Q. What is an emotionally healthy person? It seems to me that everyone has strange quirks in their personality, unresolved past issues, and difficult family relationships. Is anyone emotionally healthy?
A. There are a variety of criteria used by various experts to define an emotionally healthy person. Since we are all flawed human beings no one meets all these criteria 100 percent of the time. We are all works in progress. Hopefully, we’re growing in the direction of emotional health.
Dr. Doug Meske, psychologist, suggests we have six emotional needs and when these needs are met we function in a healthy way. These basic needs are:
1. Positive self esteem. We have positive self esteem when we know we have value just for being who we are apart from any role or accomplishment. A person with positive self esteem can think or say “I like myself.” They can be aware of their flaws yet still accept themselves for their positive qualities.
2. A sense of accomplishment and purpose. We have a sense of accomplishment and purpose when we feel pride or satisfaction in what we do. We play many roles in life: parent, friend, daughter, spouse, employee, and so forth. We need to feel satisfied about our accomplishments in at least some of the roles we play.
3. A sense of security. We need to feel safe. We need inner peace. We need order, consistency and trust in daily life and in our relationships. If we have to “walk on egg shells” we are not feeling safe. A healthy person will gain this inner security from consistent, positive family relationships in childhood or from substitute positive relationships as an adult. Inner security is also gained by believing in God and trusting he is good and loving and cares for his children.
Life is unpredictable and not always under our control. The emotionally healthy person learns to cope with change and disappointment. A healthy person recognizes what can be changed in their life and what cannot. The Serenity Prayer below is a helpful resource to keep ourselves from worrying about the ways in which we are not totally secure.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage the change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
4. We need relationships. “No man is an island.” We need to have contact with friends, colleagues, family members. We need to know that someone else knows who we are and cares about us. We may enjoy time alone and at times feel lonely but we also are able to connect with others.
5. We need to take care of unfinished business. We may need to grow up! We have hurts, grudges or unresolved issues from our childhood, from past relationships or from past experiences. We need to look at these, address them and then let them go. Past baggage weighs us down. We need to realize that we don’t always have to act on our feelings. We can be angry, for example, without hurting anyone. We can respond calmly and appropriately even when someone else is acting inappropriately.
6. We need to be able to have fun. We need to take time to relax and enjoy life. We need to look forward to pleasurable activities. Laughter is healing and keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously.
I would add:
7. We need God. We need to reach beyond ourselves to find meaning in life. Faith can fill a deep inner need we all have and so much more.
“God gives wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who please him.” Ecclesiastes 2:26