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How Old Are You… No, Really?

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” Satchel Paige

We all get reminded at least once a year how old we are in chronological years. Yet, is this really the way to measure?

There is a theory that we get stopped emotionally (arrested development) at an age of a trauma, accident, death of a close one, onset of an addiction, divorce in the family, loss, illness, etc. This makes sense when I look at my life from my current age. I was abused at age 14, and part of me regresses to that scared, hurt, confused 14-year-old girl when I experience any fear, hurt or confusion today.

On the positive side, most of us have a favorite age.

I recall 32 was when I really began hitting my stride; I was independent, living in New York City, working as a stand-up comic, loving life. Indeed, I kept 32 as my “stage age” for years!

I now use that 32-year-old’s spirit to guide that lost 14-year-old girl’s hurt when it gets triggered. So to answer Satchel Paige’s rhetorical question, I am 32. And a 32-year-old can help a 14-year-old in distress.

The way I marry them is through a tried and true therapeutic technique called “The Empty Chair.” (Renowned Gestalt psychotherapist Fritz Perls created this way before Clint Eastwood did it!) You sit in one chair facing an empty chair directly across from you. Simply feel yourself at your current age, or your “ideal” age.

Then, imagine your younger self in the empty chair.

Open a dialogue with that wounded child and ask him/her what is wrong.

Then move into that other chair, and speak as if you were that younger self, directed toward the empty chair that your ideal self was in. Switch back and forth until you are complete. This technique allows you to play both roles to process the upset, allowing the adult part of you to counsel the younger self as if he/she were a separate person. This is a powerful technique that integrates the parts into a whole.

With practice, you eventually will not need the chairs. You can just close your eyes and imagine the two facing one another and working through the issue.

How about you? What age were you when you suffered a blow in life? What was your favorite age, up to now? How can you “marry” the two?

And that is how old you are… really!


Dr. Nancy Irwin is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.