Could Finding Self-Acceptance Be the Greatest Gift of Aging?
Sometimes achievements are public. You win the prize. You get promoted at work. You are recognized as Volunteer of the Year.
Those things can feel nice, although embarrassing for some. Affirmation feels pretty good.
But there are other, much more private achievements that reflect powerful inner change. They may never be known as such by others, never recognized as potent moments in your life, but you know their importance.
Maybe someone who knows you very, very well would recognize them. They would know that you’ve beaten some struggle or another. Yet most of the satisfaction is in knowing what you accomplished in the light of where you’ve come from, and how you had to change to get there.
As a 63-year-old woman, I’m facing the challenges all aging women face — not only the physical challenges caused simply by wear and tear, but emotional ones that have to do with getting older in a world where aging stigma exists.
Certainly, there are ad campaigns using older and more diverse models. But I have to smile when I see the ads for aging creams. I rarely see a wrinkle anywhere, and that fact has nothing to do with the product.
I’ve always tried to challenge myself, and this whole aging thing is no different. In fact, it may be one of the harder challenges in life – to age and face much increased ambiguity, along with mounting awareness of mortality.
Focusing on Your Inner Victories in the Present
So what can help? How can you divert your attention from an unknown future, which may be frightening, to the present? To what you have control over now? To how you’re still growing and changing and living and loving?
I’m discovering it happens through my own inner victories. It’s through looking at my emotional struggles – whatever has been hanging around for a few decades – and challenging those struggles once and for all.
My mantra at 43 was, “If not now, when?” Even then, my own awareness of time passing had begun and I pushed myself to take some risks that I had been averse to taking. I tried out for some musicals. I got back on stage. Back then, it was about confronting the fear of rejection – of not being good enough.
My 63-Year-Old Version of a Helpful Mantra
But what about my personal mantra now? Those past 20 years have made a difference. It’s no longer as important what others think. That was a long, hard battle which seems to be over, and is perhaps a true gift of aging.
My mantra these days is something like, “It’s time for deep self-acceptance, including both my vulnerability and strength.”
It’s not about what others think. It’s about quieting whatever shameful voice still lies in my head and in my heart. It’s about finding peace. All of that sounds kind of fancy and awfully ‘healthy,’ but it’s actually very simple when I put it to use.
And the change is happening at times I don’t even realize it. My mantra is making a difference.
For example, on my podcast the other day, I was talking about self-consciousness. And out of my mouth popped, “I’ve gained weight over the last year…” Then I went on to talk about being self-conscious. Even as I was saying it, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was telling people that I’d gained weight? On a podcast?
It may not seem much to you – maybe body image has never been your issue – but I’d suffered with anorexia in my 20s. I’ve struggled my whole life with seeing myself as overweight and out of shape, when many times I wasn’t at all.
All of that had been a closely-guarded secret. Yes, I’d blogged some about it more recently. But admitting now to weight gain, to thousands of listeners? What if they saw me? What if I saw one of them?
Then I had to smile. Unplanned, spontaneous self-acceptance was beginning to emerge. And it felt like growth. And change. And a battle won.
A similar thing happened last week. I – this time with great intention – uploaded a video of myself on Instagram, showing a difficult workout exercise I’d tried. There was me, with that extra body weight, showing Instagram friends my sweaty but proud moment.
That moment was more important than shame. That moment – the achievement in the present – was more important than hiding. And the moment I actually chose to put it on Instagram was the most important moment of all.
It’s not that I have no regrets about the past. I do, and always will wish I’d made better choices. But the shame, the daily reminders of overly harsh expectations of myself, of trying to be the perfect anything – I’m ready at 63 for that to be gone.
Look for those things in yourself. Look for those ideas and expectations that you’ve carried around with you for many years, and decide which ones you need to let go. Look for whatever brings you shame or a lack of self-acceptance.
There can be healing in the present. In this moment. At 63 or any age.
And it’s time.
Would you say that you have gained self-acceptance in your 60s? Are there some areas of acceptance that you are still struggling with? Please join the conversation and share your story.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, has practiced for over twenty years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Her work is found on her own website, as well as HuffPost, Psych Central, Psychology Today, The Gottman Blog and others. She’s the author of “Marriage Is Not For Chickens”, a perfect gift book on marriage, and hosts a weekly podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.