“So, Doc. How will I know when I am done here?” the frequently asked million-dollar question goes.
I feel my body tighten, wondering if this patient is going to be one of “those.” One that wants to fire me before hiring me. One that wants some short-cut, clear path of checking-the-boxes-toward-his-or-her-mental-health stamp.
I get it. It is not always clear what we are striving for day after day, particularly when life is the journey and “arrival” is not only impossible, but also not the goal. Without clear-cut standards, growth seems hopelessly vague and even mystifying. After all, the development of a person can be subjective, invisible and very complex. For, we are always more than meets the eye.
That being said, it is helpful to ask the question as to begin the dialogue.
What are we aiming for in our emotional well-being and how are we faring? As a self-reflective check-up, I share with you the core capacities of mental health:
- Internal Peace and Harmony. You know, accept and have come to like who you are. You are rooted in a deep sense of security within yourself. You are also congruent – your insides match your outsides. Your masks are no longer useful to you. You are okay being and doing you, even when others disapprove. Your character is consistent and genuine. Authentic you has a place in the world.
- Emotional Literacy. You embrace your feelings as a natural and normal part of life. You realize that happiness is not the only feeling, nor life’s goal. You are able to savor pleasure and joy when they come your way while acknowledging and handling difficult emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them or denying their exist. Emotional health comes from being able to label, acknowledge and accept tough emotions, but also move forward from them without getting stuck.
- Commitment to Truth. You have a fundamental orientation toward discovering and living with what is real rather than false or ideal.
- Tolerance, Patience and Flexibility. Life is indeed complicated. It is inconsistent and unpredictable. Thus, if you have a limited number of tools in your toolbox, then you will live life ineffectively. You won’t have the internal resources to cope well emotionally. Emotionally-well people have an ability to adapt to all kinds of situations that life may throw at us. They are more like a grass reed than a tall oak. One rolls with it, the other snaps and breaks during a storm. You approach life with curiosity, openness and flexibility. You know when and how to have tough conversations and set boundaries, but you also know when to change a course of action or just let things go. Such tolerance gives you the capacity to embrace conflicting aspects of self, others and life all around.
- Self-Control. In other words, you have an established boundary practice. You know where you start and stop and you are aware of the same in others. You have the capacity to know and take responsibility for yourself.
- Love and Gratitude. Your outflow of kindness, compassion and empathy allows you to treat others well. You are rooted in gratitude from a place of abundance rather than deficit. You appreciate what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have.
- Peopled. Humans are natured in connection. Thus, emotionally-well folks exist in a nurturing, loving environment by which they can thrive. This means you have people in reciprocity. You give and you receive. You can depend on them and they you. You have a community of friends and family who have your best interest at heart. One where you feel safe to express how you feel and you feel respected and validated by those closest to you. You exchange warmth, appreciation and attention freely and you share in your pains and triumphs together.
- Meaning in Life. Leading a purposeful life is about having a passion, a mission or larger meaning to your life. This happens when you know your values and use your strengths to help something you believe in. Being part of something you connect with and care about is associated with fulfillment. Additionally, people with high levels of well-being tend to spend their money on experiences rather than possessions. Experiences can lead to shared experiences and bonding with people, which help you enjoy the beauty in the world and cultivate the positive emotions that come with new experiences.
- Moderation. Emotionally well-off people keep themselves in check. They regularly attend to and tweak the wholistic and essential pillars of their lives as to ensure attention, maintenance and growth. Not too much, not too little. Not too big, not too small. But balanced just right.
- Vitality. Mentally healthy people are alive. They are less afraid of the many parts of themselves. They are engaged, free of inhibition. They are ripe, full, present and contagious like an heirloom tomato screaming “pick me” from the summer fruit stand.
Okay, so, how’d you do? And more importantly, what are you gonna do about it?
Remember, no shame.
Just stay the course as to keep trending toward living a life with these core emotional capacities. You will feel better and do better in life. More satisfied, more content and more grounded in that healthy essence of you. The one that was there from the start and still exists – at the core of beautiful you.