Getting bitter in old age doesn’t have to be inevitable. It does however, take self awareness. You need to be able to notice the ‘slide’ from the carefree non-judgemental person you used to be to the bitter and twisted person you are becoming.
Ask yourself the following questions to find out if you are getting bitter in old age:
Are you less tolerant of others and their viewpoints?
It’s a fact – the more rigid you are in the way you see the world, the more your ‘rules’ will be broken and the more stress you will endure. People tend to think in more rigid ways as they age. The employ the words “should” and “must” more often too. They believe that the world and others should behave a certain way and that the world and/or others must progress in a certain way. Often this shift to rigid thinking happens subtley and we don’t notice it. What does become noticeable is that we become annoyed and more irritable – we certainly notice this. Instead of realising that this is often down to the way in which we have shifted cognitively, we will apportion to the blame to external factors. The problem with this is that many external factors are beyond our control. the ensuing helplessness will only add to the existing irritability…
The shift to bitterness and irritability has happened within you. Psychologists are uncertain as to whether there are chemical and hormonal changes within the body that create this irritability or whether there is also a nature/nurture connection.
Whatever the cause, bitterness will only end up making you an unhappy miserable person.
We tend to get very restrictive in our views as we age and become less tolerant of opposing viewpoints. Of course, now that we are older we may believe the rigid rule that seeing as we have lived so much longer, we must certainly know more than those younger than us and this is completely untrue. We ,may have more life experience but this does not mean we are automatically wiser. In fact, if you are honest with yourself, you will remember times when you were brave and full of enthusiasm for life. There is good and bad to every age.
Age bias occurs – when we are young we believe older people don’t know anything and that they are old, out of touch and conservative. When we are older we look at the folly of the youth and believe they have a lot to learn. The truth is that we are valuable and useful at every age and we should look for the positives of each age rather than making it competitive.
Are your views about the world becoming more negative?
Confirmation bias occurs when we tend to notice events in life that confrim the way we already think. For instance, if you believe that all plumbers will rip you off and that they are untrustworthy, you will be far more likely to notice negative stories about plumbers. This reinforces your existing beliefs and makes you feel pleased – your way of looking at the world makes sense and you feel safe. The reality though is that you are focused on anything that confirms the belief and will be less amenable to events/situations that refute your beliefs. When your belief isn’t reinforced, you may explain it away or dismiss the event. We do this to keep mental equilibrium. No one wants to feel that they don’t have a good ‘handle’ on the world. We like to feelt hat we are right and that the way we see the world is correct. Finding out that what we thought was correct isn’t quite right can be extremely unsettling and cause us to doubt ourselves and our perceptions.
Do you tend to notice more negative things as you have aged? Has your focus changed from more carefree fun topics to more distressing issues? Part of this is normal of course. Perhaps we become more responsible as we age and want to do more to effect positive change but the problems start when we become pedantic about it. We can often end up causing more distress and harm when we stick to what we believe in at all costs.
In some ways, it can be a challenge to remain cheerful as we age. We lose our looks, we can lose our health and vitality, we can also get sidelined by a society that clearly favours the youth. All of these can create a toxic cocktail of emotions.
We also tend to focus more on the existential questions of life as we age – what’s it all about? What have I done with my life? Have I achieved what I wanted to? Many people find that they have had a life full of disappointments and that life hasn’t turned out the way they had dreamed of when they were younger. This can be a hard pill to swallow.
Are you less patient?
Patience and tolerance go hand in hand. The skills of tolerance and patience are greatly undervalued yet mastering these skills can increase your happiness quotient immeasurably. As we age, we may feel we are losing control. We may have less options workwise in many instances, we may have less options where romance is concerned, financially we may be forced into situations not of our choosing and this has the effect of making people cling even more to those parts of their life where they feel they still have control. This may be who they allow into their life and what they do with their time. This self imposed prison may allow people to feel self righteous but it will also lead to isolation, loneliness and possibly further bitterness along the way.
As we age, it is far more healthy to stay open minded, tolerant and patient. To accept that control will begin to wane in some areas and to watch the way we compensate for this lack. Alienating yourself in order to feel your world is in order could completely backfire. Rather try to offer warmth and understanding and keep your home open to friends and family. We don’t have to agree on everything and it’s healthy to be surrounded by people that don’t all agree with you.
Has your mistrust of others increased?
When you have experienced life’s knocks, it can make you less trusting. One thing to be careful of though, is overgeneralising and assuming all people are untrustworthy. The older we get, the more people we need to be conecting with – it’s a vital survival tool as we age yet many close off their connections and life becomes quieter and lonelier. It’s irrational to believe that because people have hurt you in your life, you shouldn’t trust anyone. Take a risk and share your life more. Of course, I am not saying you should trust randomly (especially where finances are concerned) ut risking it with others can result in amazing friendships and you can form quality friendships at any age. In fact some friendships in older age are of a higher quality as you have more quality time together.
No one wants to get old but as it’s a fact of life and something we cannot control, it makes sense to embrace it and make the most of it. You have more free time, more time to connect with others and to focus on what you really like. Let the past go, it has been and gone and cannot be changed. Spend as much time as you can be mindful and enjoying the present moment. This is where your power lies. Make time for fun and silliness. Even though we have to get older it doesn’t mean you have to lose your sense of humour and grow up. Stay young at heart, that’s my advice!