Good emotional health requires the following three things:
- Healthy compassion (empathy)
- Healthy accountability
- Healthy kindness
Today, there is so much confusion around that behaviours, attitudes and characteristics that are considered 'normal' or even 'good' in today's world can be doing us a whole lot of harm, health-wise, without us even realizing what's going on.
Healthy compassion (empathy)
Let's start by defining what makes compassion 'unhealthy': There's two main ways that compassion can get out of balance: If we're trying to do everything for everyone else, getting trod on in the process, and not taking the time to nurture ourselves and to give ourselves what we need, that can make us mentally, emotionally and physically sick. At the other extreme, if we only think about ourselves and what we need, and act like selfish jerks who can't 'see' anyone else in the picture, that can also make us sick (and leave us with no friends…)
The key is to strike a balance between these two extremes, to develop some spiritually-healthy compassion that lets us empathize with other people without getting buried underneath all their problems, or being taken for a ride, or being treated like dirt.
The next habit that keeps us emotionally healthy is accountability, which we'll define as 'taking responsibility for doing something wrong'. Let's be clear that this doesn't mean that you have to walk around feeling bad for things that you either have no control over or responsibility for, like being poor, sick, single, or somehow 'not successful.
But it also doesn't mean that you brazen things out, and refuse to accept responsibility for bad things that you've genuinely done wrong, and need to make amends for. Again, the trick is to know what's in your control, and what isn't; and what actually counts as something 'bad' and what doesn't.
Kindnesses, but not what you think
The last habit of emotional health is doing kindnesses - but probably not the way you think. Few things can cause us more anxiety, stress, guilt and self-anger than getting caught up in other people's unhealthy expectations of 'doing good', and the mistaken belief that helping others is ALWAYS a good thing.
The truth is that all sorts of things can get packaged up as a 'kindness', when they actually aren't. For something to really be a kindness in the truest sense of the word, it should meet the following criteria.
- It has to actually be experienced as a kindness by the recipient
- It should be 'string-free', with no expectation of payback
- The person has to really want to do it, ie, it shouldn't feel like an obligation or duty
- It needs to come from a place of empathy and compassion
When these criteria aren't met, you can get caught up in a spiritually-unhealthy web of expectation, manipulation and obligation, which can cause no end of stress and anxiety, until you recognize what's really going on, and what a spiritually-healthy response really should be.