Be Kinder Because of This

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

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The Story

I read a piece of advice today on a blog post that was basically a pep talk about believing that you will be ok again when right now life doesn’t feel ok. The article was It’s All Going to Be Okay for You by Tim Denning (https://psiloveyou.xyz/its-all-going-to-be-okay-for-you-c528137b4f5). Check it out. It’s a good read and helps you get your head straight again when you feel like life is against you.

Sometimes we all just need to hear that it is going to be ok again. Sometimes that’s enough. I hear that and I take a deep breath and think “ok, on with it then.” It even works reading it from a stranger. I don’t know Tim and he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know what I am struggling with or what is making my life not ok right now. He doesn’t have to. It helps anyway. Really, he is just confirming what I know, but what I can’t quite get to myself in the midst of my disappointment, pain and confusion. As Bruce Springsteen once crooned in one of his lesser known songs, “God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of.”

I’ve marked that article so that I can read it again when I need it. And I know I’ll need it. So the next time I am feeling not ok and none of the people that can make me feel ok are around, I can read Tim’s article and hoist myself up by my own bootstraps.

It’s a great feeling when you find an article that really speaks to you and you know will speak to you again and again, a message you need to hear again and again.

But the thing that really sticks with me is where he said, “Be kinder from now on because of this experience.”

Well now. That just brought it to a point. I had just experienced a major disappointment and I was getting through it, but I wasn’t doing that. Not at all. Just the opposite. In fact, I was seething and wallowing in it. I was collecting every major and minor slight I could think of and clumping it all into one big ball of discontent and martyrdom. I was becoming caustic and vulgar and vengeful. I was not acting like the person I wanted to be, or even the person I was.

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What Psychology Says . . .

Eric Erickson was one of the few developmental psychologists who described stages of psychosocial development that progressed into adulthood and old age. While most focus on the many aspects of growth and development throughout childhood and adolescence, Erickson acknowledged the continuation of our cognitive and emotional maturity, or lack thereof. Erickson’s stages were also unique in that he described a core psychological task to be mastered and the accompanying consequences of both success and failure in that endeavor. In earlier life stages, these encompass things like forging an identity and negotiating relationships. But it seems, according to Erickson, that even in our middle and old age, we have fundamental psychological growth to achieve. Specifically, for Erickson, the dichotomy of Stage 8, covering the years after age 60, was ego integrity vs. despair. Essentially, Erickson believed that at this point we contemplate our lives and accomplishments and we judge them as successful or unsuccessful. A positive judgment — in Erickson’s view, a successful negotiation of this stage’s psychological challenge — leads to integrity and contentment in knowing we lived life well. A negative judgment, wherein we consider our life wasted and meaningless, leads to despair and hopelessness. His dichotomy is basically the psychological explanation of why we become the proverbial sweet old ladies or grumpy old men. But there’s a weightiness to this concept that goes beyond the humorous stereotypes. No one really wants to think that they might live out their golden years mired in regret and despair.

So, how do we guard against that? Well, I think Tim Denning was on to something. We make sure that we become kinder because of the pain points in life. We don’t become meaner or more jaded or more cynical. We use them in service of our older, wiser selves, so that we can look back on a life well lived.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY
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