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The Mind Games We Play with Aging

Have you ever looked in the mirror and realized that you have changed? Maybe there is suddenly a wrinkle that you never noticed, or you are finally spotting some grey hairs, or even more common, you realize that your body has changed, and not in a favorable way?

Aging is the great equalizer in many ways, we all go through it. And as we age changes occur. Some we can’t help, some we can camouflage, and some we have to fight for the sake of our health.

The realization that we have to make a concerted effort at these things can stir up lots of confusing feelings as well as some startling realizations. We all seem to go through some variation of the same stages as we are coming to terms with our changing forms.

What is THAT?

We wander through life with a certain view of ourselves. We know what we look like — we know our flaws and our attributes. Most of us have things we like, things we don’t, and things we are always working on. These are the knowns and we live with them.

Then, one day we look in the mirror and there is the inevitable, “What is THAT?!” moment. The hair that had never grown THERE before (or the hair that USED to grow there), the gravity driven shifting of body parts, or the strange way our clothes now fit — or don’t.

For a few moments we stand there staring and thinking about the fact that we knew this day would come, but not so soon. Nonetheless, that day is here and we have to deal with it.

No Big Deal, I’ll Fix It

After that initial shock is over, most of us shake it off to some degree and console ourselves as we move into the, “No big deal, I can fix that” phase. After all, there has got to be a cream, a color, or an exercise that will take care of whatever THAT is, right? So, with a deep breath and a plan, we go on with the day believing that we can FIX that new thing that is disrupting our lifetime view of who we are and what we look like.

When faced with a problem of any kind, most of us feel immediately better when we know there is a plan in place to handle it.

Why Can’t I Fix It?!

Confident that we are about to take care of things and make everything right with our personal world, we take action on that plan that made these changes, “no big deal.” What we most often don’t bank on is the fact that none of these “plans” or remedies will make an immediate difference in what we are facing. If they could, then the anti-aging, fitness, and beauty industries would be not be as insanely large and successful as they are.

We all age and no one can escape the changes that naturally occur. Recognizing that your long-held picture of yourself is changing can be difficult to cope with. Realizing that the remedies, whether they be permanent and healthy (i.e. weight-loss and healthy habits), or temporary and maintenance intensive (i.e. hair-dye and anti-aging creams), are not overnight fixes can be even harder to accept.

Our picture of who we are, to whom we appeal, and what we need to compensate for has to change as we do. And although these changes are actually gradual, to most of us they feel sudden. That sudden feeling means we expect a quick fix and, the truth is, there is often not one.

This phase can lead to a lot of complicated feelings and resulting behaviors. Although these things can happen in nearly every age bracket, many find themselves in this place during the “midlife” years and as a consequence some of us may find ourselves facing an, ahem — midlife crisis.

This Is ME Now – Go Away If You Don’t Like It

The mental gyrations we go through as we try to come to terms with the changes aging brings can take a while to get past. Some people may handle them quickly; for others it may be a bumpy road lasting quite some time. It can also differ wildly between genders. The symptoms of men facing a midlife crisis for instance, can look very different from women going through the same range of emotions.

Ultimately, where we all hope to land is with a feeling of, “this is me now, go away if you don’t like it.” While the physical changes of aging are not coveted (or pretty for that matter), the psychological changes can be at times. That feeling of comfort, confidence, and acceptance of ourselves as we get to a certain point in life can bring with it a lot of mental peace and perspective. Because we finally realize there are things we can’t change, many of us gain a new perspective of what is truly important in our lives. It does not mean we give up on being the best physical version ourselves, but it might mean that we find other, more substantive ways to define who we are and what we like about ourselves.

As mentioned earlier, aging is the great equalizer. Time does not discriminate, and most of us seem to have a way of paying it very little attention until it has left its mark in an undeniable way.  If you try to recognize your own personal phases, however, you can make it through those benchmark changes more easily and often find yourself happier than you thought was possible.

The Mind Games We Play with Aging

Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFC

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching and writes a blog about the issues facing men (and the women who love them). As an expert in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today, he regularly appears on The Huffington Post, NerdWallet and PsychCentral. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their lives and relationships better. Check out his weekly tips on Facebook or Twitter.

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APA Reference
Smith, K. (2018). The Mind Games We Play with Aging. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 3 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.