The Age When Your Self-Esteem Peaks Will Pleasantly Surprise You
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
How will you change over the years as you get older? Past research offers strong evidence that, although there are parts of personalities that stay relatively set throughout our lives, we do in fact experience real character growth over time. The primary way we change is through maturation: All of our more pro-social, positive traits (things like conscientiousness and social skills) tend to increase as we get older, whereas many of our more negative traits (things like impulsiveness and anxiousness) tend to decrease.
And now, a particularly sunny new study just revealed one area of ours that will likely continue to grow through most of our lives: our self-esteem.
The paper, recently published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, found that people's self-esteem actually peaks at age 60. That's a delightfully uplifting revelation—it means that we'll spend the majority of our lives with our love for ourselves continuing to grow year after year. The study, which was actually a meta-analysis of 331 different studies looking at data from a total of 164,868 participants, found people's confidence grew steadily (with a brief pause during the teen years, understandably so) until they reached about 60 years old. They then tended to spend the next 10 years riding that self-love high before seeing a slight decrease from ages 70 on.
For young people currently struggling with learning to see their own worth—and even for those who already value themselves highly—these findings offer hope that there's only upward and onward from here. Not only does aging bring us wisdom and emotional maturity from years of experience, but it also nurtures a unique, natural sense of self-love.
Part of the explanation might be that, as you get older, a lot of the material concerns that absorb us in our younger years start to lose some of their weight. It becomes a lot easier to accept yourself for who you are when you no longer have to bend over backward to conform to societal expectations of beauty, performance, success, and other such things. We can think of people who push past 100 years old to further understand this change in mindset, says gynecologist Christine Northrup, M.D.
"Healthy centenarians all share the same characteristics," Dr. Northrup wrote on mindbodygreen. "They are future-oriented and are rebels who have very often been black sheep all of their lives—surviving and thriving despite the same losses and challenges that everyone on the planet also goes through. Healthy centenarians do not identify with their wounds or with what society (or their families) expect them to do or be 'at their age.'"
So rejoice as the years go by: They likely will only get better, and so will your sense of self.
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