How did you react the last time each of the following happened?
- Someone pointed out you have a strand of white hair
- You noticed fine lines and wrinkles on your face which were never there
- You realized you look more hagged than before
- Your birthday is approaching
Did you feel a slight dash of panic? Dread? Did your heart do a small jump? Did you think aloud "Oh no, I'm growing old!".
I distinctly remember discussing about birthdays with one of my friends many years ago, and this heartfelt comment from her grabbed my attention: "I don't want to grow old".
But why? Why do people fear growing old? Why do people feel so adverse toward the phenomenon of aging?
Mention the word 'aging', and the immediate emotional connotations that get wired up are fear, sadness, negativity, aversion, helplessness and resignation.
If you have a fear of growing old, this fear may stem from the following factors:
1. Being undesirable. Most see fine lines and wrinkles, frown lines, laugh lines, sagging skin, etc with a sense of negativity. These are linked with 'ugly'. This seems to apply to females more often than not, thanks to marketers. They spend billions in advertising every year to reinforce negativity in the notion looking old, so it leads to continual sales for their anti-aging products. The anti-aging consumer goods category continue to grow yearly. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty movement attempted to move away from that, but even then we are still bombarded by the whole industry which is still entrenched in a certain notion of beauty.
2. Sickness, pain, suffering. With old age comes increased probability of sickness, decreased physical ability, medical conditions such as dementia (Alzheimer's disease), heart disease, cancer, etc. These are seen to come hand in hand with pain and suffering.
3. Being lesser than who they should be. All of us have goals and dreams. When you were younger, you would have consciously or unconsciously envisioned yourself being somewhere at a certain age. It may be to earn a lot of money, achieve a certain amount of success and have a family.
Reaching a certain age reminds you of your visions, and simultaneously triggers the realization that they are not where they want to be. This realization can be quite painful for some.
4. Fear of Loss. Growing older comes with loss - seeing people pass away, losing what they have now, losing their youth, losing their health (see reason # 2).
5. Being Alone. People see old people as a burden and they try to avoid them. For example, my grandmother is in her 90s and she has over ten children. When it comes to taking care of her, all of them try to shift responsibility from one another, giving reasons like they are too busy. Old age tends to bring solitude.
6. Death. Ultimately, what's the end of our physical existence? Death. People fear death. Death means losing everything we have. Everything we have built. It also means the end of our existence.
All reasons take shape from certain beliefs, which will take several articles to address (something I will do in the future). For the purpose of this article, I'm going to address the specific fear of growing old.
If you ask me what I think about the fear of growing old, I see it as an irrational fear, as with other mental fears.
Why do I say that?
Let's say you fear growing older. While you may dislike what old age brings to you, what exactly do you achieve by feeling worried about this?
Nothing! Except you are left feeling more negative, worrisome, and unsettled. You don't lead a better life. And you certainly don't grow younger by being afraid of growing old. Not only did you just tire yourself out with the fearful thought of growing older, you relive it for real AND you do grow older !!!
But .... FEAR NOT, you are ageless and timeless as once Depak Chopra said.