My entire young life I had heard that I need to grow up and be an adult. When I turned 18, pregnant with my first child, I did not magically feel like an adult. I got married, had another daughter, and still the enlightenment of being a year older never felt like the definition of adult. If time is a concept that society created in order to have structure but does not tangibly exist, could the concept of being an adult also be a myth used to explain the in-explainable?
While typing Edith’s Memoir “The Book of Edith”, her caregiver would forewarn me of the bad days as they happened. For Edith a bad day is mass confusion within dementia and her body is locked into place from Parkinson’s, with her failing site producing hallucinations. As I would come every weekend and read her the journals I had typed onto my computer, we would relive her childhood. The journals were especially fond in the memories of her childhood, even though she lived in refugee camps and was busy running to the woods to escape the bombs reigning down all around their hometown of Stuttgart, Germany. Her childhood is told in a way that reminds me of my own childhood, the feeling of nostalgia accompanying the reading. Edith, in the last sector of life, loved hearing the stories she herself wrote, especially the early stories that tell of her defiance with her mother, and later the mothers love she found as a woman, as an adult.
As I would read, her caregiver would report odd happenings through her day that happened to coincide with the stories we read. The characters who once were live humans have long past, and this memory and need to remember becomes imminent. We finished the book and printed it, as you may know, and Edith said she was “Kaput”.
Edith’s health began deteriorating quickly, and my friend (her caregiver) asked if I would be interested in sitting with Edith on weekends. I had been a caregiver for adults in my past career in the decade prior, but had been working with children as of most recent. Months passed and Edith’s health rapidly fell into 24 hour care. I arrived with a duffel bag full of home comforts for the 24 hour shift and appreciated the view from her apartment as a gift of perspective. The observation ritual I noticed seemed backwards from the magical words of “Someday, you’ll be an adult.”
As a kid, that statement meant freedom, as thoughts of paying rent and mortgages and utility bills were not in the view for my younger self at that time. I could not wait to be an adult and be independent. My definition of adult meant I no longer had to listen to my parents, which ironically is still a great value I have on being an adult. Growing up meant understanding as well, becoming wise in my elder years. And all of this was supposed to just happen at the moment I turned 18, then I would be 40, and then maybe retire and die. Life had been cut into chunks that I wasn’t aware had been studied by the brilliant psychologists, one of the observations being about Lifespan Psychology, and the four sectors of aging. Carl Jung referred to this idea as simply the “Stages of Life.”
Jung’s work in archetypes lent to his study of the human psyche in regards to the stages of life, naming four in particular; the Athletic stage, the Warrior stage, the Statement stage and the stage of the Spirit. While ages varied, Jung found that the stages were loosely based on approximate ages, and if given the opportunity to live through the years he found that there was a psychological viewpoint within each archetype.
The athletic stage is based on looks and performance. Humans enter this stage at birth, grow exponentially for the 5 years, and learn cognitive functioning. This stage lends fascination to the visual of the body and its usage. The athletic stage lasts until approximately the age of 25, which coincides with the biology of brain development changing around this time.
The warrior stage begins with restructuring this new life. The value of freedom and to conquer in career and life overall is strongest at this stage. The adults are gone, and now we get to make choices that state our importance to the world. The warrior raised children, builds her career, and learns to physically and emotionally support ourselves in self-awareness.
The statement stage is about realizing our place within the world as a warrior while understanding that community and the humans we love are more important than the career and money we spent the last 15 years building. The statement is a realization that there is more to life than the items we own, and we want to be a part of the fabric that holds the world, our individual world, together. So far we have progressed through stages of confidence building in our physical and mental prowess, have self-actualized our lives.
The spirit stage is recognition of the body and mind being separate. For most of our life we depend on our legs to carry us, we do not see old age bringing sticky muscles and cracking bones. As I watched Edith try 3 times to push herself up from her chair, I could not help but think of all the mountains she climbed throughout her life. Now there is a separation, and with that separation frustration or acceptance. I look around the dining room and recognize the frustration of working an entire life just so the kids can sell the house and lock their parents in for their own safety, the child becoming the adult for the now adult child. I watch two older men, white haired and missing teeth, gossiping about the ladies with arms folded and little smirks and I think to myself what a cosmic joke. We spend all this time and money on looking good, and in reality none of that actually exists, just like time, it has no value unless value is given to it. The spirit stage is acceptance of childlike wonder, as we regress to our less physical life. The recognition of spirit is a beautiful gift as it specifically outlines the idea that you are still, indeed, you. In fact, the other 3 stages of you were not fully formed until this very moment. We are able to become the observer, with all the unique information about ourselves, in an effort to ease out of the body without fear and trauma.
My definition of being an adult has changed due to my life experience. I have no desire to fulfill the stereotype of being an adult as defined in my past stage(s). Instead, I will continue to be me as only I know it and learn the acceptance of the difference between body and mind. Where are you in the stages of life?
P.S. I have included a link to this highly recommend reading about Maslow’s self-actualizers.
The Following information was taken from here; https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Characteristics of self-actualizers:
- They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;
- Accept themselves and others for what they are;
- Spontaneous in thought and action;
- Problem-centered (not self-centered);
- Unusual sense of humor;
- Able to look at life objectively;
- Highly creative;
- Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;
- Concerned for the welfare of humanity;
- Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;
- Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;
- Peak experiences;
- Need for privacy;
- Democratic attitudes;
- Strong moral/ethical standards.
Behavior leading to self-actualization:
(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;
(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;
(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority;
(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;
(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;
(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;
(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.
The characteristics of self-actualizers and the behaviors leading to self-actualization are shown in the list above. Although people achieve self-actualization in their own unique way, they tend to share certain characteristics. However, self-actualization is a matter of degree, ‘There are no perfect human beings’ (Maslow,1970a, p. 176).