• Gail MLT

Holding on to who you are

Dislocation of self is common among older adults.

Credit: Burocx/iStock
Credit: Burocx / iStock.com

Personality is stable throughout your adult life. Your outside may change but you are still you.

“Can I have become a different being while I still remain myself?” ~Simone de Beauvoir

Did you know that our personality develops over time, is thought to "gel" in the early 30s, and then remains fairly stable throughout our adult lives?

It's true. We bring our personalities with us into late life, but this is not commonly recognized.  Understanding that personality doesn't change significantly in adulthood is helpful in thinking about aging, and in relating to older people, generally. People may assume the personality they once knew has undergone the same transformation as the outside: that older people take on some kind of generic, older-person personality after a certain age. In turn, older people cannot help but react to others who relate to them as simply generic old people. 

Given the physical changes that occur with aging, this recognition of personality seems especially critical.

Several years back, I accompanied my mother - then in her 80s - to a medical appointment with a new specialist. The specialist - who actually would become one of our favorite doctors - spent the first appointment talking past my mother to me. When I went home, I wrote the physician a short note and enclosed a copy of this photo of my mother, taken when she was a young woman at the beach with a friend. I wrote, "The woman on the left was in your office this afternoon. When we return next month, please talk to her, not me."

Dislocation of self is common among older people, who may catch a glimpse of themselves in a store window and occasionally think, who is that? 

Simone de Beauvoir once asked, “Can I have become a different being while I still remain myself?”

Holding on to who you are - being able to recognize yourself in yourself - is an important part of aging well.    

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