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Mental health is built upon layers of growth over time. The more honest you can be with yourself about your shortcomings the more likely you are to grow and achieve greater mental health. The more you avoid & deflect the less likely you are to achieve mental health.

#1. Let’s begin with self-awareness. There are far too many people who lack self-awareness and are quick to blame others because it is easier. Mental health means increasing self-awareness which leads to learning how to be a better person.

One example would be to consider how passive you are in your life. Anxiety can feed passivity so your world is too small or   you let your parents make your decisions instead of working to carve out your own niche in the world or you avoid risks because the emotion of your fear erases your courage. Our choices build up mental health or the lack of it.

Poor mental health means we would rather ignore being wrong, or that we were rude. We pretend our mistakes weren’t that bad. We can’t grow and learn to control anger unless we admit we have a problem with anger.

Consider how rare it is to receive an apology or ask yourself the last time you made an apology. The ability to apologize comes from honest self-awareness which is the start of mental health. Repairing relationships can only happen if you practice truthful apology.

We ignore our mistakes at our own peril.

#2. Don’t dwell in either chaos or rigidity. (Only make an occasional visit to either.) Mental health is all about being flexible and being less than interested in drama.

Chaos is enticing to those who love the thrill of crisis & drama. Drama is about manipulation 90% of the time. The more mental health you have, the less you manipulate. Drama obscures the real issues. Drama prevents growth.

Rigidity is about being black & white or 1 & 10 in your thinking and in your feelings. There is no gray. There is no 4,5 or 6. You can only be right or wrong; with me or against me. This is not about mental health.

Mental health is about negotiation not manipulation. Mental health is about being open to different perspectives.

Relationships demand being open to another point of view because both people need to have a voice in the relationship.

#3. An ability to self regulate your emotions. We live in a culture full of people who act as if their emotions are the center of the universe which is not mental health. “If you love me you would agree with me most of the time” is not love, it’s about submission. It is your job to embrace mental health by taming your emotions so that you don’t sabotage honest dialogue.

Too many people avoid learning to self soothe and it is basic to growing up & mental health. Only babies & toddlers can’t self soothe. If you are afraid all the time you will avoid living your own life fully. Fighting fears in order to leave home & discover the larger world on your own terms is part of mental health.

People with mental health regulate their emotions which means you are able to communicate in relationships instead of firing off intense demands.

#4. Have more range to the whole of who you are & act choicefully. Wholeness in mental health means I can be afraid when safety matters & I can face my fears and act with courage when something is important. You want both courage and fear and all the choices that lie in between to be available to you.

Mental health is choosing what part of you is to be accessed, instead of blindly falling down the rabbit hole of reactions.

A relationship requires that you can lead and you can follow; both roles are crucial.

#5. Achieving some sense of purpose & meaning within your own identity. So many people without mental health seem lost. They are not anchored within their own identity.

Once you are more integrated with defining who you are, it’s important to expand in the larger world. I loved reading in the NYT’s about the retiree whose wife had died & he made bootleg copies of movies and shipped them to grateful soldiers in war zones. There are so many ways to be creative & find a purpose.

After adult children have their own lives many Mom’s need to find new paths of purpose. After a spouse dies or a divorce the partner left behind has to redefine their life “without”. When someone retires from a productive job & has a ton of time available they need to redefine themselves in new ways.

Mental health means understanding that losses in life offer us new opportunities to define success.

When wondering about your own mental health or worrying about someone you are dating these five ideas are one place to begin.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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