Emotional Health. When I hear this I think of so many things, self-esteem, self-worth, self-respect, self-control. But more importantly, I think emotional health has to do with our feelings and how we choose to express those feelings or not express them and how we act on our feelings or not act on them. All of these factors contribute to overall emotional health.
As the youngest of three, I think I was born overly sensitive and needy. When I was a child, I would walk around hugging my pillow, I always wanted people to hug me but they couldn’t do it all of the time, so I took comfort hugging my pillow instead.
When I said something funny at dinner, as children often do, my family would laugh hysterically. I would take it personal and cry uncontrollably and hide under the table or run to my room, thinking they were “making fun of me”. As much as they tried to get me to understand, I just couldn’t stop taking it personal.
What I internalized though was that being sensitive is wrong. Once I got into relationships, I picked alcoholics and addicts that also told me being sensitive is wrong, crying wasn’t ok and that I needed to toughen up.
So, as the years went by, I learned to toughen up, not cry, all the while putting up with things that would be hurtful by anyone’s standards. Eventually I turned my emotions into anger and built a wall around my emotions so thick, I had a personal fortress with quite an arsenal of anger and mean-spirited sarcasm.
These seemed to be the only emotions I had left when I entered the rooms of Al-Anon for the first time. Well, that and lots and lots of anxiety. YAY, what a life!
Part of my recovery included going all the way back to the beginning and trying to connect the dots of how I got to the doors of Al-Anon. I didn’t grow up in an alcoholic home but my mother did and because of the fights she saw as a child, she decided that she would never do that to her own children and they never fought in front of us. I therefore never knew how to argue in my relationships in a constructive way.
I’ve had to learn all of that through my recovery. I credit Al-Anon and the 12 steps with giving me the tools to grow emotionally in ways that I never learned as a child or young adult. It wasn’t that my parents were bad parents, they did the best they could with what they knew.
I’ve learned a lot of things about my emotional health and what’s not healthy. Obsessing isn’t healthy, letting others abuse me emotionally isn’t healthy, acting out in anger and saying mean and hurtful things to others isn’t healthy.
When I learned that I could indeed do things differently and be true to myself and my values, say things nicely (self-control) while still standing my ground (self-respect), then my self-esteem and self-worth began to grow. The biggest hurdle in all of this was facing the fear and taking the risk of losing someone that I loved, my addict husband.
Truth was, I had lost him long ago and I had to learn to be okay with loving myself enough to face possibly being alone, yet happy. I never knew how to do that before, be alone while being happy.
In Al-Anon, I was no longer alone and I was happy again for the first time in a long time. I had people who understood me and loved me through the tough times while I was learning to love myself….and I had a new and strong relationship with my Higher Power.
But that is part of my Spiritual Health which is a blog for another day. I would love to hear your thoughts on what emotional health means to you and how you take care of your emotional needs.