Tammy Sassoon, M.S.ED
What does it mean to be emotionally healthy? I don’t know what the dictionary says about emotional health, but from all I’ve seen it seems to me that people who are emotionally healthy know that it is the most normal thing in the world to experience a full range of emotions. That includes feelings of joy, sadness, frustration, being overwhelmed, anxiety, etc. I like to give a metaphor to describe the normalcy of having any feelings. Would we ever look at a book and be shocked that it has pages? No, because that’s a characteristic of a book. So when we have very strong intense emotions, we shouldn’t be shocked either. Strong emotions are simply a characteristic of the human experience.
So, when does a person lose their emotional health? The real answer is NEVER, but they just think they did or act like they did. When a person starts to attach themselves to feelings that result from cognitive distortions, destruction in relationships often follows.
Here’s an example of how it plays out. A 12th grader is trying out for a part in the play that she really wants very badly. She is an emotionally healthy girl. So when she finds out that she did not get the part, she feels sad. That is healthy sadness that results from not having achieved something that she wanted. Now a different girl, who may not be emotionally healthy, feels healthy sadness about not getting the part and then also has a cognitive distortion that perhaps it means that she’s not as valuable as the person who did get the part. She made that up! Everyone has equal value. There’s no such thing as one person being more valuable than another! When she was a baby she never had any opinions about her value. That came from somewhere along the way in her life experiences. Now if she wants to get in touch with that emotional health that ALREADY exists inside her, she simply needs to recognize that when that thought pops into her head that she is not as good as her friends, it’s just an unhelpful thought and she does not need to engage with it. Then, she makes it possible for even the healthy sadness to pass and she can free herself up to enjoy the time spent with friends in school.
So basically every human being is privy to this health. All we need to do is to be aware of feelings that result from cognitive distortions (which we all have). And that would look like a person being upset about something and knowing that in the midst of huge feelings they are 100% okay, 100% of the time. We’ve collected many cognitive distortions about ourselves and about the world and we don’t have to hold on to them as absolute truths. Furthermore, it’s not even a problem to have those cognitive distortion in our brains. It’s only a problem if we believe them like they are 100% true.
If you model this for your children, and just be there with them when they have big feelings, you are on the healthy path of emotional wellness.