Mental kindness – and unleashing the inner child

I wanted to write a long and thoughtful article on looking after your mind all the time, not just when Mental Health Awareness Week rolls around.

But, quite honestly, I’ve not been able to find the words. I started procrastinating and that led me into beating myself up about it. The teeny tiny internal critic appeared and took a pop at me for being (in her words) a bit useless. What do you mean you can’t find the words. Write, you fool! That’s what you DO.

Funny really. Not funny ha ha, just a bit ludicrous especially since the theme for mental health awareness week is kindness to yourself and others.

For once I managed to stop myself from getting into a tizz. Instead, I’m going to tell you a little story.

Right now, I’m sat in my garden. The sky is forget-me-not blue and every so often starlings land on the grass in front of me, stare curiously and fly off again.

If you’re a psychology geek like me you may know about a theory developed by Eric Berne in the 1950s called transactional analysis. It’s used a lot for personal development training or in therapy.

Broadly speaking, the theory goes that each person has three ego-states: parent, adult and child.

Each reflects an entire system of thought, feeling and behaviour and are the three major parts which make us who we are.

Typically the parent is the past and is concerned with what we learnt from parents and/or other important/authoritative figures. This can be supportive (‘you’re ace!’) or critical (‘you’re rubbish!’)

The adult is the ‘right here, right now’ person; pretty rational, balanced, reasoned and logical. It’s not unhealthily influenced by emotions and is where we want to be most the time. I like to think it’s us at our best.

The child, with its roots in the past, is a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our childhood. It can be carefree (‘weeeee!’) or reckless (‘I’m sure I’ll be fine NOT to look both ways before crossing this very busy road’).

Our mind ‘flips’ between these different states and the adult often ends up mediating between the grown-up and the kid. Often it is able to juggle both and reach sensible conclusions but sometimes the adult can feel like the piggy-in-the-middle. But we can change how we respond or learn to recognise the patterns.

When I started attacking myself earlier my ego was in negative parental mode. Adult stepped in and decided to make a cup of tea and come out here, into the garden with the starlings and sunshine, and write to you.

Sometimes the kindest thing you can do is let the happy child in you out to play; unleash your curious, carefree self and let it soar.

I did this just this week. Here’s how it went. 

Adult me: I really fancy a run. I’ll plan a nice trail run on a new route. Now, where’s that map…
Parent me: Make sure you take water, your phone and a snack. Just in case.
(Gets to destination, starts running)
Child me: ‘ooo it looks interesting over there! Let’s go that way instead!’
Parent me: Well you’ve got your phone, water and snacks on you, yes? Oh, and your map? Excellent. 
Child me: *waits
Adult me: *Agrees with parent and with child. Gives in to child*
Child me: ‘This is brill! OMG LOOK AT THAT VIEW, WOW. I’m so happy we did this! Take a photo! And another! And another! Big downhill! Weeeee!’

And so the best thing you can do this Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – and all the days and weeks in-between – is be kind to yourself first.

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I'm a writer, journalist and communications officer based in the South West of England. I write about wellbeing, the outdoors and life in a rural playground.

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