Addendum—Mental Heath & Personal Change

THE PAST 50 YEARS

 Sometimes, it helps us understand what was and how we got to where we are today. Pardon my digression to the past, but it will help you understand our current state of affairs. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the past five decades have been the most painful and turbulent years for positive mental health. The stress of daily living has been stretching us in many opposing directions for five decades. They include the sexual revolution, serial murders, divorce, family dysfunction, war, poverty, rampant shootings, the Middle East, the middle class's denigration, terrorism, severe economic recessions, high tech, political corruption, societal upheavals, and a major pandemic. 

I have seen multiple methodological changes in the treatment of stress and mental health. Societal chaos has also caused similar chaos in treatment modalities. During the 1960s, the emphasis was the peace movement, touchy-feely, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay,” Rolfing, primal scream, open marriage, Masters and Johnson, The Joy of Sex, gender mixing, performance anxiety, newly-discovered female body anatomy, exploitation, etc. Each made significant inroads and has had a dramatic impact on society. However, it was also the birth and explosion of further advancements with provocative new vocabulary. There was a refocus on the “here and now” and the interdependency of mind and body. It was a period of dropping facades and looking inward. Each new element had merit yet created a firestorm of competing and overlapping philosophies and methodologies.

The Renaissance in mental health in the ’60s focused on the mantra, “Let it all hang out!” The emphasis was on the expression of feelings, particularly those deep and real. During these rather turbulent times, we all needed to “let go.” The psychological well-being revolution was going full-steam ahead, both gaining and losing ground in the process. Women were fighting for freedom, equality, and independence. They were shedding bras, clothes, and guilty consciences. Equality and freedom were the calling cards of the day. It was an opportunity to allow change and start all over. It was also a time of exerting independence and “doing your own thing.” Fortunately, the emphasis on peace, equality, love, independence, and unity, as well as the expression of deep feelings, have become consolidated and sustained over time. Unfortunately, the emphasis on women’s rights and freedom has been diluted during these last four decades. The focus on self-esteem and independence has not led directly to overwhelmingly new cooperation and cohesiveness levels. Instead, it has brought about polarization. New extremes of both far-right and far-left positions have made their way into society, religion, and politics.

During that era, “EST” and other cult-like systems were introduced. They quickly fizzled from a lack of faith or success. Others focused only on self-actualization. Some became somewhat confusing and nebulous. Various forms of hypnosis, such as regression to the past, were briefly in vogue. As the confusion of the ’70s ended, there became more focus and balance. Capitalism became more prominent, as did visual imagery for wealth or sports. Yoga, transcendental meditation, forms of enlightenment, and stress relief began to shape the then newest generation. Interest waxed and waned as gurus and meditators began to take focus on self-help. The older, more Bohemian mentalities stopped looking at the prophets, stars, and gurus of yesterday and turned toward holistic medicine, natural healing, and economic profits. In the meantime, the statistical definitions of mental disorders doubled from 100 to more than 200 categories. Exercise and stress management became the newest obsessions. Type A and B personalities were defined and differentiated as either aggressive or passive personalities.

And now the computer revolution was also taking shape. A new language with rather odd and bold jargon was also in full swing. Likewise, prescription and recreational drugs progressed to new levels of usage. Social media was close behind, and information overload soon followed. All of a sudden, there were new entrepreneurs and a renewed focus on making lots of money. The opposites of Green and Greed became more pronounced. Emphasis was on achieving and working to full potential. Various social groups emphasized the raising of consciousness. The focus became “doing,” summarized by “no pain, no gain.” The existence of old, anachronistic forms of Freudian therapy was replaced by shorter therapies called “Brief Therapy,” The One Minute Manager, or “30 seconds to Nirvana.” In the meantime, a flux of business acquisitions and mergers made headlines. Sound bewildering?

It has been a crazy, hazy past fifty years!

Perhaps you can now understand the current mumbo jumbo world in which you live. Regardless, mental health awareness and techniques have gained substantially due to the turbulence and consolidation of successful practices and the elimination of less efficacious therapies.

 

PERSONAL CHANGE AFFIRMATIONS AND VISUALIZATION

In all my many years as a helping professional, there is no greater tragedy than observing unhappy and unfulfilled lives. If you feel frustrated, anxious, or depressed, you will need to carefully review your daily habits and repetitious patterns of words and behaviors. Determine what might be causing frustration, anxiety, or depression. The good life can only be achieved by a solid understanding that life is change, and change is constant. Just as time is continuous yet always changing, you are also always changing and evolving. If you don’t grow through change, you will be forever frozen in both time and circumstances. Unfortunately, those circumstances can be fraught with an inability to adapt and cope. Certainly, I don’t suggest dramatic and frequent changes; instead, a better approach is to cope with Earth's gradual changes, understanding there will always be occasional cataclysmic occurrences. 

The catalyst for personal change is self-discovery, sometimes painful, but less so if it results in a gradual transition. The more you get to know yourself and make painful corrections, the more you will recognize that as time passes, only minor course alterations are necessary. Self-discovery does not mean an escape to a far-off land to find yourself. You need not seek a long-distance guru in Nepal or the Dalai Lama or visit a foreign monastery. Instead, you need to listen carefully to yourself, your loyal and trusted friends, mentors, closest relatives, and loved ones. If open, they will help guide you. Your epiphanies can take place in your bathtub, backyard, or at 3 a.m. on a restless night. Leo Buscaglia summed it up nicely, saying something like this

 

“When you find that life is a bore, that existence is a chore, that the wonder and magic is vanishing, it is possible that you are resisting change. If you are trapped in a dull, lifeless rhythm, you must resolve to give up the resistance and dance to a new step. When you do, you will surely rediscover that change is the greatest source of happiness, stimulation, and continued growth.”

 

Only you can initiate change. Don’t expect others to change. That’s up to them.

Personal change will always be a difficult challenge. The change will require planning, replacing the old self-image photos, the use of positive affirmations, and multiple repetitions. A plan, a picture, and a bowl full of positive words are necessary for successful affirmations. When you say something to yourself, it is called self-talk. Positive self-talk uses affirmations, which are the supportive statements you will need to repeat to yourself regularly. If repeated, these statements move from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind and eventually evoke automaticity.

Every time you talk to yourself, you affirm your opinions about yourself. If your comments are “I’m just a goof,” “I can’t do anything right,” “I can see it’s going to be another bad day,” “Why me, God?” the result is a disastrously negative self-attitude. These negative statements will need to be replaced by positive affirmations.

Every important personal change will renew your confidence. It will uplift you with fresh energy. The change will open new doors of opportunity. It will refresh your spirit and create new excitement. Your old pessimistic perceptions will be replaced by joyful optimism and an eagerness to start each day with vigor and vitality. Dark clouds will be overshadowed by rainbows, anxieties replaced by calmness and inner peace.

If you have had an ongoing repetition of self-deprecating statements, you will have programed yourself negatively. Conversely, if your statements are substituted by positive affirmations such as, “Life is beautiful,” “Things always seem to go well,” “I knew I could do that,” “My hard work paid off,” you will reprogram your subconscious and retain new successful self-images. Most important is that your replacement affirmations must be written and repeated several times a day while at the same time visualizing them. Always begin with an “I” statement. Avoid words like “I’ll try” or “I think I can.” Instead, make them decisively declarative action statements like, “I will lose 10 pounds in twelve weeks!” Hearing and seeing these new pictures gives an additional dimension. It allows the visual association to sync with the new self-talk verbal affirmations. Keep your affirmations focused on what you want to change about yourself. Keep them in the first person. Keep them private, for your own eyes and ears only. It would be helpful and convenient to write them on cards and keep them at your bedside. Imagine visualizing yourself completing the declarative action you have chosen. Every attempt should be multi-sensory by saying, picturing, hearing, and feeling your positive affirmations simultaneously.

 

THE PROTOTYPE OF MENTAL HEALTH

 Just as there are no Utopias, there is no one that fits the perfect prototype as the most psychologically fit. Researchers and mental health specialists have spent scores of years trying to define optimal characteristics. However, if you can achieve even half of these, you will have reached the paragon.

Below are the most idealistic prototypes of mental health: 

  • Accept yourself.

  • Have an enthusiasm for life.

  • Display a genuine and sincere quality of love, empathy, and altruism.

  • Focus on others rather than yourself by controlling your tongue and temper.

  • Eschew the vices of greed, egotism, and self-centeredness.

  • Accept others by listening and learning from them.

  • Allow life’s experiences to happen naturally, rather than forcing them to happen.

  • Instead of retreating, cooperate, socialize, and approach others.

  • Let go of the past by facing fears, disappointments, and near tragedies.

  • Do not allow grudges, old wounds, and resentments to fester. Resolve and dismiss them.

  • Bear injustices with poise, courtesy, and control. Don’t seek revenge.

  • Possess realistic expectations of yourself and others.

  • Be patient, persevering, humble, and forthright.

  • Be able to postpone immediate gratification with patience, planning, and self-control.

  • Take responsibility for yourself by recognizing and changing your mistakes.

  • Recognize the best in others by acknowledging, appreciating, and complimenting them.

  • Believe in yourself and have the confidence to face challenges by taking action.

  • Know that making decisions is the only means of problem resolution.

  • Have the wisdom to know that you can control yourself and not others. 

  • Recognize and face your fears. Don’t waste time fighting shadows.

  • Share, confide, confess, consult, and cultivate trust in others.

  • Live in the present and recognize that time is life; they are both valuable and short.

  • Learn to accept adversity and mistakes.

  • Do not allow others to tell you how to think, act, or feel.

  • Avoid escape through excess alcohol or drugs.

  • Enjoy humor and cheerfulness. 

  • Find pleasures in work and hobbies.

  • Be at peace with yourself, appreciate life, and give thanks daily.

  • Keep active by regularly exercising both mind and body.