Cultivating emotional wellbeing
An old Quaker joke goes:
All the world’s crazy except for thee and me… and sometimes I’m not so sure about thee!
Jokes aside, there is reason to suppose that most ‘normal’ people have some level of mental disturbance. Indications include anxiety; flareups of anger and resentment; addictions (including addiction to money); marital sadism; and outbreaks of violence.
Does this matter, or should we just take it for granted?
It matters. It matters greatly, not only in terms of the quality of people’s lives and their relationships, but also in terms of how our society as a whole operates in an age of global warming and powerful authoritarian forces. Our challenge, it is worth repeating, is to become the kind of people who can create and enjoy a life-affirming culture
But this challenge is not just for ourselves, as though we are sole actors our own stage. We are all in this together, and the greater the general level of emotional well-being, the more likely we are to respond collaborative and wisely to the great issues of our time.
So, what might we do to raise the general level of emotional maturity and well-being?
Resolving our own emotional triggers
There are techniques we can use for ourselves to resolve emotional issues. Research psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score describes a number of experiential techniques that work. They all start with noticing an emotional reactions that may not serve us (occasions of upset), and deciding to do something about it.
Andrew Gaines’s Inner Work is a manual of techniques that people can use for themselves. One of them involves tapping on acupuncture points, thus balancing energy flows and reducing our untoward emotional reactions. Another involves visualisation, where in our imagination we meet disturbed parts of ourselves.
Supporting New Parents
Much trauma comes from abuse in childhood. Therefore, improving the quality of childrearing is a key leverage point for evolving a healthy society.
One way to act on this insight is to organise for experienced parents to coach new parents on how to bring out more of their nurturing side than their punitive side. Some communities already have such programs.
There is a course, Parent Effectiveness Training, that teaches parents how to work out issues with their children, rather than merely responding punitively. Parents can also use techniques such as those described in Inner Work to quiet the anger and frustration their kids may sometimes trigger.
Some organisations enable their people to thrive. Others have bullying, exploitation, and high levels of stress. Obviously, managerial personality and style has a lot to do with this. Embodying partnership-respect values at the organisational level can make the organisation more effective, as well as being a contribution to the evolution of a life-affirming culture. There are consultants who can help with this. Ricardo Semler’s Maverick describes how he changed his company from command-and-control to giving his people high degrees of autonomy and responsibility.
Giving staff tools to resolve their own emotional reactions can help the organisational climate, as can training in improvisational acting or Synectics (a group problem-solving method that uses metaphors and mental jumps) to enhance collaborative thinking skills.
Introducing People to tools to Resolve their own Emotional Triggers
The techniques described in Inner Work are easy to introduce to other people. This can be done informally over coffee, as well as in workshops. In doing so, we are contributing to the evolution of society that has more care and compassion.
When we introduce people to these techniques we are not acting as psychotherapists, but as trainers. A great level of skill is not required; it is sufficient to be comfortable with the process. When we introduce people to such techniques we are giving them a great gift.
Apparently some kids cry themselves to sleep over climate change. It may be that whatever our conscious denial, all of us know at some level that our life-support systems are being destroyed.
How to respond, knowing that the ‘great unravelling’, if it proceeds unchecked, will be horrible – as starvation and poverty are already horrible for millions of people?
Some people turn their concern into protest; others do practical actions such as developing renewable energy. Others go into grief.
People who do best with life-threatening illnesses are the ones who respond proactively – and this is what we would do well to do. We would do well to set our intention on changing the operation of our whole society, and express this by becoming proactive leaders.
The most influential leverage points in any human system are in people’s goals and ways of thinking, so we do well to become superb communicators about the systemic changes necessary to pull out of our ecological nosedive, and evolve a life-affirming culture.
The Social Determinants of Healths
Disease results from stress. Stress affects the endocrine system in ways that impair cell functioning over time. Stress also impairs the immune system, so we become vulnerable to pathogens.
To be black in a racist society is obviously stressful. To be out of work with little social support is stressful.
Some people live in poverty pockets characterised by high rates of crime, few job prospects, a high proportion of single mothers, and drug and alcohol abuse. This is not an accident. Our economic system is organised in a way that amplifies the rich-poor split. We could certainly evolve a more equitable society.