Facing my mortality at the barbers: an existential view

I don’t like going to the barbers. Maybe it’s because I am a counsellor, but I don't like small talk; I prefer deep conversations. However, there is a time and place for deep conversations, and it is not when someone is holding a pair of sharp objects close to your head!

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Now, in my forties, going to the barbers takes on a whole different challenge - an existential threat. Sitting in the barber's chair is one of the rare times I am forced to hold my own gaze.  

Consider, what is the experience like of looking at your own reflection?

For me, it is an uncomfortable experience. I want to look away but I can’t. Being confronted by my own reflection makes me squirm in my seat. So tired, so haggard looking. I wonder where all the time went. When did I get so old?

In therapy, age and life stage are important factors and shouldn’t be underestimated. Each life stage can bring its own challenges and can cause stress. For example, big birthday anniversaries can trigger anxieties about health and death. Similarly, age can be a really defining characteristic of our identity.  

In my private practice, I meet clients who are experiencing phase of life problems and are finding it difficult to adjust to the accountability and interdependence of new life circumstances. For example, entering the midlife is a transitional period of life between young adulthood and old age.

Moreover, transitions involve loss. For example, loss of youth, loss of identity etc. I think having a better understanding of grief theory (Worden, 1991) can be really helpful for clients, it can help them understand a little more about themselves and what they are feeling.  

Consider the following questions:

  • What describes this point in your life?
  • How old/young do you feel?
  • Would you describe yourself as age-conscious?  
  • In what ways have you changed over the last five, or ten years?

I watch my listless dead grey hair fall onto the cape and then onto the floor. As if, the Grim Reaper himself was standing over me.  

Adjusting to new life circumstances can involve connecting in a new way to yourself (personal identity) or with the world (social identity). As the old adage goes, “You are only as old as you feel.” There is a difference between chronological age and subjective age.

In truth, I don't know how many haircuts I have left. With my male friends, it is a topic of conversation. Where before we competed at pool and darts, we now compete about who has the best hairline. (I am already using caffeine shampoo in a desperate attempt to deny life. I know I should give up the ghost.)  

Acceptance plays an adaptive role in well-being and can conserve energy and reduce stress. Acceptance doesn't mean we have to like it, but when we accept we can let go of struggling against the realities of life. I am learning to live with less hair because nothing much can be done about it.

Embrace the age you are, or better still go to Turkey!  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N19
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Written by Ben Cooper
London N19

Ben Cooper is an integrative counsellor and coach working in private practice as well as in an educational setting. Alongside his counselling work, he also runs his online personal development business Ben Cooper Learning (www.bencooperlearning.thinkific.com) which offers courses on counselling related subjects such as life transitions.

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