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New Year Comes to Fore, But Old Issues Do Persist

by B. Lee Coyne, MSW

Hi Fellow Seniors! Have you ever noticed that every time a New Year arrives on the scene, old problems just don't simply evaporate like the bubbles in a glass of champagne?

The symbol of 2004 being like a newborn baby is rather fanciful, yet Father Time has not really left us. And ironically, once retirement occurs, we find we have much more time to delve into the past. Frequently we discover a lot of "old baggage", unresolved problems we had hoped were buried and gone. Nobody knows for sure how much time we have left. Yet each of us strive to use that time productively. Golden Age need not equal a rusty scrap-heap.

In my quarter-century of counseling and coaching people from New York to Virginia to Oregon, I've found it's quite human to have things happen that we wished hadn't. We live on Earth--not Paradise. So the old disappointments and guilts that haven't been worked though pay a return visit. They're very varied, and often quite intense.


Some past issues may reflect a scarred childhood. Maybe we were bullied by fellow students or abused by relatives who betrayed our trust. In old times, we were forced to hold back and swallow these indignities. The modern era gives us more permission to open up and ventilate.

Drugs and delinquency may form part of our distant past. A parent whose sole escape was alcoholism may have left an indelible mark. A sibling who didn't know how to get attention properly may have committed a theft and been caught. Maybe that stained the reputation of our entire family.

Teachers can be both good and bad influences lasting a lifetime. For those students who were humiliated in front of classmates, the pains may still be present. Such emotional harm robs us of gaining healthy self-esteem.

Our job history also leaves a trail of sorts. If we continued to have clashes with bosses and work colleagues, the impact may linger. None of us truly wants the reputation of feeling "rejected" on a regular basis.

Marriage brings its own set of unique problems. Was our choice a sound one which has endured the test of time? Or were there a series of chronic fights over this and that, a war on the home front? Was trust an absent entity?

Childrearing tests our skills in shaping the future generation. Many an older person reflects back and is tempted to second-guess what might have been.
The theme persists of "If I had only done...." When grown-up kids get into trouble with the law, or go thru divorce, we wonder if we might not have been a contributing factor. We tend to give ourselves a report card on what had been experienced many years ago.

I call this "Elder Trauma" and it's more widespread than society recognizes.
Those old pains return and wear us down. We need to demand that senior citizens aren't neglected to fall between the cracks. Trauma resolution as well as confidential support groups could go a long way toward solving the past pains and scars. Wishing them to vanish won't happen. We must show enough courage to step forward--and speak out. If not, we pay the price!


About the Writer: Lee Coyne is a former member of the Arlington, VA. Commission on Aging who fights for elder rights today in Salem. He is founder of the Coping Clinic in Salem, Oregon, which aids older folks to assert their full potential in the community. Please phone him at (503) 365-7533.

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