Most of us spend our 20s and 30s trying to figure out who we are and what we want. We often search for that through our relationships with other people, how they view us, how we want to be viewed by them. We compare ourselves to others as a way to determine how well we are doing at life. But a shift occurs as we mature, and we start feeling a tug to find meaning and the desire to live a life of purpose becomes stronger.
While this shift may feel like it is coming out of the blue, we are following an established pattern that we all experience. Erik Erikson, an ego psychologist, developed a well-known and influential theory of psychosocial development that identified stages that we go through as we age. In each stage we experience a crisis or conflict that will help us reach the next stage of our development.
At around 40 years of age we enter Erikson’s seventh stage of our psychosocial development, middle adulthood, and the conflict or crisis of generativity versus stagnation. We exit this stage at 65. Erikson defined generativity as a “concern for establishing and guiding the next generation”. It’s the engine behind our concern for the future or our desire to leave something behind. It’s why we even ask ourselves the question “what is my purpose?”.
According to Erikson, if we successfully negotiate the stage we’re in, we develop strengths and skills that will help us as we enter into the next stage. If we do not resolve the crisis successfully, we won’t develop the set of skills the conflict is intended to develop and we will struggle with succeeding stages. Finding a purpose in your life after 50 sits squarely in the middle of the generativity versus stagnation stage.
The pain of loneliness has been a part of the human journey since the first primordial man walked out of the muck. There have also been viruses and bugs that we have had to adapt to as we developed into the current model of human being that exists today. And every season there is something new that we have to develop an immunity against for future generations. Throughout history, epidemics and pandemics have driven people into their homes to quarantine themselves to be safe. What’s different about this? Two things. It’s our turn and we are more interconnected at this time than any other point in history and we can more easily share what we’re going through.
while being so interconnected has many benefits, it does make it more difficult to find time, space, or even the desire to disconnect from each other. We all carry devices that make it possible for anyone to reach us any time and any place. Spending time disconnected is the luxury that we all believe we cannot afford as doing so would cause untold calamity in our lives. If we’re honest, I’ll bet many of us thought first about how we were going to stay connected to work before thinking about how we were going to stay connected to our family.
In a recent study of 20,000 people conducted by Cigna, 47% of respondents reported feeling alone or left out. 13% reported feeling that there was no one, 0%, who knew them well. This pain of loneliness has now followed them into the quarantine and it is where many of us have been introduced to it in a sustained way for perhaps the first time in our lives.
Real-World Strategies for Dealing with Implicit Racism Today
Implicit racism has always been around, but what is implicit racism today? Here’s an example.
Last month I went to the bank as I normally do every week to handle the business that I have to do in person. I was rushing and arrived in the parking lot at the same time as another customer. While I normally get my deposit ready before going to the teller, this time I was rushing and knew I was going to have to get the small deposit ready at the window.
I had resolved to be a nuisance and so I rushed in so I could go first. I will admit that it may have been a juvenile move, but I was in a rush and had to get home before my next client. Now here are two facts that I have observed in the 18 months that I had been going to that bank every week. First, they have deposit slips at the window that the teller will give you if you need one. Second, I have never seen the tellers complain or ask someone to wait for someone else to go who is already prepared.
I knew I was in trouble when I ran in, went to the first teller and asked if she had any slips and she pointed me to the desk where the slips are kept. I grabbed one and took it to the second teller and this is when I got kicked in the gut. She looked at me and said “Oh, you’re not ready?” She both looked and sounded very annoyed with me. Then she said, “You should have waited to go after someone else who is actually ready.” And she pointed to the well-dressed white woman behind me.
I said to her “Well I didn’t realize that it was required for me to be ready when I came to the window”. She looked at me with that tight little smile that exuded annoyance and said, “Well you could wait for someone who is ready already….” I looked at the customer and asked her if she was ready since I didn’t see anything about her that indicated that she was. She didn’t answer my question, just looked uncomfortable. I turned back to the teller and asked, “How do you know she’s ready?” She didn’t respond.
Things moved quickly after that. The first teller who pointed me to the desk invited the white customer to come to her window and the teller I was standing in front of gave me attitude and hostility for the duration of my transaction. Did I mention that she was white? Up to that point we always had pleasant exchanges and I never suspected what lay beneath the surface. I was angry. But even more profoundly I felt hurt and humiliated. My hands were shaking throughout the rest of the exchange and I could barely keep my thoughts together.
You might wonder why I felt humiliated. Well for one thing, it was embarrassing. She scolded me for not letting the white woman go first. Second, and this is the most humiliating part, if the white woman had said she was ready I may have stepped aside and let her go first. I have great shame admitting that. I would have let that teller make me feel small enough to step aside and let the preferred person go first.
Do I think the teller’s actions indicated a racist brewing beneath the surface. I don’t know if that’s true. I think its deeper and hence more problematic than that. I believe that I was subjected to implicit racism. That’s a form that’s harder to see and can be difficult to explain when it happens to you. When it does, it can often lead you to a “WTF just happened?” response as you know you feel like crap but when you say it out loud you sound petty.
I see stress at work almost daily in my practice of mostly professional women who often come to my practice because they feel their lives are out of control and they can’t deal with work stress anymore. The impact of stress on your body, mind, and feelings, if left unchecked, can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Despite its normalcy, we all have a line that we shouldn’t cross when it comes to stress.
Stress is hard to avoid and even harder to conquer. That’s in part because as a country we prize hard work and working long hours over just about anything. We give lip service to taking care of ourselves, but with the average vacation time being 10 days, we haven’t learned how to prioritize our well-being. And we often work for organizations that don’t either.
We are a striving country and all that striving and increasing workloads and demands require us to spend more and more time at work. Women especially, are often pulled between the needs of their children, significant others, jobs, and in many cases their aging parents. The result is worker burnout, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
Melissa Watson-Clark has been practicing as a psychotherapist since 2010. Working primarily with clients suffering with anxiety and depression she focuses on the power of nature to bring healing and restoration to her clients.