5 Signs You Are Emotionally Healthy

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                         5 Signs You Are Emotionally Healthy

Mental health is a confusing term to describe psychological problems. The word, “mental” refers to the inner world of thinking, mental processes that occur in your brain. You are typically very aware of that part of your internal world. If you ask somebody what he or she is thinking about, they will tell you. Sometimes, they might say, “I don’t know” and really not know. They may get internally distracted from time to time, and not be able to remember what they were just thinking. Except for those moments when you can’t recall your thoughts, you are mostly aware of what you are thinking from moment to moment.

Mental health implies that people who are mentally healthy are in control of themselves and their thoughts. They act rationally and behave reasonably. If they act abnormally, they have a mental illness. This means that there is some disruption in how they use or direct their thought processes and act in strange and unusual ways. 

Mental illness requires abnormal thinking or acting. Schizophrenia is the classic example. It is a thought disorder. People with this mental health problem can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. What they remember or what they dream are as real as what is in front of them. With voices in their heads, these patients represent the epitome of the word, “crazy”.

While mental illness may apply to schizophrenia and other biological conditions like organic brain disorders or dementia, it does not work for mood disorders like depression and anxiety. These conditions will be misunderstood if you frame them as a thinking problem or mental illness. Seen from this perspective, people who suffer from depression are thinking wrong. You will believe that depressed people make things sadder than they really are. They make big deals out of nothing, and feel worse than they should. They bring it on themselves by being supersensitive.

Anxiety presents another example. People with high levels of anxiety are thought to suffer a mental illness. They act in abnormal ways that are considered “crazy”. People can obsess over events or “worry” to the point of driving others crazy. They might internally ruminate and repeat the same thought or thoughts over and over again. They might engage in rituals, like turning off the light 10 times, or arranging their shoes in the closet a certain way to ward off doom. These crazy behaviors are based on thinking in an abnormal way, only reinforcing the idea that mental illness stems from abnormal thinking that leads to abnormal behavior.

As a result of misunderstanding mental health, people have been incorrectly taught to link “going crazy” with “losing their mind”. Both terms become defined by losing control over thoughts and actions. By definition, if you are not thinking right, you may be going crazy and becoming mentally ill. If you become mentally ill, then you may do something terribly wrong to yourself or others. You lose control of yourself and can hurt others emotionally or physically, or worse case scenario, can even kill another human being.

Your Emotional World

This is most people’s idea of mental illness, an illness of the mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real truth is that you act to relieve emotional pressure, regardless of how you are thinking at the time. You seek to reduce anxiety and protect yourself from harm. You are driven to reduce overwhelming emotion. You are literally feeling beings that happen to think, not thinking beings that happen to feel. 

Your emotions are the most powerful force within you and determine what you do. Managing your emotions is what makes you emotionally healthy or unhealthy. Misunderstanding your emotions is what leads to behavior that people label “mental illness”. It is not an illness at all. 

Mental health is emotional health for the average person. Unlike your thoughts, your emotions are harder to recognize, even harder to understand, and even harder to manage. This entire struggle with emotion is normal and an everyday problem for the average person. There is nothing abnormal about the struggle with human emotion.

Emotions can be tricky. They can be triggered in the present and join with emotions from associated events in your past. This causes you to flood with emotion and be temporarily overwhelmed. You can feel strongly in a given moment, and not be able to tell if the emotion is consistent with the importance of an event. Are you over-reacting to what you see or reacting normally? It’s hard to make that call.

Emotions are also experienced in delay or become completely hidden from your experience. Most people suppress their emotions to avoid being overwhelmed. They under-react in the moment. Their real emotions surface as time passes. They then become aware after the fact that an event bothered them more than they may have realized in the moment. The delay in emotional processing can make life confusing and hard to decide what to do. Emotions make it hard to be human. 

Another feature that makes emotions slippery is that you can easily lose track of your own emotion. Others can sometimes see your emotions more clearly than you can see your own. These are the times when a person is completely unaware of how an event has emotionally affected them. They act as if they have no emotional reaction, despite a change in their behavior, mood, body language, tone, or physical reactions. They will deny the presence of emotion, even if their neck is flushing, their eyelids are twitching, their face changes or they cross their arms. Suppressed emotion impacts what you do, even if you don’t feel it. It will change how you think and act regardless of whether you feel the emotion or not.

Emotions and Relationships

To be emotionally healthy, you need to understand where emotions come from and what they mean. Emotions derive from instincts. They are biological sources of information about our survival instincts and/or our pack instincts. All human behavior is based on a survival instinct. You survive as pack animals. 

Your emotions tell us what is happening in your connections to the pack. They are contagious messengers that tell you when you are connected well (sympathy, compassion, love, joy etc.), when there is loss (sadness), when there is conflict (anger, fear, etc.) or when there is threat of rejection (guilt/shame). Without them, you would not be able to survive in the pack. 

Almost all people are born with the ability to feel. People call this trait, temperament. There is a wide spectrum for this genetic capacity. Artists, for example, are on one end of the spectrum. They “wear their emotions on their sleeves” and seek a medium to express their emotions. This gift is a double-edged sword as their emotions are difficult to control and can easily overwhelm them. They can struggle to balance their emotions and act impulsively. 

On the other end of the spectrum are people with temperaments who are less reactive. They roll through life with few emotional reactions. Nothing seems to bother them. They are “even tempered” and nothing seems to faze them. This too is a double-edged sword, as their relationships can seem superficial. They are seen by others as disconnected, and can often be accused of being distant and cold.

Signs of Emotional Health

Here are five signs to look for to determine your own emotional health:

Sign#1: You are emotionally aware

Emotional awareness is a pre-requisite for good relationships. Emotional awareness takes work. You must spend time tracking your behavior to identify the underlying emotions and validate what others see in you. This is why the quality of your relationships is the best measure of your emotional health.

Emotional awareness starts with the understanding that you have buried some of your natural reactions to survive the imperfections of your parents and family. As a result, all people practice some form of denial. You need to critically evaluate yourself to recognize your real self and your emotions. You must be willing to take on the task of self-evaluation, especially in those moments when your words and actions don’t match. 

Sign#2: You are emotionally honest

You must be honest with yourself to become emotionally aware. Honesty is not easy. It requires you to be vulnerable, feel out-of-control and admit your mistakes. You must learn to provide a heart-felt apology when you make a mistake. Heart-felt apologies contain contrition (sorrow) and reparation (rebuilding trust). This is different than a hollow apology to stop the person from being mad at you.

Sign#3: Your relationships are in balance

Relationships require a balance between your needs and the needs of others. While it is not a tit-for-tat give and take, there is a general scorecard that needs to be kept to define balance. Your emotions are your scorecard. When relationships get out of balance, you will feel angry and sad. The ability to recognize and use those reactions will restore the balance.

Sign#4: You see your parents as imperfect

Children idealize their parents. In adolescence, the young adult begins to see the imperfections in their family through comparisons to the families of their friends. The final adult task in this process is to be emotionally honest with your parents, reacting with love for what they give you, and reacting with healthy anger when they mistreat you. The ability to react honestly and openly is emotionally healthy. Making excuses for their reactions requires denial and emotional suppression leading to emotional distress.

Sign#5: You can love and hate the same person

Once you are able to be honest with your parents, you will be able to be emotionally aware of multiple emotions at the same time. Mad and sad are often experienced together and buffer each other. Mad prevents the sad from turning into “hurt”, while sad prevents mad from turning into rage. The emotionally healthy person is able to process both reactions simultaneously and act in a healthy way regardless of the level of pressure or stress.

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Dr. Stephen Van Schoyck is a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice in Bucks County, PA since 1984. For more information on his approach to emotional health, go to Dr. Van Schoyck’s web site, www.drvanschoyck.com, to read the articles based on his new book and enroll in his monthly newsletter.

This article was originally published at http://www.drvanschoyck.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.