Licensed Professional Counselor
Reflections on Good Mental Health: Answers to the Question "Am I Normal?"
In our discussion, we contemplate the basic questions of mental health: what is normalcy, what are dysfunctional behaviors (abnormal psychology), and what is impairment. We explore when we should "tough it out" and when should we seek professional help. How do I know if I am experiencing the appropriate emotional response to a given event? What is the true nature of compassion and how do I develop self-compassion?
Our feelings and emotions are uniquely ours. If fact, our feelings have no place in reality - there is no tangible way for anyone to feel what you are feeling. No one else knows what you are feeling unless you tell them. They are uniquely our own experiences. Therefore, we cannot pass judgment on our feelings. we cannot label our emotions are either 'good' or 'bad'; rather, describe them as 'energizing' or 'de-energizing'. The impact of this reframing is significant for our 'normalcy' and our self-esteem.
When do I seek counseling?
For a full functioning human, we must be available to experience the full range of emotions in order to have a complete human experience. The inability to feel a full range of emotions is either the core of dysfunction and impairment or a sign of organic damage and is one of four ways we impair ourselves and impact our relationships and our self-esteem.
Avoidance of feeling and processing of appropriate emotions is the second impairment. Avoiding is different from denial in that denial is a distortion of the stimuli or event causing the emotion. In avoidant behaviors, you are aware of the stimuli or event, but you refuse to feel the intensity of your emotions. This can take the form of "keeping busy", chemical medicating, and isolating from others. Avoidance often cannot last for long periods due to the amount of energy avoiding behaviors consume.
Denial is a common method of impairment. As discussed, denial is targeted toward the realities that generate the strong emotional reactions. Denial takes the form of minimizing the events and later, denying the denial. Denial can last a lifetime and if left untreated, can distort a person's ability to recognize true reality. Decisions and actions are taken based on unrealistic distortions affecting belief systems, reasoning, and the logical processes.
The fourth impairment that requires assistance is called inappropriate response, or an incongruence of emotions to the precipitating events. This is an odd behavior that stands out for all to see, such as the death of someone close, yet the person remaining is laughing. This type of emotional impairment is usually very short in duration and tends to be a coping skill for overwhelming emotional responses.
Seek counseling if you are suffering from low self-esteem. This state of self-worthlessness is destructive in virtually every situation. You give away personal power through low self-esteem. Boundaries are ineffective as you begin to focus on finding esteem from any source, which is called other-esteem. Your quality of relationships and quality of life suffer until you can reclaim your power.
Good mental health is not feeling good all of the time; it is feeling appropriate to the situations we are facing.
Emotions are neither “good” nor “bad”. For us to be healthy human beings, we must experience the full range of human emotions. Therefore, our emotions exist on a Continuum that will either energize us or deplete our energy. We set ourselves up to struggle with our emotions when we judge our emotions as “good” or “bad”. We learned to judge our emotions as a moral struggle (good verses bad) from our caregivers in our developmental years. For most of us, our upbringing taught us through observation that our parents and caregivers reacted "favorably" when we laughed with joy or "unfavorably" when we expressed anger and frustration. These parental reactions, later reinforced by our social and spiritual-moral development, developed the foundations of boundary formation and appropriate social behaviors. As we grew older, we further reinforced the moralist good verses bad emotions through mainstream television, advertising, and social norms.
The mental health field offers a fascinating example reinforcing the concepts of "bad emotions". Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and sleeping medications dominate advertising budgets across the airwaves and in magazines promising relief from “bad” emotions. These judgments serve as self-fulfilling prophecies of "My emotions are bad; therefore, I there is something wrong with me."When we judge our emotions as “good” or “bad”, we create a situation where our self-view is affected. Should we carry a diagnosis of depression, we tend to think less of ourselves and possibly judge ourselves harshly. In reality, depression is the appropriate response when we experience a loss, such as a death of someone close to us, a lost pet, or a material change in our jobs or income earnings. Remember that good mental health is about feeling appropriately for the situation you are experiencing. While no one strives to be depressed, it is nonetheless vital to experience depression at appropriate times.
CompassionA major expression of self-compassion is to evolve your beliefs (thinking) about emotions from that of judging to understanding. When you are experiencing any particular emotion, try not to judge what you are feelings as “good” or “bad”. Rather, try to understand what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. Using our previous example of depression, look for the reasons why you are depressed as opposed to judging your depression as “bad”. If, for example, you lost your job for whatever reason, it is appropriate for you to experience depression as well as anxiety, anger, and frustration. If you are experiencing depression (and anxiety, anger, and frustration) over losing your job, you are exhibiting good mental health.
The Feeling Wheel
The Feeling Wheel© is a useful tool to identify your immediate feelings or your emotional state. Identifying your feelings and emotions is an excellent way of analyzing your emotional skills.
The Continuum of Emotions
|© Copyright 2005 by Christopher Cobb. Permission only.|
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