The Aging Process as a Defense Mechanism

Schiele: Portrait of an old man

Regardless of what I have previously written about the inherent problems associated with eternal life, I believe in the beauty of life. Life’s beauty can be so overwhelming as to render life itself unbearable. This I hope to take up shortly in another post entitled, “I have seen life in life, life in death, and death in life”. But for the meantime, I would like to explore another notion: how the aging process, whereby the mind loses its agility, actually serves an important physiological and pyschological function. It permits the human to deal with all that it loses over the course of its life. As always, I shall explain . . .

Years ago, I had studied about Jean Piaget and his theories on cognitive development. Piaget researched the ways in which the brain matures through childhood in order to make sense of the world around it. I found this fascinating. Children are confronted with constant stimuli that their minds are still not prepared to receive and over time, eventually they develop and are able to distinguish, process, and understand the simplist of stimuli and eventually grasp the more abstract notions of the world.

The mind thus develops and matures so as to be able to absorb the world around it. Otherwise, were we to be born with our minds as a total open slate perceiving the world as it is with all of its pitfalls, we would certainly not want to come out of the womb. But, because our ability to perceive the world slowly over our first 10 years, we decide to stay in for the long haul. This slow maturation process is a defense mechanism in itself.

I understand that the machinery of the mind and body depreciates naturally. I see this all the time in my own daily life. But besides the shere mechanics of it all, there must also be some other reason based on a natural drive for sustainability and survivablity. Thus, I believe that the aging of the mind (just as its process of maturation) serves that function of defending itself against all that is lost over the span of a lifetime.

For example, notice how teenagers suffer when they break up with a girl or boyfriend. Or how much we suffer the loss of a loved one during the normal course of our lives. Or even any loss in general (jobs, money, property, hopes, etc). Of course, the greatest challenge that geriatrics faces today is how to deal with depression in the eldery. Nevertheless, I am always surprised to see how the elderly are capable of surviving the constant losses they experience. They may lose basic sensory motor skills such as hearing or walking. They lose their loved ones — brothers, sisters, and spouses that they may have cohabitated with for the past +50 years.

As mentioned, depression resulting from a lack of mobility and loneliness is incredibly common in the elderly, and is probably a catalyst for more rapid aging and debilitation. Nevertheless, were some one to lose all that one loses in old age, one would not be able to survive the loss. The elderly do not appear to fear death in the same way as the middle aged. Is it because they are satisfied with the lives they have lived? Have they seen or experienced something that others have not? Are their bodies simply too tired to want to do anything else or new? Or are their minds and bodies simply too fragile to worry about what is being left behind or unsatisfied? The lack of mental and physical agility may actually serve to soften the blows of a long life coming to an end.  At least that is how I rationalize it.

Imagine that we lived much, much longer lives and our brains and bodies could sustain those years. How many more years could we bear emotionally?

2 Comments

Filed under Digressions

2 responses to “The Aging Process as a Defense Mechanism

  1. a very looong stretch there eric…

  2. eric

    I know. Probably one of my 35 worst posts.

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