Self-esteem in the Elderly

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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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The Help

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Last week, “The Help” received a Golden Globes nomination for best picture. A few weeks ago, I had gone with a friend to see the movie. I found it somewhat offensive. As it turns out, so did other people.

Since many people have shared different parts of the movie that offended them, I will only delve into three.

As a superficial first: the lead white character, Emma Stone who played the protagonist “Skeeter.”  Ms. Stone is a cute up and coming Hollywood actress, who, in this film—meant to be set in the early ‘60’s—was made to look like something out of the last decade of the 20th century or the first decade of the 21st century. I found this not only irritating but also peculiar since everyone else in the movie looked like they might have come from the early ‘60’s.

The next level of offensiveness was a little more insidious: A remaking of history in which every single white man in the movie comes across as a big softie without a backbone or opinion or position on the whole race issue.

Last but not least, the idea that during this very tense filled period in the history of race relations in the United States, particularly in the Southern States, the subjugated Black maids would bare their hearts and secrets to this apparently “different from the rest of those white girls” white girl. Oh, and all because “Skeeter” apparently had endeared herself to one of the maids by asking her to help her in answering questions about kitchen matters and cleaning, “things I know nothing about” for a newspaper “Dear Abby” like column she had been hired to write. [Note: throughout the movie, this different from other white girls uses the maids to advance her own career.]

Puhlease! What sort of fantasy is Hollywood going to come up with next and, one has to ask oneself, to what end?

In the early ‘60’s, I had just moved to the United States from overseas. Albeit a child, I felt the tension that existed, the anger and the fear and, yes, even the hate—more on the part of the whites for the blacks than the other way around, which I found very interesting (in spite of my youth), since it was apparent that the whites were in control and the blacks were the oppressed.

Upon seeing “The Help,” I wondered perhaps that Kathryn Stockett had not lived during this period of time. If she had, she could not have written such a “Southern Fried Fantasy,” as Steve Persall, the Tampa Bay Times Film Critic, opined. He continues, “’The Help’ never trivializes Jim Crow segregation but doesn’t take it as seriously as the subject deserves.”

A bit of research and lo and behold, the author, it turns out, grew up in the ‘70’s. She did grow up in Mississippi, but according to an interview for a British newspaper, The Telegraph: As a child in America’s Deep South in the 1970s, Kathryn Stockett was not really aware of the racial divides around her. (Emphasis added.)

Ooohhhhkaaayyyy! I remember a colleague of mine from Mississippi who fell in love with a “Black” man in the 1990’s. He had nappier hair than she did, but otherwise you might have taken them to be siblings. Her family disowned her and swore they would never speak to her again. They told her that, as far as they were concerned, she was no longer welcome in their home.   Hm.

Some of the attitudes that existed during that period of time are presented: mostly all wrapped up into the one character “Hilly” (well played by Bryce Dallas Howard). And we do see some expressions of the fear many Blacks lived with in those days on the part of the maid “Aibileen,” beautifully and sensitively played by Viola Davis.

Oh, okay, here is a fourth offensive part of the story.  The drama where “Skeeter’s” mom bowed to societal pressure and showed their frail, elderly, and saintly maid the door because the maid’s daughter had the nerve to come through the front door while Skeeter’s mother was hosting a meeting of the Daughters of the Confederacy (or some such group). But, glory be, did Skeeter’s mom abhor herself for that action. So much so that she seemed to have developed an illness that was killing her until her daughter wrote a book that uncovered all the nastiness of the white “slave owners”, oops, I mean maid employers that lived in Jackson MS way back in the early 1960’s.

In interviews Stockett has given, she does not seem to recognize that by taking a period of time in American history in a country where race relations have always been a hot topic and nullifying the very intense vibration that existed at the time (and in some places still exists), she has undermined a part of our history that needs to be remembered and not diminished by silly story lines in which scenes like (okay yet another offensive scene)  the one where the maid Minny, played by Octavia Spencer, informs her former employer (Hilly) that she has added some of her own excrement to the chocolate pie Hilly just ate. A woman as nasty as “Hilly” would have demanded retaliation, and in those days, they would have been harsh. But in the movie, Hilly just gags and Minny looks triumphant.

In our country, with a tendency towards short-term memory when it comes to history,  is this movie the best we can expect at this juncture in time when delving into a less than honorable period in our history, the segregated South with its Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan?  It would seem so.

However, as the adage claims, there are always two sides to a coin and one of the outcomes of this movie is that there are some great discussions occurring representing varying inputs of a more accurate review of those days. (Below are some links to some of the writers and writings).

As I read all the discussions generated by this movie, I realized that what the book and movie have very successfully done is allowed a dialogue to occur around the issues of race in our country, then and now, and how it is portrayed in Hollywood. And so for that, I do take my hat off to Kathryn Stockett’s choice of subject. In the end, it has allowed a little further foray into the topic of race relations in our country.  But a Golden Globe award?  Naw.  It just was not that great a movie.

Following are links to some webs and blogs in which “The Help” is discussed.

The first link is probably one of the most in-depth response to the movie “The Help” If you wish to get a more accurate picture of what life was like during this period of time, I strongly encourage you to go to this website.

Acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/

some others:

http://community.feministing.com/2011/08/09/the-help-a-critical-review/

http://disqus.com/bp-e9859ede8d83e8e1a89e0b5309f7332e/

http://www.amazon.com/gp/forum/cd/discussion.html?ie=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1FGGKBY4NUIV6&cdPage=3&cdThread=Tx3NW41X9MCZZZV

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/few-good-men-of-the-help/