When it comes to our emotions, sometimes health is hard to gauge. Our emotions are abstract and at times difficult to understand. Unlike physical health, it’s difficult to tell just how emotionally healthy someone really is.
For my purposes in this column, I will be using two standards to determine emotional health:
1) An emotionally healthy person is in touch with reality and is relatively free from anxiety.
This description is provided by Rev. Mike Plunket and really has two unique parts. The first being that an individual must be in touch with reality. In this context I am not referring so much to those who have severe mental issues that keep them from grasping reality. I am referring to many fully functioning members of society who are still somewhat out of touch with reality. This can manifest itself in the inability to understand the connection between cause and effect and the consequences of the choices that we make. Often times people who are out of touch with reality can come across as carefree or “flaky”. Because they are carefree, these people rarely seem to experience anxiety.
The second part of this description has to deal with the level of anxiety that a person feels. Optimally, a person should want to live with no anxiety in their lives. However, we are all in a process and most people, even healthy ones, still deal with some level of anxiety. The problem with anxiety is that it often masquerades as responsibility. Sometimes we think that we are being responsible adults, when in reality we are trying to control and manipulate, while worrying about things over which we have no control. When we experience anxiety, we are experiencing the pain of an event that most likely will not ever happen.
2) An emotionally healthy person is able to experience the full range of healthy emotions at appropriate times.
At times we may display, or encounter individuals who display, a very narrow range of emotions. At first glance this can come across as being steady, measured and in control. The problem arises when life presents us with extreme circumstances, both positive and negative, there seems to be no response.
For instance, if we are unable to rejoice at the birth of a child, wedding or graduation, or unable to mourn the loss of a loved one because we are too “mellow,” then we have become emotionally paralyzed. If we respond to “We won the lottery!” and “Your mother is dead.” and “I picked up some pizza.” all the same way, we are not emotionally healthy.
This state of emotional paralysis may signal that we have not throughly grieved a previous loss in life. We may be stuck in one of the stages of grief (I’ll elaborate on the stages of grief in a future column). It may also signal that we have experienced a pain so deep that we are afraid to make ourselves vulnerable again.
Juxtaposed with those who experience a narrow range of emotional expression are those who seem to act out in inappropriate ways at inappropriate times. Sometimes this can be caused by chemical imbalances, mental issues and an inability to understand social situations. But often it has an emotional root.
Picture a person who gets so uncomfortable at funerals that they feel they must make jokes the entire time. Or a person who is unable to celebrate their sister’s wedding because they are focused on their own needs.
As we progress toward emotional health we should be free enough to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. The ability to relate to another persons feelings is called “empathy.”
While these two standards my not comprehensively cover the whole spectrum of emotional health, they are helpful tools to help us diagnose what level of health we are currently at and identify areas that we need to receive healing. It is important to remember that each one of us is in a process and that none of us can boast perfect emotional health any more than we can boast perfect physical health.
Rev. Jim Rudd is the Lead Pastor of True Vine Church Community in Wissinoming. You can visit the church website or friend-request Jim on Facebook. His column, Heart Conditions, appears on NEast Philly the third Thursday of every month.