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What is Emotional Health?


 







ARTICLES ON THIS PAGE (7)
*Why Emotional Health?
*What is Emotional Health?
*The Definition of Emotional Health
*The Anchors of Emotional Health
*The Emerging Focus on Emotional Health
*The Essential Principle of Emotional Health
*The Aim of EmotionalHealthGuide.com






Why Emotional Health?

 


For 12 years, from 1993, I was a very successful diversity consultant and facilitator, advising all kinds of organisations in the UK - from huge companies like British Telecom, with 100,000 staff, and the Royal Navy, to small minnows like Coulsdon School - to encourage greater diversity and cultural understanding in the workplace.

Being a pioneer in the field, it was easy for me to make a difference in corporate Britain by promoting effective and inclusive personnel management as a business priority which impacted positively on the bottom line. I must have trained hundreds of staff across Britain during those years, primarily on the concept of diversity and appreciating its benefits and pitfalls.

Through our magazine, New IMPACT, we raised awareness of diversity, a relatively new import from America, and I also introduced the British Diversity Awards to recognise and reward good corporate practice. In that public way, winners could be useful champions to promote good management even further. I thoroughly enjoyed what I did, and undertook a five year research stint into the topic, which led to the first definitive book on diversity in the UK Managing the Diversity Maze.

Throughout those years, though many people were very comfortable with difference and could understand the need to be tolerant, a growing number really felt threatened and this affected the personal perception of their lives. I found myself fielding questions, that appeared to relate to diversity, from very fearful, insecure people who worried about the effect of a multicultural society on what they held dear and how such cultural issues affected them personally. They wondered why they had to change to accommodate anyone else who was different when it was their country, especially when they did not share the immigrants values; they fretted about losing their traditions and history, blamed 'foreigners' for everything, and complained of even losing their rights.

Many of them came across as racist and intolerant – and were accused as such by others – despite their denials to the contrary and their deep ignorance of other cultures. However, I felt they were reasonable concerns cloaked under the label of diversity. But I pondered frequently on what caused the main difference between those two groups of people: the ones who were clearly comfortable with difference, and those who were fearful of it.



A Eureka! Moment
Then it hit me in 2002, with my own marriage break-up, during one of those Eureka moments I seem to have often. I discovered that every one of us, without exception, desired four main things to complete our life and find happiness. Each of us wishes to be significant (hence the obsession with celebrities), appreciated, valued and included, what I called my SAVI Self-Enrichment concept. The degree to which we desire each item depends on what we place as priority in our life.

For example, a minority ethnic member, feeling excluded from mainsteam action, would value being included most, while an ambitious executive would yearn to be significant. A housewife or carer, toiling away unnoticed, is likely to put being appreciated and valued as tops in their needs. The answer was immediately stark and clear: the main difference between the two groups was one of emotional wellbeing - the quality of their life and their feeling of comfort with it.

Those who felt good about their life, who felt successful, wanted and valued in their relationships, who were dating successfully too and felt confident in themselves, had no time to fret and worry about others. They felt at peace with their world and did not see others as a threat. They did not seek scapegoats because they felt more responsible about their lives. They enjoyed being empowered to decide their own future and could understand the personal need for self-fulfilment, regardless of culture, creed, gender or race.

Others not so fortunate, who lived alone, in closed monocultural communities, who were isolated from diversity, who were not advancing in their jobs, who had a lot of hurt and disappointment in their lives through failed relationships, perceived things rather differently. They genuinely did not know how to interact with others effectively to get the necessary boost and reinforcement to their emotional wellbeing. The end result is that they felt limited in their aspirations, victim-like in their interactions with potential partners and afraid for the progression of their careers. This encouraged them to see anyone different, younger or older, male or female, etc., as a real threat; appearing as 'racist', 'ageist' or 'sexist', especially when that was perhaps not their intention.




Emotional Health of Minority Ethnic Communities
For minority communities who had emigrated to Britain, the insecure ones among them displayed a different kind of reaction in the new country. Low in emotional empowerment and value, they deliberately clung to the past, to the cherished 'home' they left behind long after it had lost its meaning. Many tend to be stagnant in their ambitions, fearful in their thoughts and fossilised in their actions, seeking scapegoats at every turn to compensate for their lack of self-belief and opportunities to prove themselves. Having a sense of continuing frustration, yet not sure how to deal with it, they gradually found it easier to look towards another utopia, to see it as the answer, even when it is alien to them and is merely just a dream.

Thus the place they left decades ago, like Bangladesh, Africa, Jamaica or India, is still 'home' even forty years afterwards. This view stops them facing their new reality, keeping them exposed as very obvious, vulnerable minorities, forever on the periphery in their new country, while they abdicate responsibility for their future and blame the past (like slavery) for any present predicament. The notion of a home far away also harms their children's present and future. As their parents are always telling them how they will be 'going home' at some time, and how this society is not suitable for them, it implants a constant reminder of instability and impermanence and is one of the biggest causes of insecurity and underachievement among minority children.

After all, if their parents are going 'home' sometime in the never never, why should they bother to work here? Why bother with making real friends? Why buckle down to school work if you are going to be uprooted suddenly to 'go home'? And why mix with others who are 'inferior' to you? Sadly, 15 or 20 years down the line, when the parents are still in Britain clinging to their outdated memory of 'home', the children would have completely lost theirs through apathy and alienation. In the meantime, the 'home' they fondly hang on to has changed beyond recognition. Trapped in time and fossilised in their brain, the cherished perfect past is a far cry from the actual reality: one which is a vibrant, moving form of constantly changing mores, that would be almost as alien to them as to anyone else.


Lack of emotional health priority
Both groups of fearful, insecure people adopt different coping mechanisms in the absence of good emotional health. Our society makes provisions for improving physical health and mental health, but the most important part of that wellbeing triangle, emotional health, is completely ignored. One is usually expected to cope with with a relationship breakdown - an essential aspect of our lives - at any time, while carrying on with our work as if nothing has happened.

Yet, every crisis affects our perception of ourselves and when it involves rejection, it strikes at the heart of our esteem and robs us of our value. We would have been feeling very crappy, and incapacitated, with things falling apart around us. Only robots can ignore the fallout, long or short term, of a relationship crisis or loss of a loved one. Those two items cause the greatest distress for us but often lack the attention they require from others.

Emotional health and empowerment are thus at the heart of our existence and diversity management. The way we feel emotionally can attract or repel diseases. If we feel vibrant, happy and alive, we are more likely to remain healthy than someone steeped in unhappiness, depression, victimhood and regret. It is a simple equation. When we feel good, nurtured and valued, and we love and appreciate ourselves, we seldom feel threatened because we find it easier to empathise with others and their situation. It gives us the confidence to get out of our comfort zones, to experiment with the unknown and to share our lives and perspectives with others.

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What is Emotional Health?


Emotional health is tied up with self esteem and a key definition of self esteem comes from Nathaniel Branden, as quoted in the online Wikipedia:

According to Branden, self-esteem is the sum of self-confidence (a feeling of personal capacity) and self-respect (a feeling of personal worth). It exists as a consequence of the implicit judgement that every person does about, on one side, his/her ability to face life's challenges, that is, to understand and solve problems, and, on the other side, his right to achieve happiness or, in other words, to respect and defend his own interests and needs.

Notice how the definition, though written in 1987, still excludes women in its language! As a definition, it is also inadequate and leaves a huge gap for the reader. What this definition fails to tell us is what lies at the root of self esteem. Why is it low or high at any given time? Yes, it might be connected to 'implicit judgement' but why? What lies at the heart of those aspects? In fact, all past research on self esteem have tended to emphasise the behaviours associated with it, instead of the root causes of it because it was devoid of emotional factors.

In my opinion, Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs come closest to what I accept about self esteem and the basic needs of life, but it is still defining indicative behaviour rather than WHY people behave that way. And in another quote from Wikipedia:

"Many early theories suggested that self-esteem is a basic human need or motivation."

I have to challenge those theories as incorrect.

Self esteem is a basic human, but it is a need to be VALUED. Motivation is not its primary focus. Once one is valued and appreciated, everything else follows, including motivation and ambition.


Early Neglect of Emotional health
Psychology has always been dominated by white males ever since it's inception in the 19th century. It means it has carried a legacy of exclusiveness for white male culture and expectations in the West, while ignoring women and black minorities, except where it comes to labelling them as mentally ill, inferior or seeking to confirm something negative and clinical about them. Moreover, black people, unlike their white counterparts, have not been scientifically studied to any degree, perhaps through fear of any racial accusations.

For example, one subject that seems to be taboo, yet continually hangs around like an elephant in the room, is the clear fact that blacks age more slowly than whites. Perhaps it is the melanin in our skin which prevents the ravages of time from making their mark too early. But compare any minority ethnic member living in the West, over 40 with a white person, and the difference is often very noticeable and significant.

Is it just genes? Is it outlook and attitude? Or is it down to emotional health and wellbeing? How people FEEL about themselves and put those feelings in action? Perhaps if more minorities were asked to participated in research we could throw some light on the ageing process.

One could say that psychologists have not dabbled in feelings too much because they really cannot be measured accurately, or even scientifically, because they change so often, literally from minute to minute! How does one measure something so fluid and changeable? Most important, how does one actually measure feelings, when they can be so spontaneous and regarded as ‘unreliable’, but very powerful in their consequences: like someone committing a crime of passion on the spur of the moment, or a group of teenagers, unplanned, kicking a pensioner to death just because they are fired up by each other?

Emotions cannot really be measured in the accepted scientific milieu, but they are real enough and, worst of all, they dictate the quality of our lives, whether we actually repress them or express them.




The Definition of Emotional Health

 


Emotional health does not need to resort to inadequate psychological explanations, because it has its own definition, which is this:

Emotional health is the way we FEEL at any given time. It is influenced by thoughts and beliefs, according to the quality of our treatment and interactions with others, which then decide self esteem and personal confidence

This definition stems from four basic factors embedded in the individual’s emotional health:

a. Significance

b. Appreciation

c. Value

d. Inclusion

(what I call SAVI, for short).

Every human being in the world, unknowingly, or consciously, strives for those four elements in their lives but in different priorities.

For example, a new singer, hungry for recognition, would be seeking significance and fame. Performing for others to hear him in a significant way would be the greatest desire for him/her (hence the current proliferation of 'celebrities'), whereas members of a minority group in a majority society would be primarily seeking to be included and valued, not to be rejected for their difference.

Again, an ambitious business professional might wish to advance to the top of their career tree for their sense of significance and value, while someone who prefers being at home looking after the family might just need to be appreciated to feel valued. The degree of SAVI we possess then dictates three crucial aspects (states) of our lives: self-esteem, a feeling of belonging and personal achievement.

For example, a lack of appreciation will affect our confidence and self esteem; feeling insignificant and undervalued will affect our sense of achievement, and, not surprisingly, feeling excluded and alienated affects our sense of belonging and inclusion the most. We are likely to feel unwanted and invisible in those instances.



Highly Emotional Situations
A more concrete example is that of an injured soldier returning home from active duty, wounded and disorientated, with his life as he knows it having changed forever. He might have his wounds sorted adequately, his limbs replaced and his mental/psychological trauma addressed. But what of his emotional concerns like separation from his family (belonging)?; anxieties about what kind of person he is now and how that will translate to continued work (achievement)?; whether a new potential partner will value him to the same extent as before, or whether he can even make love to her with the same enthusiasm (self esteem/confidence)?

In short, his chief anxieties will be dictated by his THOUGHTS about his ability to get on with his life to the same degree of significance and appreciation he enjoyed before, and it his thoughts that will keep him depressed or confident, no matter the quality of the other physical or clinical treatment he's receiving. No amount of reassurance or medication will change him, if his thoughts and perception suggest otherwise. One just cannot replace a hug with tablets. Yet these are often the crucial areas that are not explored because medical staff themselves are not equipped to deal with those pesky emotional thoughts!


Emotional Needs Not Addressed
Again, someone could be seeing the doctor regularly about a physical illness, yet it could be something emotional happening in their life which is exacerbating that illness, like being betrayed or rejected in a relationship. Everyone hates being rejected. It affects their need to be valued and to belong. Imagine how one might feel having a job interview the night after one learns of a betrayal and feels even too numb to talk about it! The effect would be catastrophic emotionally, especially on self esteem. Yet no allowance is made for such situations.

The primary drivers of emotional health are our thought processes. Change a person's thoughts and you change his/her state, no matter how she is being treated externally. Low self esteem will endure only as long as the root cause is not addressed and the thoughts remain negative, just as how high self esteem will be continuous so long as the SAVI factors are fuelling it. If we wish to find its cause and to remedy it, look at the degree of SAVI we each possess and the quality of our thoughts surrounding them. Self-esteem does have a connection with parental interaction and other relationships, but precisely why?

That's the question psychology is inadequate to answer because it's not just about the structure or form of those relationships, or the dysfunction within them, but what a person NEEDS (SAVI) from his interactions that he is not getting and how she FEELS about herself which is not being reinforced. Of course, every individual's needs will be different depending on what matters to him/her most in life.

And my definition of self esteem?

"Self esteem is an overpowering feeling, of either high self worth or inadequacy, based on personal thoughts, beliefs and perception, which is usually reinforced by social interaction with others. Self esteem dictates the level of confidence (perceived capabilities) and the self respect (perceived worth) one would normally have.






The Anchors of Emotional Health


Underpinning those three crucial states (self-esteem, a feeling of belonging and personal achievement) are three different roots. We get our sense of belonging from our family and relationships, self-esteem comes from love of ourselves and the appreciation of others, combined with our own self belief, while self-confidence is developed through individual achievements (in jobs, careers and interaction with others).

Our emotional health is thus attached to concentric 'anchors' (five of them) which stabilise us throughout our journey of life and reinforce those states. When the anchors are loose, detached entirely or dysfunctional, that's when we start feeling crappy.

a. The first anchor is the self, how we feel about us, whether we like our bodies/identity or not.

b. That would have been shaped by the interactions with the next anchor - our parents, in particular - and close relatives.

c. The third anchor relates to close friends, and loved ones in relationships.

d. The fourth anchor is our workplace/careers or life purpose.

e. The final anchor are our chosen groups and associations in the wider society.

It stands to reason that if any of those key anchors are faulty in any way (like bad parental relationship, losing one's job, unable to find a job, having a break-up, or not belonging to a particular group which matters) our emotional health will be impaired in a major way until we have remedied the problem. Worst of all, if the first anchor (the self) is distorted or dysfunctional (for example, through self-hate,living in denial, or acute disillusion), everything else will be affected because our perception will change too.

So no amount of medication can cure the disillusion with, or detachment from, our anchors, or the emotional feelings of loss, insignificance and being undervalued, until the person's root causes are assessed and his/her thought processes are changed.



Personal Trauma
That is a key point I learned in my own case after suffering deep teenage trauma. For many years I told myself how crap I was, I hated to look at myself in the mirror and was constantly depressed. I tried to commit suicide three times, got some counselling and my own share of medication over the years. I was even referred to a psychiatric unit after my second suicide attempt (in my thirties), but stayed there only three days because they thought I was too intelligent and cogent!!

Yet, after 35 years of suffering, I dramatically changed my emotional health 20 years ago, only when I changed my thoughts from negative to positive and changed my perception of myself as a worthy human being. Not when someone else tried to change it for me by external means, but purely through my own efforts and a few good books. The change was very gradual but quite amazing. From thinking only negative thoughts now I can only think positively, and have never been happier in myself. In fact, from hating myself, I now love myself so much, I regard myself as the cake and any potential lover as the icing. And, as we all know, icing is not mandatory! I really find it difficult to be depressed or unhappy.

We all have down days, yes, because that comes with living, but the main difference is that mine are very few now, and actually last no more than a few hours each time, at the most! Quite a remarkable turn round from my awful life before of daily discontentment, low esteem and self loathing. And it was done entirely without counselling or medication. That's what opened my eyes to the root causes of our problems: the way we are treated, which leads to the quality of thoughts we have.

Altogether, our emotional health can change only through being addressed at the root, through new self evaluation of the key reasons for those feelings, followed by a different mindset and, above all, through a change in personal perception. Perception is our only reality, and that is formed by culture, gender, race, beliefs and fears. Thus if the mindset and perception remain the same, any individual change will be merely temporary or superficial. Worse still, after a while, it is likely to reinforce what is already there.






The Emerging Focus on Emotional Health

 


Look up 'emotional health' and it is a very tiny spot in the vast field of psychology. When I first checked the title on Google in September 2006, there were only six entries on the huge Internet: three offered a definition of emotional health and none of them agreed with each other; one was an article on emotional health that tried to address the topic most inadequately, and two offered bare bones advice on how to improve their idea of emotional health.

It was clear that, as a proper subject in its own right, it was not understood and grossly underdeveloped, a floating, unwanted adjunct of psychology, and little else. Perhaps emotions and feelings didn't sit well with male psychologists (one kept a stiff upper lip with any crisis in life repressing one's emotions!), hence there was hardly anything written about it.

Having tons of ideas relating to emotional health careering around in my head, like a latter day Einstein speaking to a sceptical world about something they might prefer to ignore, I decided to make it my own project and develop it appreciably.

So far, I have written over 2000 interconnected articles on the topic which reflect five key influences:
a. My own, and friends', personal experiences;
b. The answers to quizzes and surveys I created on my websites; c. Tons of emails I get from unhappy people every week;
d. 'Thank-you' emails for helping them (of which I was blissfully unaware!);
e. Hundreds of people I have personally communicated with, especially readers I used to test my theories.

With those catalysts as background, thoughts and ideas have gushed out of me like a dam, since January 2007, which have given me an amazing Internet presence (I now have over one million readers each year - and rising relentlessly!). But, as I seemed to have worked backward in my craft and most people have no idea what emotional health is and how it is formulated, I have decided to state its origins as I see it. I like to compare my approach and the psychological one to music: classic and modern. The older psychologists are the classical ones with an outdated way of looking at human behaviour. Feelings have to be a key part of the modern approach which I represent.

While appreciating the beauty and usefulness of the old, I also acknowledge the beauty of emotional health, its relevance and place in the scheme of life. Emotional health fills in the missing blanks which pure psychology is unable to do, steeped as it is in the thoughts of the old masters and the negative aspects of psychology. The only past psychologists who even come near to what emotional health involves is (1) Carl Jung who said: "To be appreciated is one of the strongest basic human need" and the amazing Carl Rogers, my all time model. The latter day guru on my topic is Martin Seligman who calls it Positive Psychology, but his American approach differs markedly in some areas from my British one.


Reasons for the neglect of Emotional Health
Psychology has always been dominated by white males ever since it's inception in the 19th century. It means it has carried a legacy of exclusiveness for white male culture and expectations in the West, while ignoring women and black minorities, except where it comes to labelling them as mentally ill, inferior or seeking to confirm something negative and clinical about them. Moreover, black people, unlike their white counterparts, have not been scientifically studied to any degree, perhaps through fear of any racial accusations.

For example, one subject that seems to be taboo, yet continually hangs around like an elephant in the room, is the clear fact that blacks age more slowly than whites. Perhaps it is the melanin in our skin which prevents the ravages of time from making their mark too early. But compare any minority ethnic member living in the West, over 40 with a white person, and the difference is often very noticeable and significant.

Is it just genes? Is it outlook and attitude? Or is it down to emotional health and wellbeing? How people FEEL about themselves and put those feelings in action? Perhaps if more minorities were asked to participated in research we could throw some light on the ageing process.

One could say that psychologists have not dabbled in feelings too much because they really cannot be measured accurately, or even scientifically, because they change so often, literally from minute to minute! How does one measure something so fluid and changeable? Most important, how does one actually measure feelings, when they can be so spontaneous and regarded as ‘unreliabe’, but very powerful in their consequences: like someone committing a crime of passion on the spur of the moment, or a group of teenagers, unplanned, kicking a pensioner to death just because they are fired up by each other?

Emotions cannot really be measured in the accepted scientific milieu, but they are real enough and, worst of all, they dictate the quality of our lives, whether we actually repress them or express them.







The Essential Principle of Emotional Health

 


The main principle of emotional health is that it gradually erodes, or remains continually disturbed when any aspect of a person's life is unfulfilled. For example, if we have problems with the family anchor, we become confused and our sense of belonging goes. We are likely to feel rejected, angry and resentful.

Problems with work and our sense of worth and achievement takes a nosedive. We begin to re-evaluate and underrate ourselves, to feel a sense of frustration and a lack of recognition and significance. Any doubts with self-esteem and our self belief goes too. Most important, for ethnic minority groups who are not shown the respect they deserve in social interactions, they are likely to feel a strong sense of exclusion which will decide their own usefulness, while pushing them to the periphery of their society.

Once any of that happens, we start to lose confidence in who we are, in our capacity to perform at our best, to be loving and caring individuals (we would have stopped loving ourselves too), we lose our sense of belonging and become deflected from whom we aspire to be. In fact, with an impaired emotional health, we tend to retreat from interaction in some form, or we become unduly aggressive to be noticed, until things improve or revert to more positive states.

Thus social interaction influences our emotional health to a very high degree, a factor which is not acknowledged enough in psychology. Any of those anchors out of sync and we will feel at sea and dislodged in some way. Hence why self love, self perception and connection with others play such a powerful part in how we feel. Ipso facto, isolation from others, poor reinforcement and being excluded - the quality of our social connections - will dictate our emotional health.

Being detached from our anchors is like a detachment from the self because we lose the comfortable feeling we have about ourselves which is then replaced by feelings of insecurity, anxiety and doubt. Detachment from anchors usually lead to self rejection and low esteem, especially for people already feeling vulnerable and lacking in confidence. Most of all, our perception will be distorted as we come to see aspects of our world in a more negative or sceptical manner, and manipulate those perceptions to suit our situation and to protect our vulnerability. Sadly, this only serves to keep us continually anxious, unhappy and isolated.






The Aim of EmotionalHealthGuide.com

 


My interest in the subject is:
a. An attempt to explain emotional health in simple terms;
b. To raise awareness of its importance;
c. To show how emotional health is nurtured or impaired;
d. Most important, to empower others through the Internet to take charge of their own destiny and improve their quality of life simply by changing their thoughts, emotions and perceptions.

Just by doing that, which is not exactly easy, I know, most people can cope with their own states, boost their emotional health appreciably and empower themselves in renewed ways. Every suggestion is my own work as, seemingly the world's authority on the subject, there's no one for me to quote to support my theories, except the general public who have obviously benefited from my pronouncements and have commented often enough to show their gratitude and agreement!! My theories are based on a massive number of real life experiences, thanks to the Internet, not laboratory experiments.

There are lots of well known psychologists of all ilk, but certainly no other 'emotional health' expert/guru to compare myself with. Yes, it is rather a lonely place being the first of anything, but an exciting place to be, too, because one is providing new insights and laying the foundation for others to build on! So this is really just the beginning!


The Importance of Maintaining Good Emotional Health
To summarise, with the quality of our life being dictated by feelings, if someone is unhappy in their personal life, feeling excluded and invisible, whatever is going on at work is going to suffer in a major way, hence why many people who are hurting emotionally vote with their feet in absenteeism.

The key question is: How can you appreciate someone else, value someone else, celebrate their difference and diversity if your own personal life is falling apart, if you feel emotionally caustic or barren, culturally ignorant of others and a victim of life?

That's a very difficult thing to do in those negative circumstances. It's like asking someone to give away what they haven't got! Charity has to start from within us.

Again, one cannot appreciate something if one feels vulnerable and undervalued. Only when we feel emotionally at peace with ourselves, enjoying greater self-confidence, empowerment and high esteem, do we feel inclined to spread that joy outwards and value others, to really appreciate the strengths of living in a diverse community and sharing what we have.

This free guide's main aim is to help readers to have greater insight into themselves and their emotions, to gradually appreciate:

1 Why they might feel the way they do (especially if they have low confidence and self esteem;

2. Why they behave behave the way they do, and how they can change that behaviour to the kind they prefer, without feeling mentally impaired;

3. How to be more positive in their approach and more successful in their endeavours;

4. How to appreciate themselves and others, and to recognise when they need help;

5. How to have more productive, enjoyable and empowering interactions.

The guide does not have answers to readers' personal problems because everyone is different. However, it can help individuals to come to their own solutions through greater understanding of specific effects and situations which currently influence their lives.

Please note: In keeping with my love of simplicity, this guide has been deliberately written in a non-academic style to engage the general public fully in the concept and debate.


 

(Photo images used on EmotionalHealthGuide.com courtesy of dreamstime free photos).