From the beginning, psychoanalytic developmental theories generally ended with adolescence, and paid scant attention to the age beyond mid-life. A modern psychoanalytical developmental psychology of the entire life span draws a more differentiated picture of the aging process.
Developmental conflicts cannot be regarded as fixed in the early phases of life. They are re-experienced and reprocessed in the context of later stages of development. Under the pressure of undeniably waning time, the basic human condition becomes more focussed in old age.
The sharpening of the antithetical conflict between development and aging, between life and death, and finally, between wish and reality, is inevitable, and develops along a temporal continuum. The following article examines aging through the lens of psychoanalysis, with its understanding of psychodynamics and conflict.
Developmental processes are examined with special focus on narcissism and the experience of time. The question of wether it is even possible to maintain, let alone develop healthy narcissism in old age is addressed. Further development of the personality is required despite the undeniable impairment and loss of facilities.
Processes like the transformation of narcissism and the reconstruction of one´s own inner history acquire special meaning. The viability of the older person consists of the paradoxical task of accepting the fading of time, facing a future which is increasingly restricted, and simultaneously developing a representation of future which is individually attainable and has meaning. Technical aspects of the treatment of elderly people are addressed, and finally, essential aspects of the theory are illustrated with a short case vignette.