When we think of being mentally healthy, we tend to think of a state of being that is devoid of negative thinking, lacking sadness or pain, and virtually stress-free. This level of functioning is what we assume as the expected baseline for the healthy “normal”. We have come to this conclusion for many reasons. Media, education, religion or literature may have often pushed us to strive for this near perfect state through self-help, treatment professions or simply pushing through to survive our struggles. And these avenues are positive ways in which we can strive for change for ourselves and our families.
Another way to think of being mentally healthy is to consider an alternate approach. Rather than striving to survive and pushing though or working toward eliminating stress from our lives (which may be quite impossible), we instead work to explore those parts of ourselves that cause us difficulty. Getting to know our authentic self and accepting who we are can help us to critically think about what we might like to change in our lives to adapt to who we are and our state of being, rather than adapting only ourselves to suit our environments. For instance, attempting to cope with several aspects of our career that is leading to ongoing depression and anxiety can be combined with taking steps toward an alternate job that instead suits our personality and qualities. This can lead us to feel positive about our contributions and fit within our career. Personal adaptation is always necessary on some level, yet one can still strive to make these changes while continuing to have a sense of authenticity. This work is what we strive for in therapy and what we find leads to lasting inner peace.
Once we can find a balance of personal adaptation and environmental adaptation through self-exploration, we have the opportunity to be more authentic versions of ourselves. This allows us to more easily manage through our stressors and address negative thinking patterns because we have less need for defensiveness and striving to maintain some sense of ourselves in our daily lives. Authenticity leads to improved conflict management, general healthy functioning and better ability to manage undesirable outcomes. Though we do not avoid negative states and situations, our confidence and ability to cope with life improves and we instead allow a sense of peace that can be present even in times of struggle.
Self-exploration can encourage insight, self-awareness and desire for adaptation that can result in a new way we approach interactions, relationships and situations in our lives. The sense of authenticity that can result from this work may leave us with a general experience of peace that transcends daily struggles and allows us to become the best versions of ourselves possible.