-Jonice Webb, PhD
We all have a general idea of what we think a psychologically healthy person looks like. Maybe it’s not being depressed or anxious, not suffering, or not having a diagnosis.
Maybe it’s being happy, or simply able to live a good life.
All of these things are important and have great merit, of course. But what are the specific factors that make a person psychologically healthy? Here are some very important ones that hardly anyone thinks about.
The Five Hallmarks
1. Being able to hold two opposites in your mind at the same time. Is she a good person or a bad person? Did you like the movie or not? Are you talented, yes or no? Who’s right, you or me?” This tendency for our minds to polarize things into opposites in order to settle on a clear solution applies to all areas of our lives. But it shows up especially starkly in very personal questions, such as how we view ourselves, how we think about our childhoods, and how we judge others.
The ability to see the gray areas is a skill that not everyone has, for sure. But here we’re talking about a step beyond that. The ability to say during a conflict with another person, “We are both right, and we are also both wrong.” To be able to conclude, in any situation, “This is both extremely good and extremely bad,” “This person is both well-intentioned and extremely harmful,” “I love you and hate you at the same time.” “My parents gave me a lot, but they also failed me terribly.” All are true.
Opposites go together far better than most people realize. And if you can hold the opposing sides in your mind together at the same time, it gives you a birds-eye view of yourself, a person, or a situation that is far more accurate and real than grasping for a one-dimensional answer.
2. The ability to manage your feelings while communicating. Managing your emotions is one thing, and communicating is another. Each is a difficult skill to master. Put them together, and you have a great challenge. Being able to manage the anger or hurt you are feeling so that you can explain to someone how you feel; being able to manage your anger in order to express the problem in a way that the other person can hear. These are two examples of strong psychological health.
3. Self-awareness. Everyone knows themselves. But the question is, how well? Do you understand your typical responses to things? Are you aware of what you feel, and why you’re feeling it? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Talents? Likes and dislikes? What do you need, and what do you enjoy? The better you understand yourself, the more resilient you are in challenging situations, the better you can forgive yourself for mistakes, and the better life choices you can make for yourself.
4. Feeling comfortable in your own skin. This involves being happy to simply be you. Think of it as spending time with yourself, happily and comfortably. Can you sit alone with no entertainment and be comfortable? Can you be in the moment right now, and not thinking ahead, thinking about the past, or thinking about something or someone else? Are you able to sit with a feeling, accept that feeling, and try to understand it? These are all examples of being comfortable in your own skin.
5. Being willing to take risks. Being able to stretch yourself, not only within your comfort zone but beyond it, takes a great deal of strength and resilience. Are you willing to put yourself out there? Can you rely on yourself to manage a failure, if it happens? Do you know yourself well enough to know what’s worth going out on a limb for? Can you forgive yourself if you don’t succeed? The strength required to take the risk of failure, and to survive a failure, is a great strength indeed.
If reading all of these qualities is somewhat intimidating, don’t worry. Few people possess all five. In fact, most of us would do well to simply be striving toward having each one.
3 Ways to Build the 5 Hallmarks
- Become less invested in being right. When you give up some of your connection to being right, you open up a whole new world; the birds-eye world that is an important part of being wise. You rise above the right/wrong mentality, and you start to see yourself and others differently. Being able to see the polar opposites, the greater truths, makes it easier to understand your own feelings, (which often oppose each other) and to understand others. It aids your ability to see and understand yourself.
- Learn and practice mindfulness. Mindfulness, or the ability to be in the moment, with your attention turned inward at yourself, what you’re doing and — I would add — what you’re feeling, is a key part of both self-awareness and being comfortable in your own skin. It has also been shown by scientific research to have multiple other psychological and health benefits.
- Work on viewing failure differently. Failure is a sign of courage. Failure means that you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone and took a risk. Failure, done well, is a growth experience. We can learn more from our failures than we can from our successes. As you become more self-aware, more mindful, more emotionally communicative, and more comfortable in your own skin, you will be more free to take risks and learn from them. This will ultimately push you to experiences and successes far beyond what you ever thought you could achieve.