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Food for thought and practical tips for your personal journey.

It's Not Mental & Not Illness

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Too often in our society when we have emotional reactions to difficult situations in our lives, we are labeled as having a “mental illness.” Most of us are not actually “mentally ill.” Whether it is depression, anxiety, or problems with relationships or work, or addiction problems many times these are emotional in their origins.

Traditional approaches in the therapeutic community too often are quick to diagnose “patients” as being ill when we may only be having a normal emotional response to an unusually stressful or painful situation or trauma. Many times outward physical pain, tension, anxiety, addictions or illnesses (“dis-eases”), stem from unresolved sadness, fear, loneliness, etc. that may have pooled within us for years. When we had those original feelings (often in childhood), maybe we didn’t feel we got the Love we needed from our parents, schooling, or culture. As we learn now how to give ourselves self-compassion, many times these old emotions dissipate, which remedies our outward symptoms.

Actual mental illness is usually a thought disorder that involves delusional thinking such as Schizophrenia, Delusional Disorders, or Dissociative Identity Disorders (multiple personality) for example. Even these illnesses are sensitive to emotional stressors that can cause more severe symptoms. In cultures where there is active social support and everyone feels needed, these illnesses are much less common.

Our modern culture tends to ignore the fact that we are basically social and emotional beings. The therapeutic community also tends to want to think of itself as another science and ignores the art involved in counseling. This is supported by the medical industry, which benefits from the use of the term “illness” as a way of pigeon-holing symptoms, and then heavily relies on medications to “fix” the problem.

For example, medical institutions generally don’t look deeper into the underlying reasons patients have the symptoms of depression (e.g. losing a job that triggers childhood fears of homelessness, feeling family secrets have to be kept at all costs, long repressed sexual abuse, etc.) These can lead to patients’ original cry for help going unaddressed, which can create an even deeper sense of hopelessness that drives the problem even further underground.

We are Carefully Taught to Discount Our Emotions

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The stigma of mental illness can create shaming of ourselves for our feelings. Our difficulty with emotions is often not our fault. It is a cultural and generational problem handed down to us from our childhood. It is a revolutionary realization when we understand:

  • Blaming and shaming ourselves and others for how we feel is taught, not inherent in our nature. There are forces in our parental upbringing and in our culture that teach us that if our emotions are triggered there must be something wrong with either us or someone else. Deep inside we know this is not true. We were meant to experience something far more fulfilling and meaningful under this conditioning.

  • Our culture is generally very distant emotionally. The emotional realm just is not supported in our families and by our culture. In fact, we are often discouraged personally from accessing this realm and told that we should act more “rationally.” (As author Annette Simmons points out, “People irrationally believe they are rational.”) As a result, we may attempt to deny our emotions, which only contributes to a further sense of disconnection, loss, grief or abandonment. When we need emotional support, it often just isn’t there for us.

  • Our culture is very individualistic, which can result in us feeling isolated when dealing with personal challenges. We’re expected to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” The fact is that we are naturally social creatures. Yes, we need to be able to deal with challenges personally. But, we shouldn’t have to do it alone. To process emotional traumas and shocks to our system, we may need the support of our families and community. It is only when the underlying pain and fear are addressed that we feel free and whole again, ready to be reintegrated into our external community.

Let Your Emotions Lead You Back to Your Core

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The fact is that our emotions are often natural reactions to abnormal situations. Emotions tell us the truth about a situation, even when we want to mentally override what we know. Emotions let us know something painful or traumatic has occurred. Emotions call out for loving support and self-compassion, which is what we all really want.

We can use our emotions to take the first steps, as the Beatles song says, “back to where we once belonged,” our Naked Soul.

  1. Admit you have the feelings and emotions. Accept them as a natural response to something.

  2. As emotions well up within you, feel your emotions fully without suppressing them or needing to act on them.

  3. Accept these emotions as gifts (even if they are Unwanted Gifts) of greater self-honesty and clues to your personal truth.

  4. Thank these emotions for leading you on the first step of the journey back home to your True Self.

Elaine RozelleComment