One of the unfortunate truths about getting older is that we are often reluctant to disclose our age to others. Why should this be? The answer may be that we feel a sense of shame. Shame about the normal human experience of aging.
I feel shame about my age. Not just the number. I feel shame about the way age has changed my body. I hide my rounded muffin top with my folded arms or a large bag. I avoid selfies that show ventriloquist puppet creases on the sides of my face. I notice that I am not hip. I don't know the latest music, app or how to program ring tones on my iPhone. I feel shame that I used the word hip. I feel shame that I don't know a more hip word to describe what's in.
I feel shame that I am not in the in.
This is what shame does. It takes us out of the in.
I even feel shame for speaking and writing about aging. I find myself mumbling when I tell others about my research and interest in late-midlife women. And when I give talks about middle-aged women, I worry that others won't attend because the topic is not sexy or cutting edge.
Evolutional psychologists tell us that the emotion of shame serves to prevent us from doing something that would lead to our elimination from the group. Shame deters us from behaviors that threaten our security within our tribe. Shame is socially constructed and socially enforced. It manages cultural norms in two ways: it prevents members from engaging in taboo behaviors, and it keeps members from openly disclosing taboo behaviors or thoughts.
Shame is a silencer.
Psychologist Marsha Linehan differentiates shame that is justified from that which is unjustified. Justified shame is valid when we actually do something that would get us kicked out of the group. For example, if you are a member of a group that is vehemently vegan and you ate meat the night before, and you wish to remain a member of the group, it may be best to keep silent your secret. Hence, justified shame. But Dr. Linehan goes on to explain that unjustified shame would be something that leads to our silence as if it would get us kicked out of the group.
Does aging get us kicked out of the group?
Or do we withdraw from the group because of our unjustified shame about age?
Irene Zola and her community-based program, Life Force in Later Years (LILY) describes geriatric shame and speaks to its toxic, limiting effects on the lives of the elderly and those that care for them.
Brene Brown describes shame as the fear of disconnection. To avoid disconnection we keep secret the sources of our shame. And so we withdraw even further, from others and from ourselves.
Shame is isolating.
The antidote to shame is connection and speaking openly about the very things that fuel our shame.
Linehan prescribes opposite action as a skill to help us move through shame. She states that the action urge that accompanies the emotion of shame is to hide. Therefore opposite action is to move out into the light. Declare and show our shame to the world.
Brown says "language and story bring light to shame and destroy it."
Despite the fact that aging does indeed kick us out of the in, our shame about it is unjustified. How can we kick the aging person out of a tribe of members that are all aging? Do we want to continue to eliminate our future selves from relevance? Can't we find a way to remain vital beyond our youthful years?
As a late-midlife woman, I suggest we come out of hiding. Step into the light. Talk to ourselves about where we have been and where we are going. Talk to each other about our wants, needs and desires. Share openly about our shifting values, as we grow older. Declare our new-found purpose and direction.
Shine the spotlight on our unjustified shame so much that it fades away.
Assert your age, and in shame's place will grow pride, joy, confidence and a central position in the in.