Learning Curves


Learning Curves

During childhood, there are many ‘growth’ phases — specific times of mental change. Once childhood is past however there’s a commonly held belief that you are fully formed. After the age of 20 goes the myth, you and your brain are not likely to experience much more development (latest research says it’s actually post-25!). Instead you’re supposed to just get on with life.

Since I’ve always thought this concept to be patent nonsense, I was relieved, when studying the dynamics of psychotherapy in 1984, to discover Erickson’s Theory of Life- Stages. This makes it clear we keep on ‘growing’ however old we become. Erickson sees us as progressing through about eight major life changes from birth through till death.

A Miniature Leap Forward

For me the first flash of major mental change was in my early 30s when, through an interest in feminism, I suddenly got a handle on many other social structures. For the first time in my sheltered life I understood economic systems, labour systems, styles of politic, a historic perspective on the status of men, women and children. My eyes stretched open.

After this it was impossible to continue living in the same old way. Everything changed. My marriage ended, my home shifted, I acquired a new job, even my friends re-arranged themselves. It was a brutal time, nor do I recommend it but, looking back, it’s impossible to see how I could have carried on as before. It was a miniature ‘leap forward’.

Not So Much a Burning Bush, More of a Traffic Signal

A decade later, in my early 40s, the next revelation arrived in the shape of the idea of the ‘unconscious’ mind. My introduction to this was startling: as if I’d been travelling for thousands of miles while blind to everything on the right hand side of the road. I gained an extra level. Life was rich. I not only encountered people’s outer behaviour, I acquired a window into their deeper motivation. This was both fascinating and useful.

My ability to cope with emotional difficulties (my own and others) improved. I love possessing the sense of sometimes being able to see beneath the façade and detect what is truly going on. The only drawback has been that acquaintances who don’t possess the same understanding now seem more two-dimensional. As a consequence I now naturally gravitate towards people who tune into nuances of behaviour in the same way that I do because a common knowledge of how the unconscious mind works acts as a short cut to friendship.

Pretty Older Women

In my 50s, I entered a further ‘growth’ period. The impact was not so blinding as the others, more of a gradual change. This time I think we are talking about maturity. As a younger woman I possessed a panic about growing old. Now I was moving into a sense of freedom. I no longer feel upset by what others thought of my character any more, although I confessed to still preferring to look physically young. When I perceived that a friend or colleague had a problem with who I became, I realised it was probably THEIR problem, not mine. I grew more self-contained.

Although I actively continued my long-term loving relationship I know I could manage without were it ever necessary. I’ve developed inner strength. Although I love spending close times with my man, I also value friendship and interests that have nothing to do with him. I can even cope with his similar freedoms! I’ve learned that actually, it doesn’t matter if you look older. What comes across and attracts others is your inner vitality, your sense of fun, a sparkle special to you. It is this that harvests friends and lovers, not extensive surgery.