Not long ago, I was sitting with a client who, shock of all shocks, didn’t want to be in therapy. He expressed whole-heartedly that, “Only people with mental illness need a therapist, but anyone with common sense can figure out their own problems.”
“So then, why are you here,” I asked?
“Because my wife and I aren’t getting along and she said if I didn’t come, she was done with this marriage,” he stated quite matter-of-factly.
I responded, “I guess you have a problem, then, don’t you?”
Truth be told, most of us think we are normal, healthy, and yes, right. Most of us would like to believe that we have a reasonable amount of intelligence with which to successfully navigate life and relationships.
Yet when I ask individuals what emotional health looks like, they look at me quizzically.
Few have an answer. Emotional health is something rarely discussed, almost universally assumed, and hardly ever dealt with effectively.
We teach physical health to our children in school. They understand about the importance of exercise and diet to our physical wellbeing. We teach spiritual health in church so that individuals can gain a greater understanding of Scripture and can grow in their relationship with God.
Where is the class that teaches emotional health? I never saw one when I was in high school. Apart from a general psychology course that taught the theories of Freud and Adler, where was there any mention of what emotionally healthy individuals do or don’t do?
Here are seven things that emotionally healthy people don’t do:
- They don’t make decisions based on their emotions. While they are able to acknowledge their emotions and face them, they have developed the habit of thinking through their emotions, a skill called “processing,” in order to understand their emotions, what they are, why they are feeling them, and what they need to do with their emotions in order to help them make the best decision possible. They thoughtfully respond to a situation instead of emotionally reacting to a situation. There’s a big difference.
- They don’t shame themselves. When they do blow it (as we all do,) instead of beating themselves over the head with shame and condemnation, they have learned how to be compassionate with themselves, offer forgiveness to themselves, so that they can move forward productively. Shame is never productive. When we shame ourselves, we can never forgive, we can never learn. Compassion allows us to let go of perfection, defensiveness, and hopelessness because it opens up the possibility of healing, learning, and growing. Compassion sees a future whereas shame sees only the moment.
- They don’t make the same mistakes repeatedly. The truth is we all make mistakes. Some people, no matter how well-intentioned, keep repeating the same mistakes time and again. When emotionally healthy people make mistakes, they are able to use their mistakes as learning opportunities. They try to understand the events that led to the mistake, the emotions that potentially motivated their decision. They assess how they could have done things differently then as well as how they might respond differently in the future.
- They don’t need other’s approval. Healthy individuals have developed their identity, they know who they are as well as what they believe. They have grappled to discover their passion and their purpose. They are driven from within. Therefore, they are not motivated or discouraged by other’s approval or criticism. They validate themselves. They encourage themselves. When they have down days, before they pick up the phone to call someone, they quiet themselves and speak words of kindness and truth instead.
- They don’t blame. Blame projects responsibility for our lives on someone else. Healthy individuals own responsibility for their lives and their decisions. Because their worth isn’t dependent on being right, they can own responsibility for their wounds, their words and their actions, understanding that owning responsibility is the first step toward healing.
- They never expect or rely on someone else to meet their needs. Instead of looking into the clouds for the answers to their problems, they look within, to themselves and God, to find an answer or solve a problem. Healthy individuals are able to experience temporary discomfort in order to reach a larger goal. They can delay gratification on the way toward achieving the goals they have set out to accomplish for themselves.
- They don’t pretend to be something or someone they are not. Healthy people are authentic people. They know their identity, their values and beliefs and they walk them out consistently. Their words and their actions match. They are individuals on whom you can count. When they give their word, you can trust they will follow through.
So, how many of these qualities can you identify in yourself?
The truth is, we all have struggled with these qualities at some point in our lives. We are all on our own lifelong emotional and spiritual journeys . Yet when we have no clear understanding of what emotional health is, we have nothing at which to aim.
The more we are able to understand emotional health, the more we will be empowered to cultivate these qualities into our lives and relationships.
Health feels good. Health leads to more health. Health brings peace!