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By Jeroen van Valkenburg, courtesy of CreativeCommons.org

By Jeroen van Valkenburg, courtesy of CreativeCommons.org

Maybe it’s because I’ve been dealing with another broken body part lately – honestly, I just get one thing fixed and something else goes wonky. Maybe it’s the increasingly odd conversations my mate and I have been having with aging relatives and noticing how our engagement in those chats has changed over time. Whatever.

I’ve been reflecting on what it means to grow older – how we evolve as we age, not just physically and mentally, but how our character, personality and Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) evolve as well (although you might argue that those are all aspects of our mental evolution and I won’t argue with you on that point).

I’ve included a lovely graphic image above depicting the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone, who exemplify the process of moving from one phase of womanhood to the next. That archetype suggests to me that these are exactly the changes we can look forward to in our lifetime. But this is not solely a female issue, it affects us all – male and female. Okay, to be fair, let me put this here:

Janus-FacedBarnave

What I’m seeing is that we start to shed aspects of our personality and EQ over time, leaving the elements we’ve retained to grow more dominant. I think the “face” we show to the world over time changes from the one we developed as children and young adults. Where once upon a time a person’s compassion and optimism balanced out a tendency to anger or judge, losing one or more of those attributes seems to leave those remaining to prevail.

I’ve seen signs of this in myself. As a younger woman I was much more inclined to restrain myself in the face of other people’s comments or behavior that I found objectionable. These days? I’m prone to confront, challenge or call out the bullshit when I see it or hear it. I write to my representatives to Congress instead of just letting them slide or letting my votes speak for me. I’m entirely likely to intervene or stand up to bullies, whether they are parents behaving badly to their young children in the grocery store, a husband berating his wife in public or a relative who’s made a racist or insulting remark.

As I grow old, I don’t know if this change will be a matter of choice, but if it is, I intend to hang onto the characteristics that make me more optimistic than pessimistic, more accepting than judgmental, more open-minded than suspicious, more curious than cynical (the train may have already left the station on that one…), more appreciative than angry – in general, just more positive than negative. I don’t want to ever stop being curious about the world around me and learning, engaging my mind, looking at more than one side of a matter. If I focus on this goal can I make it happen? Boy, I hope so.

For many of us, this is a matter to take seriously as we increasingly become responsible or caregivers for aging parents. As they change and become different people because they’ve lost personality characteristics over time, who is the person they’ve become and how do we engage with them? Do we mourn the person we seem to have lost?

Have you noticed similar changes in yourself or aging relatives/friends? Do you think people just lose their “filter” as they get older or is there a real and fundamental personality change? Do you engage with older friends and relatives differently or try to relate on the same basis you always have? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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