Saturday 25 May 2019

Psychologist Allison Keating: If you want to thrive as an adult, ask yourself these two questions

Adulthood is tough. As we try to divide ourselves between our partner, children, parents, siblings, friends and colleagues, it is no wonder we can feel overwhelmed, often neglecting the most important relationship of all - the one we have with ourselves. Here, psychologist Allison Keating invites you to audit and improve your seven key relationships

Allison Keating. Photo: Conor McCabe
Allison Keating. Photo: Conor McCabe

I love the word thrive, it's one that I use often with clients as we work on moving from surviving to thriving, an experience I feel too many adults relate to. To thrive is to grow, to feel strong and be honest with yourself about how things are and what needs to change.

There's a strength in changing what is not working. There's a strength in letting go, forging anew and taking risks to be your authentic self. There's a strength doing this when perhaps those around you will not like the 'new' you. There's a strength in recognising that change is hard, as is life, but staying in the familiar, albeit 'uncomfortable, comfortable' stunts growth, builds resentment, anger, and regret as staleness and stalemates set in.

We never grow out of having growing pains. Stagnation is the antithesis of growth. The idea for my book The Secret Lives of Adults was born out of hearing again and again an exasperated 'I thought I'd have it all figured out by now'. This adult fallacy created a destructive myth and blocked many trying new things. Chastising themselves that they 'should' know, as if adulthood had magical powers. Fearing failure enough to not try something new with themselves and others. I saw how these limiting beliefs and often unconscious schemas trapped and tripped people up as similar patterns played out over the course of their lives.

I hope you feel you have a plan and feel inspired to action with the three pillars we explored through our 'Thrive' series, to bring you to the next point. A point where you want to 'grow' within yourself and how you are in all your relationships. A point where you say 'enough' to having the same arguments or to feeling the same way with yourself and with others. I genuinely like the opportunity of a new year - you may find yourself being reflective after Christmas, which can be fractious for many. Time together can highlight any gaps or cracks across your relationship board. I know behavioural change is hard; however, staying the same is worse and yes, it is so much easier to do.

Ask yourself these two life-changing questions: How do I want to grow in 2019? What do I want to change? I know it is recommended that you don't change too much at any one time. I'm really glad this is the last in the series as the others had to be in place first. With that fuel in your tank you can now turn your attention to yourself and to who and how you are in all your relationships.

If you imagine yourself as a Russian doll, we see the outer you, the one everyone sees. Inside of you, there are many more inner selves, all separate and yet deeply connected. They are connected by the strings of attachment, the dynamics and beliefs you learned from home, some you know of, many, that you aren't aware of.

Blind-spots in how we perceive situations, how we interpret how someone is being with us, will be influenced by our past experiences.

Looking at the seven core relationships can help you feel more comfortable with who you really are, and to allow you to make changes that can radically change the quality and experience you have in your relationships.

The book is filled with questions for you to answer. This is a core tenet of my work as a psychologist as the behavioural drive comes from you.

1 Me, myself and I

Starting with the most important relationship, the one you have with yourself. Looking at your public, private and unconscious self (where all our beliefs come from), helping you to identify what triggers you and knowing how to change, if it is even just your reaction.

Diary - answer the following questions:

◊ 'Who am I?'

◊ Name three things that make you 'you'

◊ How do you think someone would describe

the 'public' you?

◊ What would they not know or be surprised

about the 'private' you?

◊ What triggers you? Eg criticism,

judgment, not feeling good enough?

2 Mum & Dad

If I asked what your attachment style is, would you know? Guess what, if you don't you aren't alone and yet it impacts every thought, reaction and interaction that you have. The core of understanding yourself is to become cognisant of the attachment style you learned and putting in the work to earn an attachment style that will help you to thrive and grow in every relationship.

Your early experiences from birth to three years old created a baseline for how you view the world. This may be that you feel 'secure' and trust people in a healthy way. Or you feel anxious and ambivalent when people get close and you feel conflicted or you may think that you are independent, keeping people at an emotional arms' length when perhaps you are trying to avoid intimacy. Why would anyone avoid intimacy? If you have been let down or hurt before, a protective wall or defence mechanism can skip on permanent repeat if left unchallenged - simply because you don't want to get hurt again. However, it leaves a lack of real connection in your relationships.

3 Siblings

Birth order, favouritism and why do you still revert to being a kid when you go home, especially at Christmas? The most influential and longest relationship you will have in your life and yet ask yourself, are you close, distant or do you just about tolerate your siblings? How do you have a grown-up relationship with your siblings? Siblinghood is intense - no punches spared type of intense - trust me, pulling your sister's hair just won't work now. Do you know how to connect as adult siblings now? 'The conversation' exercise works very well here.

Diary - answer the following questions:

◊ Do you feel your birth order impacted how

you were treated in your family?

◊ Was there a favourite?

◊ What role do you think you play(ed) in your

family?

◊ Ask your siblings the same question

◊ What do you want to change in your sibling relationship?

◊ How are you going to do this?

4 Romance

Taking your attachment style and upgrading to learning new ways to respond, grow and future-proof your relationship.

Diary - answer the following questions:

◊ What are your strengths in your relationship?

◊ Ask your partner the same and answer what their strengths are. It could be a great sense of humour, kind, thoughtful etc.

◊ How do you fight? What topics do you get gridlocked upon?

◊ Do you recognise the norms and expectations you have carried from your original family?

◊ What 'terms and conditions' do you bring to the relationship?

◊ How does your attachment style influence that?

5 Parenthood

The highest highs to the lowest lows, no cliché will prepare you for the reality that is being a parent. Something I advocate is minding the emotional health of the parents and their relationship which goes full circle to creating your children's 101 in 'how to be in relationships'. Can you see how each thread of self is deeply connected and comes full circle?

Diary - answer the following questions:

◊ What does it mean to you to be a parent?

◊ What are your hopes and dreams for you, your partner and your children?

◊ List how do your children or partner trigger you?

◊ Where is this coming from?

◊ What did you learn about being a parent from your mother and your father?

◊ How do you want your children to describe you, if they were given only three words?

◊ How do you mind yourself?

◊ Write and commit to the changes you want to bring about.

6 Friends

Often a neglected relationship as all your other selves are just too busy! The psychological importance of friendship not only improves your immune system but is a key psychological buffer.

Diary - answer the following questions:

◊ What type of friend are you?

◊ What type of friend do you want to be?

◊ Did you feel popular in school?

◊ Has this impacted how you interact with people?

◊ How do you take rejection or feeling left out?

◊ Write and make your friendship changes for this year. Book in, those playdates for grown-ups.

7 Work, work, work

'Working 9-5' might now sound as old as the song. Hands up if you 'carry' your office home in your pocket or bag? Blurred lines need to be re-established as burnout and exhaustion are the cost you pay and for the self that you bring home.

Diary - answer the following questions:

◊ Have you ever considered the psychological influence doing your job has upon you?

◊ Think of the doctor or nurse in A&E, the guard, the solicitor, the teacher

◊ Does your job stress, bore or excite you?

◊ If money wasn't an issue, what job would you do?

◊ How do you manage difficult colleagues?

◊ Does your job bring meaning and/or purpose to your life?

◊ What steps can you make this year, day in, day out to bring about the changes you want?

When you put focus into changing your identified psychological trip wires, like that 'comment' from your mum, that 'feedback' from your boss, that 'look' from your partner or your kids doing exactly what you asked them not to do, you can make changes.

Take a deep breath - 2019 can be a game-changer for you. Stop, reflect and take time for you this year. The diary in my book will help you navigate through your adult life as one thing is certain - as soon as you have it figured out, life will throw you another curveball. The difference will be you can choose how you want to respond. There is never a good time to make hard changes. Explore, get to know yourself and put self-care into real action.

The Secret Lives of Adults in bookstores now

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