Are you emotionally healthy? Life, no matter one's circumstances, is challenging. Every person experiences difficulties in life that have emotional impact. How we internalize, respond to, and use life events greatly influences our emotional health. Our emotional health not only affects us, but it particularly affects those around us. A person who is an emotional mess can cause great suffering to his/her family and can hinder the proper emotional and psychological development of future generations. Modern society often gives far too little attention to teaching the skills needed for good emotional health, and thus "dysfunctional" families are all too common and even glorified in the media. Some people wear their dysfunctionality as a badge of honor, but in truth, we all would prefer to have internal peace and healthy relationships. However, many people lack the knowledge and skills to make that happen.
There are five commonly regarded skills to emotional fitness: self awareness, self regulation, self motivation, empathy, and relationship skills. Since knowledge of the components of these skills can be a first step in evaluating and improving your emotional fitness, three key aspects of each are outlined below. But first, it helps to recognize what emotions are. Emotions are immediate feelings in response to something, while moods are more long-term; both of these can be at least partially managed by the person experiencing them, whereas temperaments are natural dispositions that people are born with and have limited capacity to change. There are eight emotions, and all other "feelings" are combinations of these: anger, fear, joy, anticipation, disgust, sadness, surprise, and acceptance. Emotions occur not only in the brain but are chemical realities throughout the body. Thus, your emotions have real physical impact on your body and are not purely mental.
Emotional Self Awareness
- A person who is self aware has the ability to identify what (s)he is feeling. To build your skill in this area, you must begin by consciously asking yourself how you truly feel about things and avoid pushing the feelings away or ignoring them. Which of the above eight are you feeling, and in what combination?
- Self awareness requires the ability to understand the cause and effect around your emotions. Again, this requires reflection. If you are feeling sad today, why are you feeling that way? Because you feel that way, what is happening to you physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, etc.? The more precise you can be in the answer, the more insight you will gain.
- A self aware person is able to recognize and create balance between different aspects of his life for emotional health. That is, as much as possible, he does not let work consume him, nor does he let socializing with friends impinge on his responsibilities, nor does he let either of these prevent the development of his personal interests like hobbies, physical fitness, spirituality, etc.
Emotional Self Regulation
- People who can self regulate are able to recognize when they need help and are able to pursue it in positive ways. They do not place impossible burdens on themselves and create a martyr/victim mentality, nor do they make themselves consistently dependent on others.
- Self regulators have the ability to wait. They can delay a reaction until they have time to think a situation through and decide what reaction makes the most sense. Further, they can exercise delay of gratification for longer-term benefits.
- Self regulators also have a sense of humor. They can avoid taking every situation too seriously and learn to lighten emotional loads by finding humor in difficulty and in their own shortcomings. They do not use humor to hurt, but instead use it to brighten moods and help others.
- Self motivators can keep going after a setback. They do not allow obstacles or negativity to prevent them from forward progress. A job loss, failure, health problem, etc., will be turned into lessons and positives by a true self motivator.
- Self motivators can set and work toward realistic goals. They do not set nearly impossible dreams as the measure of success, especially without skills, resources, and concrete steps on how to get there. They do not expect goals to just happen without working to achieve them, nor do they fail to set goals for themselves and just wander through life aimlessly.
- Self motivators are hopeful and grateful people. In dark hours, they remain optimistic for a better tomorrow and hold on to the belief that things can change and they can make a difference. They acknowledge good in all situations and express appreciation for their blessings.
- Empathetic people show concern and care for others. Parents can do a lot to teach empathy by modeling it and by questioning youth about how others must feel in a given situation and how they can express concern and care for others.
- They show thoughtful and kind behavior toward others. They are not so lost in their own problems and work that they are oblivious to others' difficulties. They transform their awareness and care for others into some kind of action, even if it be just a smile, a kind word, an unexpected good deed, etc.
- Empathetic people can recognize emotions in others. For some people this comes naturally, but others must practice it. In your next staff meeting, can you tell who is happy and who is disgusted by the boss's proposal, even if they say nothing?
- People with good relationship skills can receive emotion from others, both positive and negative. They can receive someone's anger or love and respond in healthy ways. They do not allow emotions of others to control their own emotions, i.e., they are not reactionary; they are able to reason through appropriate responses and choose ones that achieve desired outcomes.
- Those with good relationship skills can honestly but appropriately express their own emotions. They are not disingenuous by hiding or misrepresenting their feelings to others, but they control the expression of their feelings to be appropriate to context.
- Those with good relationship skills have the ability to genuinely apologize, compromise, problem solve, and give compliments to others.
Nearly everyone has some room for improvement in their emotional skills. Knowledge is the first step; hopefully the above, upon self-reflection, gives some insight into your own strengths and weaknesses emotionally and what you can do to start improving. Additionally, this information can guide your social decision-making. For example, if one is choosing a college roommate or a spouse, having insight into his/her emotional fitness may be very important in the decision making process. It may be unwise to tie one's futures to an emotionally dysfunctional person.