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The Heart & Mind of Relationships: Supporting Mental Wellness

To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to. ~Kahlil Gibran

I want to finish up this month on the topic of relationships with something close my heart; our mental well-being. It is the reason I chose to pursue an education in psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family – so that I could not only contribute to helping others, but to also help lower the sigma around mental health concerns. To encourage and expand on the hard conversations we often avoid.

We are all susceptible to hits to our mental health, the loss of a job, a divorce, sick child, even changes in our own health can have us feeling out of control of our lives. As a result, and not uncommon, these events can ensue symptoms of anxiety and depression, or trigger more complicated conditions. Add to that the misguided belief that we should “suck things up” and forget about how we feel…no wonder we have difficulty living in relationship. Similarly, if we haven’t sat with our feelings we may rely on further unhealthy ways of dealing with our problems such as, alcohol, drugs, or other addictions.

You may recall, in my last blog post I spoke about our motivations. Can you imagine what it means to an individual when their mental health doesn’t allow them to focus on the day-to-day tasks, let alone working towards a future? Can you imagine the shame, guilt, and loss of self-esteem that can turn up as a result? Why? Because for generations we have not wanted to talk about what we do not understand for fear of feeling the shame and guilt ourselves, for fear of conflict, or worse, the fear of not being accepted. No wonder we often harbor anger towards others. We have been denying ourselves of living in our fullness which means accepting our “feelings” as a part of the human experience. The good news is that like our physical health concerns, our mental health can be managed as well. Actually they are connected.

We are all instrumental in the success of our relationships, even more so when it comes to those with ongoing mental health challenges. Unfortunately, most of us have difficultly sharing our feelings, or asking to get our needs met. We look to education to stretch our minds, and our jobs and careers to stretch our talents and abilities, so why not our relationships to stretch our hearts when it comes to understanding our minds? Imagine the benefits of discovering all that you can about the ones you love.

Some individuals are more susceptible to bouts of “mind full” unrest. None of us would wish these things on ourselves or those we love, but genetically and environmentally for some a stage has been set. As difficult as it may be to see someone we love out of sorts, aside from their professional care, there are some things we can do to move the situation forward and create a new stage setting.

Be calm

There is a saying, “When your child throws a tantrum, don’t throw one yourself.” This follows suit with anyone else we encounter who is upset. Confronting someone who is down only reinforces a negative escalation cycle that doesn’t encourage change. Take a “time-out”. Leave the room, go for a walk, and give the other person time to calm down before you…

Communicate how you feel and why

Often times others may think you are faking or being lazy when you feel paralyzed from an unexpected event or have symptoms of depression. You may not know exactly what you need, but talking it out and sharing with someone who actively listens can help you to think things through.On the other hand, it is natural to want to help the ones we love, but without seeking understanding first, our attempts may fall to the wayside. Ask your loved one what they need and brainstorm together how you can establish support.

Keep practicing

These habits won’t change overnight. They will require a lot of patience and practice but it’s amazing what the presence of a listening ear and genuine acceptance can do. Of course, not all relationships are sustainable depending on the extent of one’s commitment. However, in the same way I believe we should handle our other challenges in life – I propose the same of relationships. To give it our all before we give it up and let it go. Remembering what Carl Jung has said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Let’s encourage conversations about the dreams that are shattered, the influence it has on our intimate and family relationships. Let’s create new dreams and support those who need to adjust their lives, setting aside our judgments of how they, or we should be, accepting the reality of the situation. Let’s seek understanding to be more compassionate towards ourselves and others who are having difficulty adjusting to the many changes life brings our way. Let’s recognize that we are not always who we think we are, those stifling messages we picked up from others. Let’s believe and find hope that with some effort we can change our thoughts and perceptions bringing new meaning to our lives and relationships.

And although I know these ideas may be difficult to implement at first, it really is simple; Listen, Feel, Speak, Repeat! Relationships are not always easy, so it can serve us to remind ourselves of what Thomas Merton said, "Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another." So let's take a step to open up more conversations about our mental wellness. Let's get to the heart and mind of our relationships.

For parents who are interesting in supporting their children in communicating their “feelings” please consider the “Me + U” Interactive Journals. A great tool to crack open the communication channel!

© Cathi Curen 2017

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