I don’t want to bake more cookies- Rethinking life towards and after retirement

Some of my acquintances retire and I hear them talking about the things they will do or not after their jobs end, or already do or don’t. Some are happy and some seem dissatsified. “How is your retirement? ” I ask someone and he’d reply that well the notion is most elderlies go on hikes, I did too once, but now I want to go on about my day and life. I actually miss working because it gave me a sort of purpose. Not that I liked it, but hm oh well. I’ll find something to do.”

This and further conversations, made me think about what life I want to live, if when I set a seemingly “psychic end” to work life already, or center my thoughts on life after retirement, for which I don’t know how it will be like anyways, if the life I live is pursued because of generiousity to myself, or because of my imagined after-worklife retirement. If for the latter, does this result in me working too much, a job I possibly dislike or follow because of its financial incentives? I write so, because so often I hear” I can’t wait for retirement, finally to do the things I enjoy.” I feel it should be “I am looking forward to life itself “.

Retiremenet often seems to be perceived as the end of life phase. A start of a new life, which in retrospect is a continuity of life as whole. If someone has experiernced furstration before, they will continue to experience it after.

Yet in the retirement phase, I feel that increasing levels of loneliness or dissatisfactions suddenly originate too. In one way not doing anymore what one possibly did not like, let’s say the factory work and therefore prone to experience an increasing emptiness “How to fill such lack of work now with what type of meaning?” And in other ways not being able to continue to do what one has previously liked “industrial design,” for example because one is now the retired.

It made me think about notions to the end of life; whether a career or profession could be sustained that creates a particular meaning in the “retirmenet phase”, a form of continuity. And at the same time what form of activities could possibly be pursued so that one who experiences such a huge loss of work, even if it didn’t pleasure, can fill their time with a different form of meaning and pleasure that not necessarily relates to hiking and playing Bingo only.

Why does this worry me?

I began thinking about the retirment phases of my grandmother(s), and other elderlies in elderly homes or different forms of care; some that still lived through WW2 or the aftermaths. Some that simply lived. Some who complained at me that they didn’t want to be read out children stories or bake cookies all the time, but how much they still want to feel alive in other notions too; to design, to engineer, to teach. I guess they could, but yet they aren’t often offered the opportunity, even to fall in love again at 80 or to start a new business, if they wanted to.

Why can’t we be more engaging with the elderlies? someone could ask and the reply would be “dementia” or other symptoms of aging. But I’d say that between those moments of amnesia, there is some depth of joy that can be experienced, even if forgotten after. Though parts of it, the joy felt, the emotions, stored in the lower brain regions, they likely won’t be forgotten that easy.

Why does this matter, why does this relate to sustainability?

Just like babies, our brains still want to be stimulated. And possibly similiar to babies and brain growth; if such stimulation little exist, then brain is more likely to experience detoriation. And when we talk about detoriation of the brain, we can also talk about increases in somatic and other forms of illnesses. Furthermore, loneliness and lack of engagment turn into a major public health concern. In fact, it already is.

What can be done about it?

While these problems are known about, expenses for health care are quit high, leaving elderly care often at a minimum of care. To circumvent that the Netherlands has piloted a project in the city of Deventer in which students rooms are rented out for a discount in an elderly home in exchange for one hour volunteer work. Often students end up doing more hours for the community, then they actually have to. In another example, UK primary school merges generations by inviting elderly to work with them, a concept that originated in Japan.

And then of course there is you, us; how can we live as society, but also as individuals that the life lived is worth to be pursued as a whole and less as to be seperated stages?

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Working With Instead of Against Emotional Dysregulation at the Workspace

The article with a focus on trauma and behavior, was written for and published by the online community “normalizing the conversation“, aiming to destigmatize and normalizing the conversation(s) around mental health. Thank you.

Healthy brain development serves as foundation for emotional regulation

Dr. Bruce Perry, a child neurologist with a specialization in child complex trauma is known for his expertise in healthy and unhealthy brain development; The brains’ development starts bottom up with the brainstem being responsible for core regulational activities such as blood pressure, up to the cortex in which abstract forms or aspects of language are formed too. In between there is the Diencephalon responsible for functions such as arousal, appetite and other, followed by the limbic system for emotional regulation.

Ideally, all these brain regions develop healthy from the bottom to the top. That happens if one ,for instance, has been responded to when cried (crying is the expression of a need since babies cannot express their needs in language yet). Responses to cries can be hugging, feeding or humming the baby or child as it grows up, so that it or more specifically its emotions and feelings feel regulated and validated. Later on these healthy or regulated brain regions will then serve in better understanding and processing emotions so that these emotions are easier put into language so that one can express needs but also feelings well. In school or work this can look like more directly responding to questions, describing less, being more direct instead of descriptive.

What happens in unhealthy brain development and how does that show in adult behavior and how to better work with it?

However, if the baby has not been responded well to, or if the baby and child has been punished or ignored for crying or having in that sense a need, then the adult version of the child will likely have difficulties in regulating emotions, but later on also in expressing them. The consequence is that one who experiences emotional dysregulation, may also experience dysregulation in speech, not literally but the ability to express needs, including wishes and desires fundamentally to their livelihood and ability to thrive as a person, privately and at work. The inability or difficulty to express that can lead to greater levels of miscommunication and thereby create conflict at the workplace and in addition feelings that one is not listened to well or other forms of behaviors such as being avoidant, withdrawing, but also being very active or too affirmative, saying yes to most things to avoid being ignored or feeling useless.

This causes a lot of energy and this makes working for those who grew up in a less nurturing environment (not only as a baby but throughout childhood and teenie years) sometimes extremely difficult. It may not even show like that though, because being punished for acting out; this could be as normal as crying, being, angry or frustrated, – made it feel that the parts of oneself that feel or are not ideal to what a parent or other caretaker might have had expected, are unworthy of showing or being (basically feeling one can’t be sad or frustrated at work, home or anywhere). As a result, one could work in a permanent dissociated stage (detached from any feeling, working like a machine). One could also show up in the work personality, that lasts around a work day and present themselves as the best employee, while in a fact the mind beyond that look could feel much different; feeling that one is mistreated, feeling like one is not valued, feeling like one is unworthy, everyone else sucks, the jobs suck, everyone is evil, feeling like one just wants to run away, because one’s’ feelings don’t matter. Chaos breaks out, when finally out of the office, at home, anywhere.

Working like that is difficult and it becomes even more difficult if certain work policies or mental health programs are conflict avoidant too, so that someone having grown up in an avoidant or punishable home, has to keep up that mask or let’s say work identity. It can be like “ we are trying to avoid conflict here, by being more positive in team-work.” Urges big No Go and a sign for a lack of a supportive mental health environment, because it is indeed conflict or the ability to have different opinions, or to show different emotions so that working with a sort of “dysregulation” or an identity that works at home and at work, works.

In fact it is that a range of emotions have to be lived and expressed, so that one better expresses themselves and others can better respond too. By the way, there is no right or wrong to how one feels, but only in denying feelings and thereby oneself. Yet, while feelings are right, the result, or the action or conclusive thought that might follow might not be true and there a lot of frustration, anger or avoidance can pop up too. In practice it looks like that” I didn’t receive an email response within a day. I am sad. I conclude I am hated. I am the most hated and worst employee.” In fact it is not like that. One indeed can be sad, even very sad or any other sort of feeling, but one is not the thought. One is not the most hatred employee or a loser. In fact, another person might be out longer for the day, is sick, doesn’t feel like replying, is lazy, is too busy, is sad, is stressed, has to deal with other things. There can be so many reasons. And these are so important to think about so that whatever thought one has, no longer defines one or the feeling.”

To make life for any employee now more easy, it could be recommended to ditch some of the positive work culture and introduce concepts of clear communication without leaving room for interpretation. “Thank you for your email. I will reply by tomorrow.” Further “You did this great, and here this needs improvement, because of… Please get back to me by (date)/ I will get back to you by (date). You can contact me during the week here or there. Over the weekend I am not available.” The word because does magic, because it leaves nobody wondering.

Resources:

Perry & Operah (2022). What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing.

Rosenfeld, H. (1983). Primitive object relations and mechanisms. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis64, 261-267.

The role of early attachment in consumption patterns – a public health perspective

In 2015, I conducted public-health related research into the consequence of child complex trauma on the brain. The goal of my research was to develop an activity guide for lay people that could help reduce these consequences on the brain. To conduct the research, I interviewed a range of practitioners includig; psychologists, psychiatrists & neurologists in Southen California, USA. Besides that, I also also merged into the literature world on brain development and the role of attachment/ relationships in child development.

After finalizing my reserach and presenting the outcomes to “Court Appointed Special Advocates“, I realized that how we are nurtured, the way we are loved and cared for has one of the greatest impacts on how we later behave in life. It impacts how we form, build and maintain relationships, how we communicate with each other and how meaning is created within ourselves and the world around us.

The capacity to love is at the core of the success of humankind. The reason we’ve survived on this planet is that we’ve been able to form and maintain effective groups. Isolated and disconnected, we are vulnerable. In community, we can protect one another, cooperatively hunt and gather, share with the dependents of our family, our clan. Relation glue keeps our species alive, and love is the relationa superglue. Perry & Operah, 2021, p. 77

Healthy attachement can be formed in multiple ways and directions; parents, grandparents, friends, co-workers, communities

What influence does attachement have on our neurological development?

When a baby is born, it enters the world with a specific number of neurons. These neurons then form into neural networks that predefine how we view and engage in this world later on. Because the brain develops “bottom- up” (see Figure 2: Brain chart), the way in which neural networks are formed from infant age pre-define later developments in the higher regions of the brain. It defines how these regions are connected and how resiliant our behaviour will be towards challanges such as stress, disagreements or changes (think about private/work relationships or within ourselves).

How these neural networks develop differs for individuals. If a baby grows up in an attuned and loving environment, where its needs are being met emotionally and physcially, neuron-connections will form that are based on “healthy, self-regulatory and resilient” developments. If a baby grows up in a stressfull environment or an environment in which it was neglected, continuesly stressed or only its basic needs were fullfilled, the brain develops in such a way that the functions of upper brain regions can be impaired. Such impairment can be illustrated in difficulties such as “self-regulation and resiliance towards stresses, or ability to reason”. It may also impair the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships.

Brain map and sypmtoms (Source: Bruce Perry, http://www.Child Trauma.org, Ann-Cathrin Joest, Research Report, 2015)

In adult life, such dysregulation within the adult and the adults relationship can be displayed in a range of behaviours (see Figure 2: Brainchart and related dysfunctional symptom). Someone who grew up in an environment through which healthy neurological networks developed in all four brain regions, will be more likely to view a challange as something “natural”, something that is not a threat. However, someone who has difficulties with self-regulation may view a daily challange as a threat and therefore involuntarily shuts down the more complex region of the brain responsible for reasoning and arguing (cortex-region). In doing so, the more primative functions of the brain are actived (Brainstem, Diencephalon[Midbrain]), those that support survival. While these functions possibly helped a child to survive, these functions do not serve as an adult anymore, think about someone quick to respond agressively or without thinking or someone yelling, swearing , leaving etc.

How does neural development and attachement relate to sustainable behaviour?

At my my current job, I am engaged in the development of sustainable and circular business models. I try to answer questions such as “How can sustainable business models reduce interest in consumption? And why do people consume so much? How can products create intrinsic meaning and how can such meaning be translated in a society that currently appears to seeks meaning in an access of consumption ? ” .

For so long, I could not cearly think about the answers until I began reading the book “What happenned to you? Conversations on Trauma, resilience and healing” by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. It was that book that reminded me on my research on neurodevelopment and healthy attachment, that I realized many answers can be found in “dysregulations and early (un)healthy attachement“. That the more dysregulation exists within ourselves and the less healthy attachements we formed as an infant or child, the less meaning we create within ourselves and relationships. The more likely we seek satisfaction in extrinsic activities, ways of behaving and acting [unconciously] to regulate an intrinsic need (we may not be aware of). So I believe that -love / instrinsic love- is the cure to much of the sustainability debates we face today. Love and early healthy attachements, that nurture, love that supports resiliance (within brain structures) and supports curiosity for positive change. Love -that type of glue that lasts longer then the short term satisfaction from addiction such as overeating and consumption.

The challange with activating our reward circuits is that the pleasure fades. The feeling of reward is short-lived. Think how long the pleasure of eating a potato chips last. A few seconds. Then you want another. Same with a hit of nicotine from a cigarette. Or even the smile of a loved one. It feels so good in the moment, and we can recall it and get a little pleasure, but the intenses sense of reward fades. So each day we are pulled to refill our reward bucket. The healthiest way to do this is through relationships. Connectedness regulates and rewards us. Perry & Operah, 2021, p. 64.

Moving forward?

For a sustainable society, to thrive as individual and thus, the collective, I believe that we must put greater emphasizes on healthy developments and community, identify healthy meaning within the individual that can translate into the collective and the other way round. However, how can such a society be created, if more hours are worked, if cost of living are increasing and if global inequalities persist?

References:

Winfrey, O., & Perry, B. D. (2021). What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. Flatiron Books.

Joest, A. (2015). Consequences on Complex trauma on the brain. Reserach Report. Windesheim Honours College & Court Appointed Special Advocates, Orange County, California.