physical experience. We must, therefore, pay attention to our spiritual nature.

Religion generally provides people with insights into their spiritual nature. People are free to gravitate to a religion that makes sense to them. But where extant religions do not make sense to the individual, he or she could try Spiritual psychotherapy.
Spiritual psychology is not a religion and is not found in any one religion. It is an attempt to draw from the essence of religion and articulate human spiritual nature.

Spiritual psychotherapy consciously teaches the individual that despite appearances that he is body only, that there is a spirit of God in him or her. My spiritual psychology teaches that we are, in truth, unified spirit but in appearance seeming separated persons in body. We are the parts of one whole spirit, Holy Spirit, God.

As parts of the whole we must affirm that whole to feel complete. Love and forgiveness are means of returning to the awareness of our unified spirit nature. (See my writings on spiritual psychology.)

For our present purposes, the salient point is that women tend to suffer injury to their self concepts because as they age their bodies are no longer instruments for them to obtain social attention and sense of specialness. In as much as they still desire attention and approval from other people and still want to seem special, women tend to feel depressed self esteem in old age. This is what is, but what needs not be.

Psychotherapy, secular and spiritual (both are necessary, I think) can enable the average woman to accept herself in an unconditionally positive manner. She must come to love and respect what she is and love and respect all human beings, men and women. It is in love and forgiveness of ourselves that we find peace and happiness.

Any time hate enters our minds, be it self hate or hatred for other people, we disturb our peace, personal or social peace. In love lies mental health; love of ones real self and other peoples real selves and love for our unified spirit self gives us peace and happiness.

. Please read my “Real Self Therapy” to understand what this brief essay merely alluded to.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at May 9, 2006 08:56 AM

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