Extreme Esteem: Self-Esteem and growing older

  • Jul. 25, 2017 12:30 a.m.

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”

– Robert Frost, American poet

“So how does it feel coming back after all these years?”

“Good,” I responded. “Great to see so many old friends.”

My wife and I had been invited to a 50th wedding anniversary for neighbours at a community hall near where I grew up. I had spent a lot of time with this particular couple when I was a kid. Father had suggested I help them as they were from out of province and new to farming. That made me feel good. I didn’t often get the opportunity to be the expert, and it was fun.

And now here I was – some 40 years later – sitting with friends and family amid a sea of white and greying heads. How did I feel? Old and a little sad. Most of the “old” neighbours were gone, and those who remained were moving much more slowly. Even we “youngsters” were looking old and tired, and I wondered if I too looked as old and tired to them.

The other day, someone asked me if self-esteem goes down as we grow older. I told him there is research to suggest that self-esteem can begin to wane with the passing years. That said, I know many active seniors who have tremendous self-esteem. But first – on the topic – let’s look at one of the studies cited in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers followed more than 3,600 individuals ranging in age from young adult to senior citizen over a span of 15 years. Researchers contacted and interviewed each participant approximately four times over the intervening years. The goal was to determine how the average person’s self-esteem changes over time. Responses suggested that self-esteem was lowest in the younger ages and steadily increased with the passing years. Self-esteem levels plateaued as participants moved into their 60s and then declined steadily. Surprisingly, results revealed that women typically displayed lower levels of self-esteem than men across all the age ranges.

One theory suggests that self-esteem peaks at middle age because it’s a time of stable work, family and romantic relationships. People are reaching peak earning capacity and have money for fun or relaxing endeavours. In contrast, older adults may be experiencing changing roles such as an empty nest, retirement and obsolete work skills in addition to declining health.

For mature adults, health and wealth were cited as possible factors for raising and maintaining self-esteem. Individuals with higher incomes, ample pensions and in good physical health might find it easier to maintain high self-esteem as they age, though there is no conclusive evidence that health and wealth are directly linked to higher self-esteem. I recall when my mother, in failing health and with limited funds, moved into a senior’s complex, her sense of self-worth and independence declined rapidly. Perhaps feeling well and being financially secure provides a sense of freedom and security that ultimately leads to higher self-esteem.

The study also revealed that people of all ages in satisfying and supportive relationships tended to have higher self-esteem. Love, companionship and a sense of belonging appeared to contribute significantly to a positive outlook and a healthier, more balanced sense-of-self.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer and poet once wrote, What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

Perhaps, as Emerson suggests, the best way to forestall declining self-esteem in our later years is to build and maintain a positive attitude and a healthy self-image today. That and a concerted effort to remain physically, emotionally, spiritually and, yes, financially fit throughout our lifetime.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert.

Just Posted

Poll: Advocate readers support a supervised-injection site at Turning Point

Some residents don’t want to see a safe injection site in Red Deer

Twenty more “state of emergency” shelter beds opened in Red Deer

Council told Red Deer has the lowest number of shelter spaces in the province

An international junior hockey tournament is coming to Red Deer in 2018

City grants $75,000 to the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, to be co-hosted by Red Deer and Edmonton

Motorist dies near Ponoka after loose tire collides with vehicle

Police believe a semi-trailer wheel may have struck oncoming vehicle

Red Deer police seize rifles and shotguns from storage locker

A man and a woman facing nearly 200 charges after 29 firearms seized last month

Red Deer police seize rifles and shotguns from storage locker

A man and a woman facing nearly 200 charges after 29 firearms seized last month

Red Deer needs to find a solution to syringe debris: city manager

City will consider the problem during the 2018 operating budget talks

WestJet Christmas video turns children’s wishes into reality

This year’s annual video took a new spin on the 12 days of Christmas

VIDEO: Replay Red Deer Dec. 10

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

VIDEO: B.C. to end geographic area rent increases, close fixed-term lease loopholes

Both clauses allowed landlords to raise rents above the max annual allowable rent increase

UPDATE: Train hits hydro pole, causes outage near Deltaport

No injuries reported but traffic in and out of Deltaport is blocked

A Red Deer daycare coordinator wins provincial award of excellence

Nicole Morrell is a coordinator at Johnstone Daycare

Holiday shopping season picking up in Red Deer

With 18 shopping days left until Christmas, Red Deer businesses are cautiously… Continue reading

Gord Bamford Foundation adds more beneficiaries

The Gord Bamford Foundation has added more names of charities that will… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month