Saturday, June 1, 2013

Robert C. Peck's Tasks for Older Adults

Photo by Wunkai
Some people age without growing up.

Stage theory can help, but the extension of the average life span to about 50 years old to now about 80 years old has rendered older theories incomplete.

Erik Erikson's stage theory a bit anemic when describing midlife and late adulthood.

I recently learned that Peck thought so, too.

Robert Peck has expanded the life stage model to describe these tasks for those in midlife and late life:
  • valuing wisdom vs. valuing physical power
  • mental flexibility vs. mental rigidity
  • ego differentiation vs. work role preoccupation
  • body transcendence vs. body preoccupation
  • ego transcendence vs. ego preoccupation
Clearly, the preferred traits are those listed first in each pair: valuing wisdom, mental flexibility, ego differentiation, body transcendence, and ego transcendence. They allow growth and development.

Dr. Bill Plotkin has done a lot of great work defining life stages. He looks at non-industrialized communities past and present. He also draws on nature as inspiration and takes people into the wilderness of Colorado on retreats.  He is also a professor of psychology.  Here is a post about his stage theories, which include a lot of powerful roles for people in the second half of life. 

Imagine a person who demonstrates the "opportunity for growth" traits:
She would accept changes to her body but still work to be healthy and strong. She would be a life-long student who develops new skills and interests in midlife and beyond.  She adapts, recognizing that she probably cannot hold the same social roles at 80 as she did at 20, but she would accept or even create new roles that employ her strengths. She can also develop new skills to meet her present challenges.   
Some people have a difficult time adjusting to age. I believe this is true for a number of reasons. 
  1. We as a society don't live in multi-generational communities, so we don't observe older adults develop. Most media images focus on people 15 years old to 35 years old. (I've noted more media including people up to 45 years old; however, that still leaves many members of today's adult population). 
  2. We live in a youth-obsessed culture where physical beauty, physical strength, power and fame are revered.
  3. We are still trying to develop religious practices to support new views of spirituality that replace dogmatic, overly authoritative religious traditions that many of us dismissed as young adults. 
As the Baby Boomers move into late adulthood, they will help articulate their path to spiritual enlightenment so that others might follow and not despair when faced with late-life challenges. Members of other generations are doing this, too.

Aging is more complex and contains more opportunities for growth than many people imagine. 


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