Life Beyond Therapy
Michael D. Kimmel
Some people break down life into the “first half” (birth until 45-ish) and the second half (45 to death). I find it more useful to look at life in thirds. The first third is birth to 30; the second third is 30 to 60 and the third third is 60 to 90 (or beyond).
Today, I’ll focus on the third third, when we – hopefully – become LGBTQ elders. Being an “elder” is not defined by age, elders are recognized because they have earned the respect of their community through the wisdom, kindness, and support they embody and share with everyone around them. When you look at it that way, who wouldn’t want to be an elder?
How does retirement fit into this? The word used to mean “not working,” typically starting around age 65. In my research, I learned that the word “retire” (from the French, mid-16th century) originally meant “to withdraw to a place of safety or seclusion.” That’s a pretty awful vision for your third third of life. And yet, that’s just what many people do: Isolate. Withdraw. Disappear.
No surprise that this is typically associated with early death: why stick around if it’s going to suck so much?
For context, I like to look at sociologist Erik Erikson’s eight stages of human development, from birth to Elderhood. Each stage highlights a psychosocial “challenge” to work through in that stage of life. The eight stages flow chronologically: every stage is dependent upon the outcome of the one before (age ranges are approximate):
TRUST vs. MISTRUST: 0–2 years
Can I trust the world and feel safe and loved? Or do I feel unsafe, insecure and abandoned?
AUTONOMY vs. SHAME/DOUBT: 2–4 years
Is it okay to be me? Can I create my self-identity and have independence too?
INITIATIVE vs. GUILT: 5–8 years
Is it okay to be myself in my family? Can I start solving problems on my own and figuring stuff out? Can I enjoy being myself or am I guilt-tripped into becoming who my family wants me to be?
INDUSTRY vs. INFERIORITY: 9–12 years
Can I make it in the wider world, like at school, sports or community theater? Can I learn how to think and do things for myself and my community, or do I just not feel good enough?
IDENTITY vs. ROLE CONFUSION: 13–19 years
“Who am I really?” – we wonder, looking at peers and role models as we develop our identities, through introspection and social relationships.
INTIMACY vs. ISOLATION: 20–39 years
“Can I love and be loved?” – is the question as we develop deep friendships and romantic relationships.
GENERATIVITY vs. STAGNATION: 40–59 years
“How do I make my life really count?” – we ask, exploring relationships, social responsibility and our physical/social/spiritual environment.
EGO INTEGRITY vs. DESPAIR: 60+
Here is the third third, where we look back over our lives (so far), wonder if we did a good job becoming our own unique selves, and ask how our existence impacted others.
Integrity is about developing a set of core inner values that you live by, out of your own sense of what’s right for you, not because you’re afraid of what others might say or think.
The third third is a time of great change and can be exciting and adventurous … or, you can dread it and expect things to totally suck. Here are some questions to consider as you contemplate your own third third:
- As an LGBTQ elder, how will you exercise your mind for continued, personal learning?
- How will you deal with changes in income, health and purpose?
- How can you fill your life with fulfilling activities and interests at every age?
- Have you built and maintained enjoyable/intimate relationships? If those people die or move away, how will you continue to make new friends/lovers?
- Are you able to manage family commitments to an aging partner or your parents, siblings and/or children?
- Where would you like to live now? Might a smaller, simpler home with less maintenance please you more?
If your third third is many years in the future, how can you set it up to be the best third of your life? If it’s coming soon, have you laid a good foundation? If you’re already an elder and it’s not what you’d hoped for, how can you adjust what you’ve already created?–Michael Dale Kimmel is a local licensed psychotherapist (LCSW 20738) in private practice and an author. You can learn more about him and his work at lifebeyondtherapy.com.
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