This post continues what I wrote about in In my previous post – that we lack a clear, relevant description of what psychological health is, in today’s world; and, how you can build it. Here, I describe more about what a psychologically health life looks like – what it’s criteria are — in your relationships, your work, and in your role as a “future ancestor.”
To begin with, I want to emphasize that psychological health isn’t the same as the absence of mental or emotional disorders. For example, you can’t say that a happy person is someone who’s not depressed. Many people have consulted me who aren’t depressed by clinical criteria, but they aren’t happy with their work, relationships or their overall lives, either.
Moreover, self-awareness isn’t equivalent to health. It’s a necessary underpinning, but it’s not enough. Therapists often help their patients deepen self-awareness about the roots of their conflicts, only to wonder why they remain the same. Psychiatrist Richard Friedman described that dilemma in a recent New York Times article in which he illustrated the puzzlement practitioners experience when they are confronted with the limitation of awareness, alone.
To the extent there’s a conventional view of psychologically health at all, it’s mostly equated with good life-management and coping skills. That is, managing stress in your work and personal life, and coping with — if not resolving — whatever emotional conflicts you brought with you into adulthood.
A less visible view of psychological health also exists: Successful adaptation to and embracing of the dominant values, behavior and attitudes of the society or milieu you’re a part of. The problem here is that such socially-conditioned norms have also embodied greed, self-absorption, domination, destructiveness, and divisiveness. They’ve been equated with “success” in adult life.
The upshot is that you can be well-adapted to dominant attitudes and behavior that are, themselves, psychologically unhealthy. So you may be “well-adjusted” to an unhealthy life.
We’ve been witnessing the fruits of that form of “health” throughout our society in recent years, in the form of Continue reading