12 months ago

The Secret Lives of Adults


#MindOurselves, is a campaign that struck a real chord in me. We read so much about wellbeing and have all the buzzwords, but the real question is ‘how’ do you put it into practice and ‘when’? As a psychologist, if I had a hashtag for the word I hear most often from the couch it would be #Overwhelmed.

The problem, as I see it, is the gap between #MindOurselves and feeling #Overwhelmed, if this gap keeps widening it’s only a matter of time before we feel like we are constantly overstretched. So what is going on here, with a plethora of sound and often excellent advice circulating, why do so many adults feel pulled and dragged out of to the point of exhaustion?

Firstly, it’s the gobsmacking realisation that being an adult isn’t all you thought it was cracked up to be. The illusion of thinking you would have it all figured out by now is smashed into smithereens as life throws curve balls your way that you never saw coming – and always at the very worst times. Financial concerns, illness, the uncertainty of life, understanding yourself and why certain things and people trigger you. Such as that ‘helpful comment’ from your mother, that look from your boss, the burn of rejection by a friend to your partner …

As you ran out of childhood with wild abandon, you didn’t and couldn’t know that you were leaving behind a high degree of the certainty provided by a good childhood. Bills, what bills? You were fed, minded and provided for, with the burden of responsibility and all those decisions left upon the mantle of the adult in your life’s shoulders.

The name for my book popped into my head one day as The Secret Lives of Adults with the image of a Russian doll, a metaphor I envisioned as clients sat in front of me. One person, with so many different roles within, all separate, yet connected.

The privilege of my work is that I am allowed to share the sacred space so few get to see; I am granted permission to see the private self. The private self is the one that doubts itself, worries, agonises over decisions and thoughts, and fears how and what others think about them. It comes back to the fears we all ask ‘am I good enough’/‘am I doing enough’/‘I feel so behind’/‘everyone else seems so calm, in control and together’. When people feel like a failure or a mess they feel terrified that anyone could see the real them and worry that they will be ‘found out’. This serves to make the gap between the public and private self stretch even further. I wrote this book to let people know that we all have worries, no one is perfect, even if it looks that way on the outside. It’s the adult life manual you never got, to be able to understand yourself more and to mind yourself in a practical and sustainable way.

As I am solution focused I will only ask of clients what can be realistically achieved. The whole reason people feel overwhelmed is because there is so little time. If they thought of themselves as a pie there is often very little left over for themselves after they have looked after core relationships as a daughter/son, sibling, partner, parent, friend, employee. I left the most important relationship until last as, in terms of minding ourselves, which is the core theme and value of my work and the book, I know only too well that theory and real life can struggle to hit the juggle that is adulthood where striving for the ethereal balance may feel out of reach for many, but minding yourself could be a small but integral part to your day to day life.

Looking at yourself and seeing yourself as a trilogy – the public, private and unconscious self. The last part being perhaps the most important and yet difficult to understand as it drives many of your core beliefs about who you are and how you expect to be treated by others in life. This hidden part of yourself was formed by the age of three and impacts each and every relationship. This is why so much about being an adult is a secret from even ourselves. Gaining real insight is the way to make real traction and change in your life. In terms of minding yourself you need to know who you are first. Drawing up your own psychological contract about the rules and roles you follow. How to say no, when to take that chance, how to change that pattern that isn’t working for you anymore. These are the questions I ask as a psychologist, the most important thing is that they are answered by you and for you. It is a journey of practical self-discovery with the realistic pragmatism about how life is, as opposed to how we think it should be and it finishes with a psychological toolbox to put the ‘how’ and ‘when’ into attainable action.

‘The Secret Lives of Adults: Your Seven Key Relationships and how to make them work’ by Allison Keating is published by Gill Books, €16.99.

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