More on Self-Esteem and SGS 2012 Conference

[editors note:  I have had some major computer problems these past three weeks.  Have had to upgrade and thus also lost things…..ah!]

Springtime — and between the gardens and the fruit trees and the honey bees and this website and house things and ….and….and, oh yes, for a very impatient person, all the waiting and in a world where immediate is the name of the game, too much time has gone by since my last entry wherein I promised to let you, the reader, know how the conference and our workshop went at the  2012 Southern Gerontological Society Conference in Nashville, TN.  As it had been in Richmond, two years ago, there were some very excellent presentations.  Not as many participants, however, which was a bit of a disappointment.

Denise Scruggs, and I gave a workshop entitled: “Promoting Self-Esteem Among Older Adults”  It went well.  We generated quite a bit of discussion and very positive input.   We are planning to take the project to the next level: More research to wrap the topic up and then workshops to introduce into facilities and/or individuals.

With regard to the topic of self-esteem, because it is subjective, it is difficult to measure.  There was a measuring instrument created by Dr. Morris H. Rosenberg in 1965 that psychologists continue to use to this day as the most effective measuring instrument.  Yes, there is a core schema or self-concept that is mostly maintained throughout life and that core self-concept can basically be one of high or low self-esteem.  But throughout life, one’s self-esteem can be affected by circumstances.  Thus, the topic is not cut and dry.

On the topic of self-esteem among the elderly, a fascinating presentation, “Predictors of Prison Adjustment Among Older Women” was given by Lori Farney, MA, who did a study on women in prison.  Her conclusion among several shared: prison life erodes inmates self-esteem causing depression and a sense of hopelessness.   She told a story of a woman who had been incarcerated for over 17 years when she had met her.  She was in prison for having killed her abusive spouse.  She was up for parole.  Her son came and she had several other individuals speaking on her behalf.  Her son spoke about how his mother had done what she had done to protect herself and her children.  There seemed to be a positive response.  But then this woman, age 65, received a letter denying her parole and stating that her case would be reviewed in three years.  What hope is left for this woman?  Hope is very much a characteristic of individuals with healthy self-esteems.

As Ms. Farney shares:

Older women also have to deal with ageism which many describe as “inescapable” behind bars.  they cannot cover their grey or thinning hair. they may lose their teeth and be unable to have them replaced.  One woman who had a problem with facial hair had taken to shaving since waxes and tweezers were unavailable. And as one woman said, “Getting an age appropriate bra is impossible.”

Ms. Farney continues:

Since older women have more emotional and physical health problems, they may be viewed with suspicion or apathy. Older women are often extremely afraid of getting sick in prison and needing prison healthcare which they often view as unsympathetic and inept. Their greatest fear is often dying in prison. Many women in prison have suffered sexual abuse before incarceration. Strip searches and the constant threat of being seen in a state of undress are particularly deleterious to these women.

Stark realities that we may not be exposed to as often in our society were we are “free” to color our hair or “work” on ourselves to avoid “looking” our age.  But Ms. Farney’s exposure and her sharing certainly were sober reminders that self-esteem can be adversely affected in certain environments, particularly in the aging process, when we become more vulnerable. 

There were many sessions which I was not able to attend but which I would have liked to attend or seen.  I was interested in all of the ones that I would associate with the loss of self-esteem.  For example, there were several poster sessions that focused on how life changes might affect one’s outlook:  “Mental Health Effects of Farm work for Farmers and Farm Couples over Age 50” and “An Examination of Body image and Disordered Eating among Older Males” and “The Effect of Transition into Spousal Bereavement on Mental Health of Middle and Older Adults ” and “Age Differences in Coping Strategies Among Women in Later Adulthood.”  All in their ways touched on the question of self-esteem.  A pilot program on “Media Images of Aging: The New Ageism and Self-Esteem” is exploring whether media, in its attempt to draw in the aging boomer market, may be adversely affecting a normally aging person’s sense of self by their “youthful” aging advertising.

Sessions at the conference were diverse.  So many topics to choose from.  So little time!  However, the common theme was the aging person in our society and all those areas that might impact their experience of aging, whether it might be the aging of children with intellectual challenges born in the ’50’s and ’60’s or focusing on how to create age friendly cities and what different cities are doing around the country.

One area of major concern is the fact that younger people are not gravitating towards gerontology as a career.  (for the next article).

© Yvonne Behrens  2012


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Self-esteem in the Elderly

Self-Esteem for sale

Self-Esteem for sale (Photo credit: fran6co)

My colleague, Denise Scruggs, and I will be giving a workshop on promoting self-esteem in older adults at the Southern Gerontological Society Conference in Nashville, TN.

One might ask, “Why?”  Boomers, the next aging population, are known to have higher self-esteem than their parents or grand-parents apparently had, aren’t they?

But according to a recent study, those facing the big six-0 will also be facing a decline in the value they place upon themselves.  That’s the broad conclusion of a new study showing changes over the human lifespan based on interviews with a total of 3,617 Americans over a 16-year period from 1986 to 2002  (Orth, Trzesniewski, Robins).

Because we boomers, as a group, have had the tendency to be in denial with regard to our aging, that decline could be dramatic. Stop with the hair coloring, stop with the face lifts, stop with marrying someone younger than you, stop all those super athletic recreational activities, stop one’s role in the work place and what is left?

The above mentioned study found that the factors that had the largest influence on one’s sense of self include:

*Income and health.  In our money oriented society, it follows that we would associate money with power.  It also follows that if our independence becomes eroded by health issues, this would affect our sense of self in a negative way.

*Education plays a major role in maintaining self-esteem. Participants with higher education outranked those with less education throughout their lives.

*  The study confirmed that women had lower self-esteem than men through most of their lives, but the two genders were about equal by the time participants reached their 80s.  I suppose that men in their ’80’s have probably lost pretty much everything by which they defined themselves earlier in their lives.  One might reflect on the statement that it is at this time that men and women “were about equal” in their self-esteem.

*The self-esteem of whites and blacks differed only a little at age 25. However, black participants declined more sharply than white participants from about age 60. A further study to look into the factors that cause this discrepancy would be warranted

Beyond these global attributions to the loss of self-esteem, there are also factors of daily living.  The loss of loved ones, in particular spouses, can have an impact on one’s self-esteem.  In fact, findings from a study conducted by Julie Ann McMullin and John Cairney (2004) showed that single people have lower self-esteem than married people demonstrating that receiving feedback from a significant other helps promote a positive self-image.  When that person, with whom you could confront major challenges, bounce ideas off of, share life’s moments with, or was your biggest fan is no longer there and you do not receive regular feedback of your existence, that can erode self-esteem.

What about finding yourself not being able to keep up with the rapidly changing world you used to be a part of?  How would that make you feel?  Pretty worthless, no?

Or, and this is probably the saddest of all, being an old person that people are not interested in because, well, let’s face it, ageism is alive and well in our society.

So this is why Denise and I plan to present tools to our colleagues by which they can help promote positive self-esteem to those confronting that change of life: aging.

I will let you know how it went.

© Yvonne Behrens  2012

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