While few of us think about our own self esteem – how we feel about ourselves, our work, our relationship to our family and community, our place in the world is the cornerstone not only of our ability to function and be productive in life but of our mental and physical health as well. That is a basic concept of human psychology for everyone and that need for self-esteem doesn’t go away when we become a senior citizen.
Many of us spent our early years raising our children, and whether we thought about it or not, we were their caregiver as we taught them how to view themselves and their place in the world. Now that we are caring for our mother or father, we have again taken on the caregiver role. That means in addition to worrying about their finances, their physical health, their diet and their living arrangements as we did our own children, we also must consider their mental health and self-esteem as well.
For most people, their sense of self-worth comes from their independence, their ability to take care of their family while feeling like they have a useful place in society.
In their senior years all of that disappears in what seems like an instant. In the eyes of the senior citizen, they go from being the hero to their kids to being a pitiful old man or woman being taken care of like they were a child. Their feeling of being useful vanishes and is replaced by a feeling of being unnecessary and a nuisance.
Everything they invested in themselves that are symbols of their success including their house and possessions, their ability to drive, and their work all go away in rapid succession one after the other. Small wonder senior citizens undergo a tremendous drop in self-confidence. When you go from thinking highly of yourself to not liking who you are at all, you stumble into a formula for depression and low self-worth.
Low self-esteem symptoms
Symptoms of poor self-esteem may include a failure to care for him or herself, repeatedly telling stories of the past when they were young and vibrant, or comments such as, “When I was a man…” – all reveal how they feel about themselves and their current situation.
Many times the elderly are so focused on themselves that they have little regard or interest in the feelings or experiences of others. Just as a very young child is focused on his or her needs, so are many seniors who have a similar tunnel vision about life in the world around them. The what-about-me syndrome kicks in as they lose sight of the needs of others and are more concerned about their own day to day needs.
You can do a lot to build that self-esteem back up in your aging parent:
Help him (or her) get in touch with family and old friends so that he understands he still has a place in the lives of others. Encourage him to talk about the old times and pour praise on him about those days. And above all, let him have lots of time with the grandkids so that he can see that life goes on and he has played an important part in that chain.