Growing Old Elegantly and with Vitality

I was recently asked the following question: “What age would you consider someone to be old”. My answer was and still is, “one is as old as they think and feel”. My audience then thought my answer and perception in life was childlike and someone even commented that she feels 13 and might just start considering herself 13 years old!

What I didn’t do then was explain what I meant by, “one is as old as they think and feel”.

What does it mean to be old? Who would be considered as old? A 2 year old thinks her parents, even when they are as young as 18, are old. Some 40 year old ladies believe they are old and consider their parents of maybe 60 and above very old. They hate the wrinkles that have started showing up on their faces and necks and the thought of getting as old as their parents causes anxiety and panic in them. They are afraid they will catch all the diseases and physical deformities commonly associated with old age – the body wrinkles, the bent back, the wobbly legs, alzheimers etc.

But is this really true? Does all these diseases and/or physical ailments and deformities automatically come with old age? How come some people, (and I'm sure you know quite a few), are still very healthy and active at 80 while others look decrepit and wasted at 40? What is the secret of those who are still elegant, vigorous, hearty and active at 80+? Could it be the environment they grew up in and/or the environment they now live in? Could it be their family background or could it just be their personal interpretation of their experiences in life?

Family upbringing and interpretation of life experiences appears to be a more plausible explanation for differences in the way we grow old. There also appears to be a link between growing old with vitality and one’s life script.

Eric Berne, (1972) suggested that vitality in old age depended heavily on the individual’s life script. While a person’s physical health and constitutional robustness can be other strong factors that determine the person’s life span, their life script always plays a key role in how active and robust they are in old age. A crippling illness may be unavoidable but it is welcomed without any resistance, mental or otherwise, because of a script that says the individual can overcome anything. On the other hand, a debilitating illness like a stroke can also be welcomed as a permanent situation that cannot be overcome for the simple reason that it clears the individual from the unconscious compulsion of following their script.

People with open-ended scripts could easily start vegetating at the age of 40. People who, for example, take an early pension might have a script that says “Work hard and don’t take any chances” with a pay-off that states “After that, give up” (Berne, 1972). Such people do not know what to do with their lives after they have achieved this script. Berne (1972) believed a double-ended script worked better for continuity and robustness into old age. If someone had an implied or stated injunction from both parents with one taking off where the other ended, it is much more likely that there will be a positive progression and vitality into old age. For example, a non-verbal injunction from mum that says, “you can’t have a life of your own until you’ve raised 3 kids” with another from dad that says “you can be and do whatever you put your mind to after you’ve raise all your kids”, will give the individual the permission to remain active and robust right into old age.

What is your script saying to you? What do you think or believe will happen when you grow old? Do you believe you will be alive and active at 80, 90 or even a 100 and be happy and healthy? If not, why not? It’s time to challenge those beliefs about aging! Give yourself permission to grow old elegantly and with vitality. Give yourself permission to enjoy life to the fullest!