Podcast Episode 59 Accepting ourselves and being more kind to ourselves are the themes in this episode. Anna Pinkerton from Kindness Incorporated talks about her personal and professional journeys and how she has combined them to help her daughter build the life she wants.
Anna shares not only the journey she has been on with her daughter but also how that has crossed over into her professional life. She shares her thoughts around why we aren’t kind enough to ourselves and the long term impact that can have on our lives.
Anna also suggests ways we can help our children learn to be more kind to themselves as well as how and why we need to all start with genuinely liking ourselves.
Listening to Anna might just help you analyze how you feel about yourself and whether you need to change the message you tell yourself.Show Full Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 59 of the Journey Skills podcast. This episode challenged me in some ways because there were things said that I found quite uncomfortable, but in a good way if that makes any sense at all. I’m talking to Anna Pinkerton, who’s firstly a parent but also runs an organization called Kindness Incorporated which is all about being more kind to yourself. And this may resonate with some people as I don’t think it’s uncommon for us to wonder if we’re doing enough for our children. I know I question myself pretty much every day if there’s more I could be doing to give my daughter a better chance of a happy, fulfilled and key to it all, an independent life. And I’m sure I’m not the only one doing that.
Anna talks about her own journey with her daughter and how she took a very different approach to things to help her daughter. But really, a lot of what Anna is talking about is how we all need to accept ourselves a lot more and be more kind to ourselves. We also talk about how this approach can help our young people and why it’s important to think about how we talk to ourselves.
DEBRA: Today I’m talking to Anna Pinkerton. Anna is a parent of a young person with additional needs. She’s also the founder of an organization called Kindness Incorporated. Welcome, Anna.
ANNA: Thank you.
DEBRA: Can you tell me about yourself and your journey?
ANNA: I’m a mum. I have a girl with Asperger’s and synesthesia. She was diagnosed at just before 8 and I self-employed, I run my own business and we’ve been through quite a journey. So, Kindness Incorporated is a training organization for sharing ideas around burnout and breakdown, preferably in prevention. My mission particularly this year is to really start really raising awareness around burnout and what does that for an individual and families. That was somewhat a marriage of my professional and personal life. That’s where that came from.
DEBRA: Can you talk about your journey with your daughter and some of the situations you’ve been through?
ANNA: I think when Nell was little, I think she was about 2, we used to feel like there was something a bit different about her, but you just adapt as a parent. And so, it was just like there was some oddities and I didn’t think really think anything of it because I just adapted along with who she was. It wasn’t until she went to school, school was a trauma from the day she started, basically. She didn’t understand why she was at school, she thought she was there to teach and not learn. And so, it was very difficult. Staff didn’t like her because she couldn’t compute that she was a pupil. I mean, this is one of the oddities. And looking back, it’s quite funny but she would literally say to the teacher like “Move over, it’s my turn to take the class” kind of thing. You know, she was 5 years old! That’s really where the battle began and it’s a really tough one because now, I look back and I do wish I’ve never ever sent her to school. Because it’s been a chronically traumatizing situation for her and for the family, as a whole, to be honest. She’s now nearly sixteen and this is her second year out of school, so she had most of the year at nine out and all of this year. So, it’s been tough.
DEBRA: Is that because the school system doesn’t work for her?
ANNA: Definitely a square peg in a round hole and the more they’ve tried to force her to fit, the more out of shape she became, and she became really quite unwell last year and had depression and suicidal thoughts which is not uncommon with people on the autistic spectrum. And unfortunately, I think it’s because it’s the school environment that’s difficult; it’s the noise, it’s the amount of people there are to relate to and not being able to do things at your own pace. Just overwhelming on so many levels for her. Yes, so she just became unwell trying to fit.
DEBRA: So, given that she’s currently not in full-time education, how have you helped her develop the skills that she needs?
ANNA: Her issues are quite subtle on the whole but the plan for this year has been to get her to a place where she wants to live and could look forward. So, it became quite extreme actually and that has been my priority. I don’t care about the GCSEs, I don’t care about the A Levels, I don’t care about university, I don’t care about that linear journey because that just felt like more of the same. So, I had to work really hard to meet her where she was, not where the world thought she ought to be. Because that for me, just made everything so uncomfortable. It was so difficult being a parent because you just surrounded by people telling you, “Isn’t she doing her GCSE’s? Isn’t she at school?” You know, people would literally always just to greet her with “So what are you doing?”
I realized that if we do that to young people “What are you doing?” you’re really not even interested in who they are. So, that is massive. I’m not saying it was easy because it wasn’t. I spent most days, there was something difficult to overcome but I really got focused on who is she and for her to learn to like who she is or love who she is but not like everything. Like we all have that journey, I guess, in life. You don’t have to like everything about yourself to love yourself and look after yourself. So that became our priority, really. And of late, she’s now back into education. She’s studying at home; she’s doing an arts award where they get a mentor to do independent learning and she’s a phenomenal artist. She’s got incredible talent. So, what I tried to do is move the lens because culturally our lens is on the education system, so I moved it to where her strengths and desires are really. And coming out the depression, those became more obvious, but we had to start there so she would start to feel I want to be here. It’s been a long journey.
DEBRA: What were some of the tactics then that you used with her?
ANNA: In a way, it was me against the world. Because like I said, the common story, the narrative is there’s ‘one size fits all’ so I was also getting messages that “You’re not doing for your daughter what everybody else is doing. You’re not managing it okay” So, I just started to think, Okay. So, what I’ve got to do, in a way my job is, is to undo what the world’s doing to her. So, I decided, what I would do is on purpose say to her the exact opposite. Like education’s lifelong. So, it’s not over when you’re 18. It’s not over when you’re 21 if you’ve gone to uni. It’s lifelong. I said “People are meaning well when they ask what you’re doing but I know that must be hurting you inside because you can’t meet what the expectation is. And I just want you to know that that’s okay by me. I don’t mind about any of that. I want you to learn to love who you are, want to be here and feel that there’s a future.”
So, on purpose started to negate the other story because I was part of that story as well. I’m fed that we’re all fed that. We’re all at the mercy of what the kind of societal narrative is. So, I just keep doing that. It doesn’t matter what everybody else is doing, what matters is that you feel better that has to be the priority. So, I thought right, “Anna, you’ve got to look at what the messages are and give an alternative” which is, it sounds really easy but actually you just keep picking up what the messages were. And also, how is she interpreting it. So, I think, because of what I do as a job, I have a kind of full range of feelings person but I’m also quite optimistic which is a really naff her off. Because I’m generally quite optimistic or else I would say, “Right, it’s difficult. Let’s find a way” whereas I have to understand that she might not feel that way. So, I couldn’t do trite things like “Oh, just think positively.” It would drive her mad if I would do that kind of things. It’s kind of rein myself in, meet her where she was at not where I want her to be. And you must know that you’re facing a child who’s in agony, one way or another. And you just want to rescue them from that. But I had to let her go through it in a way to have to build the strength and I tell you, she’s phenomenal actually. What she’s brought herself through.
DEBRA: So, she’s coming through the other side. You mentioned there about bringing your professional skills in, what are some of the things that you do within, I guess, Kindness Incorporated that parents might find useful as well? Some advice you might be able to offer in situations like these you are trying to go against what everyone else’s is telling you what you should be doing?
ANNA: The core of the work with Kindness Incorporated and this goes for individuals and companies is to build a companionable relationship with yourself. So, the principle is dealing with your core self so that you can’t fall out with yourself again and you can’t let yourself down. So, I mean I guess that principle is something that I’ve had to teach myself but also, share with my kids. And look, there’s no point beating yourself up about stuff. Being companionable to your core self and then you’ve got an inner strength. You can’t have an inner strength if you have an internally brutal relationship with yourself where you beat yourself up, you riddle with guilt and shame. Those things tend to paralyze the human being, but the good news is the exact opposite is true. If you build a companionable relationship with yourself where you’ve come alongside yourself and go “Look, you what, you’re not proud of that or you’re not keen on that thing you’ve done or said or not done” but you learn to reflect on it and understand. So, it’s a growing, evolving relationship with yourself where you’re gaining knowledge, but the companionability is that it’s got the element of kindness. So, almost like you’re treating yourself as you would treat somebody else so that you get over stuff. If you brutalize yourself from the inside out, you actually entrench the actual negativity that you’re trying to overcome.
DEBRA: What are some of the tactics that you can use to learn to love yourself which I think our children need to do as well because they get a lot of negativity around them and confidence is generally in an issue with young with additional needs. What are some of the tactics you can use to really sort of learn to love yourself by that?
ANNA: Well it’s really a process because, as I said before, we’re all at the mercy of the pervasive culture and particularly in the UK, we love to demean ourselves and speak in a mean and derogatory manner to ourselves and actually, if that’s done comedically, its actually quite funny but the result of it is really a culture that permeates our young people and it’s hard for them to feel good. So, the process that I do with adults and younger people is for them to understand the principle of the work, really which is if you continue to brutalize yourself, you will lack confidence, you will have impostor syndrome, you will have self-sabotage. Because all of those things are just names for the same thing which is a brutal relationship with yourself.
So, the start of the process is to make a vow to yourself from this day forward, “I will not curse myself, beat myself up, shroud myself in guilt.” So, you have to make the decision because the neural pathways in the brain are so entrenched and it’s very, very hard to just say it and flick a switch. You’ve got to train yourself or retrain yourself. Because we’re all born companionable with ourselves. We loved ourselves at the age of two, didn’t we? We’re like, “Look at me! Look at me!” and then, by the age of 20, we are like, “What am I like, can’t bare myself”. So, we’re born with it but if we get taught another way. So, in a way, it’s retraining the brain towards companionability for self and not inner brutality. So, it starts with a decision. And that can take a good while because people are like, “Well, I don’t know what to do if I’m not swearing at myself. I’m used to calling myself names. I’m used to be shrouded in guilt because I don’t know how to move beyond that.” So yes, it starts there.
People can practice this, but it takes practice like training for a marathon; takes time and practice for the body to get into optimum shape and it’s the same with the brain. And that’s all it is. It’s just habituated for us to brutalize ourselves and the work that I do with people in organizations is like “Retrain yourselves, it’s a much better life.”
DEBRA: Does it help to have people around you that are of a similar mindset?
ANNA: It’s hard to have people that are of similar mindset but what you can do is you can have people help you with the vow. So, if you say, “Right, okay yeah, actually I do notice probably a hundred times a day I call myself nasty names. I swear in my own head and I can’t be okay with myself.” If you tell your partner, people around you, “This is the work that I’m doing.”, they can help you spot when it comes up. And it’s really interesting, the adults, the business owners that I work with, they can see it, other people. Once they’ve done the work, they say it’s amazing how many people brutalize themselves and it’s a waste of energy! It’s quite fascinating actually, working with business owners because every single one of them that’s done this work come through it and they’ve all said they gained 30% more energy back by just stopping brutalizing themselves. You think of that on a big scale, it’s massive, isn’t it?
DEBRA: So, in terms of our young people, our role as a parent or as a carer is to be saying that to them?
ANNA: Yes, I think it’s really useful when things are habituated, we don’t know we’re doing it, right? And it’s the stuff that we’re not conscious of that’s got control of us, mostly. So, if you see a young person or you hear a young person talking to themselves saying they’re rubbish, they’re useless. You can hear young people saying that all the time and you can help them just by gently saying, “You don’t need to or mean to do that.” And we all do it to some extent but actually, when that happens, you’re training your brain to fall out with yourself. And if you’re not your best buddy, then you’re your own worst enemy. It really ought to be taught in schools this principle because, by the time you spewed out of school at 18 or 21, it’s beautifully created by then.
DEBRA: Why do you think it happens then? As you said, you start off with at the age of 2 and you love yourself, is it just generally society pushing us that way or are we self-destructive as human beings?
ANNA: I’ve really thought about this over the last several years and I think what’s happened is we’ve kind of de-humanized ourselves. It comes back to a very deep shift in the human condition. We’re all born with a full range of feelings but unless we’re obviously neurologically not wired up that way but if we’re meant to have a full range of feelings by the time, we come out of childhood we’re usually only happy with 2 or 3. We have some favorites, okay? Now what that means is we come into adulthood with not enough of the tool kit that we need. So, if we got 10 basic emotions but we’re only operating on 3 that we’re keen on, then we’re somewhat prevented from having a full emotional palette and I think this is allied to people really turning away from any emotion that is difficult.
So, the most painful human emotion is grief because it is loss and when you’ve lost something that you can’t get back, it hurts. And that doesn’t matter what it is; it can be the loss of a person, it can be a loss of a job, it can be a loss of just about anything that creates that deep feeling of grief. So, we tend to move away from just experiencing grief to process it and get through it. And I was thinking for the last few years how would that serve human beings? And I think what it is in a way we’ve adapted or mutated to not appear weak in front of people, emotionally. So, grief is not weak, but it does weaken the human being.
So, we tuck that away because you know it’s okay to be happy, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be full of joy but to show weakness in grief, that’s what it’s all about, I think. So, years ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, we didn’t want to show physical weakness and now we don’t want to show the so-called emotional weakness. And I think we’ve got confused it’s not that we are weak, but we’re weakened by the level of emotion. So, over the many, many, many years (this is my belief anyway) we trained ourselves to not show it and therefore not have it. But of course, we all do have it but then we just tuck it way and put a facade on. That’s my view.
DEBRA: You mentioned there about someone who’s born neurologically different, do you think then that they struggle with accessing some emotions if they end up getting to a certain age and they don’t have access to them? I guess I’m wondering whether or not we could kind of help them find those emotions?
ANNA: It’s hard to say because I suppose everybody’s completely unique and it’s hard to say whether somebody’s feeling it. What you might find, or I’ve certainly found is that the person might be having the feeling, but they struggle to label it. So, during childhood, the parents’ job is to help them understand what the feeling is so they can see interpret it and have it for a start, process it and move through it. Because all emotions are transient. People who are not wired up the same (whatever that means) because it’s unique for everybody. They just know they’re having it and they struggle to label it and that’s one of the things that makes it difficult for them to fit in. So that’s why some people can be a bundle of emotions but they’re not going to come out and just say, “Oh, I’m really jealous about that” or “I’m really sad about that”. Instead, it comes out in behavior.
DEBRA: Given that to some people that would be listening to the podcast, taking their young person out of education, probably would be something that they would find very challenging, (I think I would find it very challenging) what advice would you give someone who’s going through that situation, maybe that’s not the decision they want to make, are there other things that they can be doing on a daily basis to help them find themselves? Because I think, what we’ve been talking about is really about finding yourself, isn’t it? Finding a place where you like yourself and where you feel comfortable yourself, but I think a lot of young people with additional needs (in my opinion) struggle to do that. I certainly would think my daughter is in that situation because of what goes on around her in the world. I’ll be honest, I’d like to keep her in education at the moment because I think she gets other things from it and she’s finding it something that she enjoys but there are those moments for her where she feels (and I can see it) that she isn’t a good person. What are some of the tips that you can offer?
ANNA: It’s so interesting because I think developmentally for teens particularly, I think there is that stage where you are in comparison with others. So, it’s not a competitive thing. It comes across as competitive, but it really isn’t. It’s like that person developmentally is looking around them to see where they fit, to see where they recognize themselves and other people, and that’s a normal thing that we all do. We are reflected back. We understand ourselves by being reflected back by other people. So, this is why people when they live on their own, struggle to keep their confidence and if they don’t have a big social circle or an intimate social circle, they’re like Who am I? I’m losing track because you’re not reflected back.
Now, if you’ve got additional needs and you’re trying to manage school, it depends on how that person is being reflected back by the other people. That’s incredibly important. So, no matter how that person is brought up to feel as good as they can about themselves if all they’re getting is negativity and insults, bullying, whatever… that is incredibly hard to withstand. The way that I try to manage my daughter’s not fitting into the big picture is I just keep saying to her “You know what? There are millions of ways of having a life”. Because you hear people go “What you do with your life?” and you do nothing with your life and they’re like “Oh my gosh!”. So really, the message to her was “You’ve got no life”.
Now that is an incredibly crushing thing to say to a developing teenager where it’s all about growing an identity, learning about yourself, who you are and who you’re not. So, I just say ‘There are millions of ways of having a life and you’re having one of those millions of ways”. And also, I just say “People on the other side of the world that don’t have a school, that don’t go to school. Countries do school in different ways. They do education in different ways. Life in different ways. That’s how I’ve tried to manage it. I’d like to think it’s worked but I couldn’t be sure yet.
DEBRA: Anna, thank you very much for your time.
ANNA: Very welcome, thanks for having me.
DEBRA; Key takeaways? For me, I need to stop beating myself up about anything and everything. I need to change the narrative and help my daughter do the same.
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