Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Butler once coined a term -“agism.” It describes the psychological attitude or mentality that older people (“senior citizens”) are inferior. Agism goes hand in hand with our “we think young” cultures and socio-economic systems.
The attitude of “agism” is not only a discrimination coming from the young. It also tends to be meekly approved or accepted by the old people themselves. Thus, this only reinforces the age-negativity in our cultures.
Yes, “agism” infects old people. It happens when they despise their powerlessness, wrinkles, and physical limitations. A symptom of this psychological sickness is when they feel happy and complimented when others tell them they do not look or act their age.
In a way, “agism” can be viewed as a social face of the denial of mortality. Instead of accepting and preparing for this plain inevitable reality, people would rather not want to think about aging and dying. It is as if we have forever or unlimited amount of time on earth! As a result of the denial or evasion, we can wind up becoming enormously unprepared, angry, or depressed when we realize that we too are aging.
The “inner child” is a clinical concept describing images, experiences, and influences of youth on our present life. We all need to heal our “inner child” if it’s wounded and nourish it. “Agism” seems to suggest that we also need to heal and nourish our broken “elder within.” This “elder within”carries our expectations for the second half of our lifetime. It can be wounded by irrational beliefs, unreality, or myths we have about getting older.