Of all the health concerns our culture claims to be concerned about, it is perhaps our emotional health that is most severely neglected. (It’s not the same thing as mental health.)
We’re comfortable talking about our recurring headaches, as we don’t feel their presence makes a statement about us. They’re disassociated from who we believe ourselves to be. But we know our emotions are result of who and how we are, and in a desperate plight to preserve the sanctity of our self-idea, we hide. Ironically, that’s where the trouble comes in: it’s the parts of us we suppress and ignore are the parts that become silent, insidious, controlling monsters. (It’s referred to in psychology as “shadow selves.”)
Talking about how one gets from there to here, at the place of emotional health, is another topic altogether (and would require books worth of writing to fully flesh out) so in the meantime, I gathered the 10 elements of an emotionally healthy person. This hypothetical hybrid of positivity probably doesn’t exist, but these are, nonetheless, worth considering (and maybe striving for.)
1. Emotionally healthy people know how to listen to their pain.
Emotional stress and discomfort is a signal that there’s a better way, that something’s misaligned. It’s always directing us toward something better, more aligned with who we are and want to be. The only challenge is getting past whatever made us ignore it in the first place.
2. They know to observe thoughts objectively, and not identify with them.
You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. You are the being that observes, reacts, uses, generates and experiences those things. This is to say: you can’t control them, but they don’t control you. You choose what you think about. You choose what you allow to pass. (And when you can’t allow yourself to let things go, you’re trying to tell or show yourself something. Pay attention.)
3. They can see within them the things they dislike in others.
One more time for the people in the back: you love in others what you love in yourself. You hate in others what you cannot see in yourself. When you practice self-identifying every time you find yourself frustrated or inexplicably annoyed with someone or their behavior, you tap into an ultimate tool for growth, and the fastest route to creating a more peaceful existence for yourself. You’re no longer at the whim of other people’s behaviors, because ultimately, you were never angered by them… it always existed in you.
4. They’re able to differentiate loving something vs. loving the idea of it; to be conscious of why they desire something, not just that they desire it.
Ideas solve problems we make up in our heads. If we believe that we’re unworthy of love, we need the idea of a loving, doting partner who affirms how perfect we are to correct it. Without understanding that we want that love to fix something in us, we just think we desperately want love because we’re romantic, or because happy lives do not exist without it. But the people who are conscious of why they desire something are able to choose wants that are not based in solving a problem, but in something more genuine and healthy.
5. They know when it’s time to break up with a friend.
It’s often difficult to determine the line between ‘being committed to a relationship even when it isn’t sunshine and happiness,’ and ‘knowing when it’s time to step away from something that’s no longer a positive force in your life.’ Often we feel almost guilted into remaining close with people to whom we don’t actually feel obligation, and that is a recipe for emotional disaster. Emotionally healthy people can identify the people who are spiteful, jealous, or too wrapped in their own issues to not project them onto everybody else. Do these people need love and companionship too? Certainly. But sometimes walking away is the best way to do that. Most of the time, it’s the healthiest choice.
6. They live minimally, but realistically.
Emotionally healthy people know that no physical acquisition can shock them into feeling what they desire – not for more than a moment, anyway. So they forego the rat race and learn to be grounded in the simplicity of life. They want not and waste not, keep in their space only things that are meaningful or useful. They are mindful and intentional, grateful and wise with what they consume and keep.
7. They can be alone.
What you find in solitude is perspective. When you’re not in the presence of people with whom you must monitor your reactions and choose your sentences wisely, you can let yourself just be. It’s why we find it most profoundly relaxing, and why emotionally healthy people practice it often. When there’s nobody else around whom you must tailor your emotions, you can experience them fully.
8. They let themselves feel.
The core of every emotional issue is the belief that it’s not okay. It’s not the presence of it that’s harmful, it’s the resistance to it that ultimately screws us up. Emotionally healthy people know how to do one thing profoundly better than anybody else: let themselves feel anything and everything they’re going through. They know it won’t kill them. They know to set aside time to process. They know that contrary to the common belief, doing so is not a loss of control, but rather the route to being grounded and resolved enough to actually be fully present and centered… which is as “in control” as a human can be.
9. They do not attach to any one outcome being ‘good’ or ‘right.’
The moment you decide one outcome is the right outcome, you are also deciding that another outcome is the wrong one. Beyond this, some things work out the way we intend for them to, others don’t. This is a gift, too.
10. They see the value and purpose of each and every experience.
The point of anything is not what you get from having done it, it’s who you become from having gone through it. It’s all about growth, at the end of the day. The bad things grow you and the good things do too. (And in reality, ‘bad’ is only what you’re taught or come to believe isn’t ‘right.’) The point is: it’s not about how much you get right, it’s how much you get better, and every experience – the good, bad, terrible, wonderful, confusing, messy, great – does just that. In the words of Johanna de Silento, “the only way to fail is to abstain.”