As society progresses, women have achieved remarkable strides in areas such as professional development, financial freedom, and political participation. However, despite this progress, many aging women find themselves at a crossroads when their traditional roles as family caretakers or professionals come to an end. The absence of clear purpose can lead to feelings of depression, desolation, and a sense of being “done” with life. They feel like falling into the pit of the void, confused to what their purpose can be in this new phase of life, a total uncharted land, no wonder some people say aging is not for the faint of heart.
Aging is not an isolated issue; it impacts society as a whole. With the increasing longevity ratio, the aging of baby boomers, and changing psychological, social, and spiritual needs, society must adapt to a new configuration and a new set of needs. Women face unique challenges in finding their place in society, and the prevalence of ageism, sexism, and misogyny exacerbates their struggles. In a patriarchal society, older women may feel undervalued, invisible, and despondent. To help these women find a new paradigm and purpose, we must develop new strategies and support systems to overcome the crisis of desolation and meaninglessness.
The Uncharted Land of Aging and Seeking Help
Aging women who no longer have the defined roles of family caretakers or trailblazing professionals often find themselves in an uncharted territory. They may question their new purpose in life and struggle with a lack of direction through this phase . Many of these women seek therapeutic support to aid their search for meaning and purpose; others find solace in building deep relationships with like-minded women who can serve as friends, advisors, and sounding boards. These connections can provide ongoing support long after counseling has achieved its goals and the crisis has resolved.
When it comes to professional help we face a dilemma. In the past, mental health services carried a stigma, but aging women, particularly baby boomers, have overcome this barrier. However, having explored various modalities such as psychotherapy, psychedelics, spiritual practices, and alternative medicine, some women may believe that psychotherapy offers nothing new for them in this phase of life. Thus, many struggle with their dark night of the soul feeling lost and uncertain about their purpose in this unmapped land of aging. Overcoming this challenge requires a reorientation and a fundamental transformation of outlook towards oneself and the world but also a new paradigm for clinicians.. Empowering psychotherapy for aging women can provide a much-needed lifeline, helping them navigate the challenges of this new phase and find renewed purpose and fulfillment in their lives.
Rediscovering Purpose and Rebuilding Strength
The crisis of desolation and meaninglessness, some women experience as growing older often begins with a triggering event that catches these women off guard. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a health issue, a financial crisis, retirement, or facing discrimination, these events can make life, and the life they’ve been living, feel suddenly meaningless. Physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, insomnia, and muscle cramps may accompany emotional symptoms like depression, lack of motivation, and despondency. It is essential to provide support to rebuild their strength and help them rediscover the purpose of their lives.
Many of my patients come to see me feeling that way and asking what is next? what is my role? What do I do now? It is not that they want an active life as active as they knew it in the past, but engaged, nonetheless. Active in a different way with a different perspective. For some, an option is undertaking the road of empowering themselves and finding their soul-call by searching therapeutic support that can support their quest for purpose, for others helps comes from building deep relationships with other women who feel the same and who could become not only friends but advisors, and sounding boards long after counseling has reached its goal, and the crisis has resolved.
Rediscovering purpose is a transformative journey that leads to laying the foundations for a fulfilling life. Aging women must find a sense of peace, understanding, and wholeness that may have felt lost. While finding the right help can feel like a puzzle, it is crucial to acknowledge that the clinical profession needs to better understand the unique needs of the aging population, particularly baby boomers. As clinicians, we must be prepared to evolve and adapt to effectively support these women on their journey.
A Different Therapeutic Approach
Navigating the challenges of finding meaning in old age is not always easy, and sometimes professional help and support may be needed. Therapists and counselors can provide valuable guidance and support in exploring one’s values, beliefs, and goals, and help women develop strategies for finding meaning and fulfillment in their later years.
Traditional therapeutic approaches may not fully meet the needs of aging women who feel purposeless. These women have already navigated their parents’ issues, workplace misogyny, domestic violence, and power struggles within relationships. Therefore, a more here-and-now, existential, and practical coaching approach is necessary to become a beacon of support for these women. We must be effective companions on their journey, providing guidance and counseling based on wisdom and giving. Additionally, support groups and community organizations can offer a sense of belonging and understanding. Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can provide a safe space for sharing, learning, and growing. Seeking professional help and support is a proactive step towards reclaiming a sense of purpose and meaning in old age.
Arianna Huffington introduces the concept of the “third metric,” which expands the traditional measures of success and healing. That third metric, she writes in Thrive, includes four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. By embracing these pillars, aging women can live the lives they truly want and deserve, rather than settling for less. Designing a successful roadmap to aging well involves the challenge of what an associate of mine called the five R’s: reinventing, re-envisioning, re-imagining, reconnecting, and remembering the “way we were” and the wisdom we had harnessed.
Embracing change and reinvention is crucial for aging women to navigate this uncharted land successfully. They must reimagine their possibilities, envision a bigger picture, and reconnect with their communities. It is essential to remember the accomplishments and dreams of their past and reignite the fire that once burned within. Even if it feels like the fire has diminished, those embers can be rekindled and transformed into a vibrant flame once again.
On a Final Note
Empowering older women is about more than just breaking stereotypes and challenging societal expectations. It’s about recognizing the immense value and wisdom that comes with age, and celebrating the unique experiences that have shaped them. Older women possess a wealth of knowledge and life lessons that can be shared with younger generations, paving the way for a brighter future. By embracing personal growth and self-discovery, they inspire others to do the same, proving that age is not a barrier to pursuing dreams and passions. Cultivating social connections becomes even more important as we grow older, as it offers support, companionship, and a sense of belonging. Whether through joining clubs or organizations, volunteering in the community, or simply connecting with loved ones, older women have the power to create meaningful relationships that enrich their lives and those around them.
Seeking professional help should never be seen as a sign of weakness or defeat; rather, it is an act of strength and self-care. By seeking therapy or counseling, older women can address any mental health challenges they may face and develop coping strategies to navigate life’s ups and downs. Empowering psychotherapy for aging women provides a transformative space for old women to navigate the uncertainties of this new phase of life, offering support and guidance as they redefine their purpose and find meaning in the midst of the void.
In doing so, they set an example for others by prioritizing their well-being and showing that it’s never too late to invest in oneself. Empowering older women means recognizing their inherent worth and potential, while encouraging them to embrace new opportunities and continue growing throughout their lives. By defying societal expectations and redefining what it means to grow older, they inspire us all to live with purpose, passion, and resilience at any age.