Most of us have been to school, gotten jobs, lived our lives, had relationships and still know very little or nothing about how to be a mentally well-adjusted and balanced adult. Whether in school or within our families, very few us were taught a thing about it, and if we were, we were most likely misguided. So we wing the whole life thing and make mistake after mistake, with the end result of being unhappy and unable to figure out why or what to do about it.
How do we know life isn’t working? It shows in our relationships, our personal health and happiness, our moods, our ability to make a living, our energy level and more. If you aren’t relatively content or even thriving during good times, and able to process and steer yourself toward calmer waters when your life situation is in a downswing, then you probably need to spend some significant time and work on mind health.
When I think of mind (and mental) health, I think of a checklist of things and categories that when put together, equal mental health and balance. Look at the following list and ask yourself if you can check them off as things you have working well in your life right now, if not, don’t feel badly, these things are all achievable with practice and determination, and if you do it, it will change your life in the most wonderful ways. I know, because of I’ve done it myself:
- Self esteem. I feeling that you are inherently valuable, and that self-value comes from the fact that you exist as a human being; not from external sources such as who you know, what you do, what you achieve, what others think of you, how much money you have, how you look, etc. Includes awareness that humans are cut from the same cloth, and you are not better, or worse, than another.
- Self-confidence. An ability to step up and advocate for yourself when opportunities present themselves. Trusting your own abilities, qualities, and judgment.
- Boundaries. Ability to set healthy boundaries with yourself and others. Respectful of your physical needs, and the physical, space needs and requests of others, including respecting and not trying to control what others think, feel and believe, and an ability to stand strongly in what you think, feel and believe.
- Flexibility. You can adjust to new and unexpected situations and can go with the flow of life as it presents itself, as opposed to having to have a plan and be in control.
- Realism. Seeing yourself and others realistically. We’re all humans, flawed and perfectly imperfect. Perfectionism doesn’t exist in human behavior, and people don’t belong on pedestals, or in a ditch, including you.
- Dependency and attachment. You are an adult who is comfortable with physical and emotional aloneness and closeness. You can be alone and not in a romantic relationship if need be, though you enjoy and thrive on caring connection if it is a healthy give-and-take connection. You are responsive when your partner comes in for closeness and comfortable when they need their own space. You have a life aside from your relationship and welcome your partner to do the same.
- Mindfulness and self-awareness. You are in touch with your thoughts, needs and desires. You know how to listen to your body’s messages and find out what it is trying to tell you, and you respond accordingly.
- Self-care. You understand the importance of staying on top of your mind, body and spirit health and make it a priority.
- Emotional Intelligence. You are able toidentify, understand, and manage (or regulate) your emotions in positive ways. You are in-tune with what you are feeling, and are tuned-in to messages and nuances of others.
- Resilience. We all get knocked down. When you get knocked down, you don’t stay down long. You are able to process what has happened or is happening, learn from it, and move forward.
That is a good list, but not a complete one. Still, if you could check all of those off as attributes you now have, you would be a very healthy and balanced human, indeed, and probably a wonderful partner. If not, don’t beat yourself up, just make a note of the areas where you need work and begin the journey either by consulting with the Marriage Crisis Manager, (me, Doctor Becky), or with a therapist you trust. This is a journey of self-evolution that will never end, and if you are like me, it is one you will enjoy and benefit from at the same time! There is so much richness that comes with getting to know yourself very well, your feelings, thoughts, desires, and then having the ability to communicate those things to others and get them responded to.
Read this! It may be one of the most important things you will ever learn!
I had heard the word “shame” for years but never really understood what an enormous deal it is in relationships and mental health until several years ago when I started studying codependency with Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependence. Now I know it s something almost all of us have, and it not only destroys us individually in various ways, but also plays a huge factor in marital downfall.
So what is it? Shame is the feeling at your core that you are defective or there is something wrong with you. I have come to know it as a secret that individuals realize about themselves, usually as a young child, a secret they tell no one and attempt to manage on their own by various ways of compensating. Once a person takes on shame, they enter the dysfunctional way of being known ascodependence, and the way it plays out in people can be many different ways, all of them unbalanced and unhealthy.
Most of the clients I have worked with decided they weren’t good enough, smart enough, and that they didn’t belong or fit in, though in can show up in other ways, too. I know that I decided all three about myself by the time I was about 10-years-old. Like everyone else does, I told no one, and tried to make it through life carrying my burden. I assumed that I was unlovable, that no one liked me, that I and acted accordingly. If someone wanted to be my friend, I thought there must be something wrong with them, and the only friends I had were the ones who would not take no for an answer.
I tried really hard in school and did OK until about age 13. Once it got tough for me, I decided it was hopeless because of my lack of intelligence, and stopped trying. In my teens when I stated to like boys, I never believed I was good enough for the type of guys I was truly attracted to, so I settled for the best person I could, considering the few I thought would have me. This sort of madness continued for years until I finally started my journey of recovery and growth in my late 20s. It took a long to shake the shame and to finally conclude that I am good and smart enough.
How it shows up in relationships is that most couples I work with hit each other’s shame core (the I’m not good enough nerve) over and over again. These are our Achilles’ heal issues, our most sensitive spots. When our spouse (or anyone) hits that nerve, whatever it is, it causes us to have a shame attack, which results in intense emotional pain like rage, sadness or any intense negative emotion.
How we react when having a shame attack is the stuff that can take a marriage down … couples report that their responses to shame attacks run the gamut from verbally lashing out, shutting down, withdrawing or running away … it is never pretty or the way a therapist would recommend. Because of this pattern of hitting one another’s shame core, neither person feels safe about opening up and sharing feelings or relationship hurts. So what we end up having are angry and hurt people who don’t feel safe communicating, so imagine two people standing with their backs to one another.
When I tell you that to improve any chance of saving your marriage or even to have a healthy relationship with anyone, you must learn how to go into recovery from your codependence, I’m not kidding. Start with Pia Mellody’s classic bookFacing Codependence and start figuring out the ways codependence has played out in your life. Begin work with a therapist who is familiar with the dynamic, like the Marriage Crisis Manager, and don’t look back until you absolutely know you are not defective!
The new science relating to mental health is very focused on the brain. So much has been discovered in the last few years that there is no denying that our brains get stuck in patterns of dysfunctional operation that can absolutely be changed into healthy functional patters. Think of it like that same old highway you’ve always used to drive to your favorite holiday destination. You use the same route over and over – the brain is the same way. If your first response to most upsets is anger, you have built quite a highway straight to anger. Or say you cannot pay attention very well. Chances are you have overused a part of your brain that does not focus well, and underused the part that does.
Well, through several different types of interventions we can retrain the brain to stop using the highways that don’t work well or are overused and cause dysfunction, and create new highways to the parts that do. So the great news is that you and your brain can change, and change for good. On this site we will help you with that by providing some guided meditations for you to try. That is a great way to change your brain from an anxious one to a relaxed and calm one while still maintaining your energy.
Some of the most common ways to change your brain are hypnosis and relaxation therapy, biofeedback and neurofeedback, meditation, and practicing the law of intention – which is a mindful practice of focusing on the things you do want in your life, and not allowing yourself to focus on the things you don’t want. By focusing, you might be visualizing, daydreaming, imagining, meditating, praying on the things you want in your life. All are very effective means of changing your brain.
Research has shown us that that we can all do five things that will help us maximize our brain’s health, and keep it working well throughout our lives and into old age. The adage, ‘if you fail to use it, you will lose it,’ definitely applies to what we know about brain health.
Having as healthy a brain as you can will affect your future, your mental well-being, and your relationship. Here are the five things you can do:
- Walk for at least 30 minutes per day. (Research also shows that people who walk 30+ minutes per day will also experience the same benefits as if they were taking anti-depressants, so it is also a mood lifter!)
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Eat nutritiously.
- Have healthy and positive social connections.
- Exercise your brain daily by taking classes, reading books or performing brain puzzles to keep it challenged.
If you need coaching or advice on your marriage crisis journey, I am here to help. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have questions or would like to set up a consultation, email, or schedule an online meeting by clicking here.