“Bye now. Mind yourself,” is a phrase commonly used by Irish people and one I both hear and say almost daily. I wonder how much we really hear the last part of that sentence.
We are taught from a young age how to ‘mind’ ourselves, in the sense of how to take care of our day-to-day needs. We learn how to feed and dress ourselves, how to look out for danger, how to ask for help if we need it. If we were lucky it was deemed acceptable to make certain demands as children and teenagers.
All this in preparation for the adult world, when suddenly we become the minders of others. Then we ‘settle down’ and tend to become carers for other people through work, parenting, then sometimes for our own parents as they get older. At the flick of a switch we find ourselves on the opposite side of the fence, going from having needs and being encouraged to express them, to being told to “put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11); to grow up and get on with it. We are not taught that self-care extends throughout the whole of one’s lifetime. That there is no age where you do not need to ‘mind yourself’.
Minding ourselves at a deeper level requires being mindful of our Selves; in order to be able to express our needs we must be aware of them. It sounds obvious but it is amazing how oblivious we can become to our deepest, truest Self and its needs, particularly if for some reason they have not been met in our early years. Perhaps our true self is creative, is sensitive, gets a little overwhelmed, needs lots of hugs, needs to be in nature, needs to be with people, needs lots of space. Maybe these things were seen as unacceptable in a world that values toughness, self-reliance, overworking and material achievement; DOING rather than BEING, GIVING rather than RECEIVING.
Some people learn early on that asking for what they need is ignored, or even punished. It may not have been possible for caregivers to provide what they needed, whether that was emotional or material. How do we deal with this? We simply stop asking. Without realising it we gradually stop listening to our real self. It is just too painful. We become the person who doesn’t acknowledge their own needs because that is actually easier.
The problem is that that our true self and our deepest needs don’t just go away but often find ways of expressing themselves in ways which are ultimately quite unhealthy. We can feel unhappy and conflicted because we are not ‘minding’ our true self. We are not being who we are. Many years ago I met a man who wanted to be a musician, He had the talent, he said, but was told he would be rejected by his family unless he got a ‘steady’ job in a bank like his father. He silenced that inner musician for many years until he developed depression in his 50’s, as his unhappiness could no longer be contained or denied. Others can become resentful and angry which eventually spills out and affects their health and relationships.
When a child’s needs for security, love and acceptance are not met, they automatically think that it is their fault. This is like saying “You are not important” and is damaging to their self esteem. They often become ‘people pleasers’ or ‘rescuers’ because minding other people was what was acceptable and made them feel valued, rather than minding themselves. Spending our time minding others can be rewarding, but it can also make us exhausted and resentful if we do not look after ourselves at the same time. Sometimes our worst enemy is part of us; a part that has developed a very unhealthy core belief; that in order to be loved and valued, we must mind others at our own expense.
Much of the work of therapy is uncovering the false beliefs we have developed about ourselves and recognising what we really need and want. We can learn to express these needs appropriately and find healthy ways of meeting them. We find that when we are happier and feel ‘minded’, we are healthier and more able to create healthy relationships. When we are supported we are able to mind others in a far more sustainable and healthy way.