4 Essential Concepts for Emotional Health

Apr. 23rd, 2018

For a few years after I began ADHD coaching (being the recipient and the practitioner), I was primarily working on my external world. Cleaning, meals, routines, and physical self-care. These were the areas I put 90% of my focus and energy. I imagine it would be difficult to work on these areas without doing at least some work on the internal world as well, and I did make some progress in that area, but majorly it was my physical environment. This was important because it built a foundation of care for my life. Part of me even thought that once I “mastered” this, I’d be “done” and finished as a human being. That thought still amuses me.

Recently I’ve been going through a very challenging time, emotionally and psychologically. This has precipitated a shift in my area of focus. It was almost as though the universe was saying “Ok, you’ve got this physical thing going pretty well. Congrats. Now it’s time for a real challenge.” If I thought that figuring out how to get my dishes done every day was hard (and it was), I was wholly unprepared for this next phase.

Here are four concepts that I’ve been growing to feel are absolutely central and essential to the growth I’m currently working on. They are extremely solid and although not without exception, I have found they have value and truth in the vast majority of situations. They are not easy to apply or follow, but when I have put effort into assimilating them into my thoughts and life, I have found great benefit.

One more thing before I share them, each of these concepts is very logical. To me what this means is there are many times and many stages in any given life where these concepts are not helpful. My period of working on improving my external world, for example. When a human being is experiencing emotional pain or recovering from psychological damage, logic is extremely difficult to process and engage with. There are physiological principles responsible for this. The flip-side of this is that when a person is in emotional pain or attempting to recover from psychological damage is when I believe that person is most in need of these central concepts.

1. “Embracing reality is a necessary step toward happiness.”

This concept was first introduced to me when I learned about the potential harms of the word “should”. Then it was further solidified when I began to realize the similar pitfalls of the word “just”. Avoidance or the act of denying reality moves us further from dealing with and solving problems. Anything that we conjure up or choose to engage with, other than what is the true nature of ourselves, our surroundings, and our situations, interferes with our ability to build a life that is beneficial to us.

This is not to say that we must force ourselves to engage with reality every single waking moment. I am a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction for a reason. Taking breaks from that which is really happening is, in my view, an essential part of surviving this existence. The core of this concept is that when we do engage with reality, fully embrace that reality and all that it is. Leave make-believe in the worlds we use to escape.

2. “Every person is only responsible for themselves.”

Oh English, how you consistently fail to convey my thoughts! This concept is so full of exceptions I don’t really know where to begin. I believe parents are responsible for their children, pet owners are responsible for the animals in their charge, and so on. What I mean by this is so amorphous and ineffable that those seven words are the closest I’ve gotten so far.

My most recent revelation about this concept was about my emotions. Even if someone loves me and cares about me, that doesn’t mean they are responsible for my emotions, at all. Obviously, I’d prefer for everybody to take care with their words and actions so as not to harm anyone. But if harm occurs, I have chosen to take the view it is not the responsibility of the person with whom the harm originated. Philosophically we could argue about that until the cows come home, but I’m talking emotional health here. I’ve decided that if I want to be emotionally “safe” in reality, I am wholly responsible for protecting and safeguarding how I feel, my emotions, and moods.

This also doesn’t mean I am some zen master looking down from a mountain on the rest of the mere mortals below. Just because I’ve decided to believe and know this doesn’t mean I find it easy or even that I can remember to employ it. A solid 25-40% of the challenge of implementing any change in my life is that of “Ok but how do I remember to do that?”

This leads us neatly into the next concept:

3. “It is not events in life but our responses to events that determine the impact on us.”

Once again, the exceptions first. I’m not saying events don’t have an impact on us, I’m saying how we choose to respond after the fact has a larger impact than the original events. “Having an emotion start is involuntary. Having an emotion continue is the choice. I am building the skills I need to interrupt the perpetuation of emotions.

This is why things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, is so variable and unique. Even events that nearly everyone agrees are horribly traumatic do not impact every person the same. There are obviously many other factors involved than emotional choice, but that choice is vitally important.

4. “Every being deserves to exist.”

I have such a complex relationship with that word “deserve”, once again I just cannot think of a better one. “Has permission” might be a slightly better concept or even “is allowed”, but all of these do not come close to conveying what I mean.

What I mean really is ‘no being has the obligation to fulfill a condition in order to justify their existence’. I know a ton of the beings on this planet feel they don’t yet “deserve” to exist, take up space, and consume resources. Maybe the conditions they’ve subconsciously set will never be met. I’ve seen a bunch of content on the internet devoted to attempting to disprove this and reassuring people that in fact they do deserve to exist. And like so many, I quietly made myself the only exception. “No one has to justify their existence... Except me.”

It was this concept, and various wordings of it, that I am finally beginning to truly embrace. The work of removing this pressure from myself is immensely difficult, but I believe it is allowing me to live a more beneficial life, for myself and others.

What central concepts have helped you live a more balanced and healthy life?