Constructing the Self in the Face of Aging and Death

Jan D. Sinnott

in The Oxford Handbook of Reciprocal Adult Development and Learning

Second edition

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199736300
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Constructing the Self in the Face of Aging and Death

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Awareness of our own aging and eventual death demands a reconstruction of our sense of self. This chapter offers a theoretical exploration of the process by which this adaptive reconstruction might take place to avoid a potential developmental crisis. The discussion utilizes ideas from work on existential psychology, ambiguous loss, complex thought, and wisdom and spiritual traditions to answer several existential questions. Awareness of our own aging can be a frightening experience. Even if we are relatively healthy, the awareness brings the knowledge that our personal physical, mental, and relational existence, as we have experienced it for many years, is about to change in a significant, catastrophic way. The nature of the change is difficult to predict, whatever our belief systems; we have never experienced our own personal aging and death before. Who will “we” be as we age and then die? How can we construct a self that is losing its body and mind and relationships in this radical, yet ambiguous, way? This chapter offers a theoretical exploration of how construction of a complex postformal concept of the personal self can be learned during any developmental changes, but especially in the face of aging and dying. It offers a plan for a potential research agenda into an area of study that has not been well developed by cognitive-developmental researchers to date.

Keywords: aging; self; complex thought; relationships; ambiguous loss

Article.  12784 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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