There are some psychologists who adhere to the Systems approach to mental health. The central idea here is that each individual lives and functions within a larger psychological system, like the family unit, a peer group, etc., and that within that system, our sense of self and well-being are derived and nurtured, this, of course, is especially true for young children, who, in their immature sense of personal boundaries, are wide open to external influences. Even a person’s sense of his own separateness is learned within the setting of the family system. If this system has the qualities of openness, truthfulness, acceptance, and love, then a child’s emerging self-image will naturally tend to be healthy. Where the communication is stifled or warped in a family system, the individual’s self-image can easily become unhealthy. Besides exploring our own personal history to clean up unhealthy impressions we may be carrying and acting out, there are some lifestyle choices we can make in our present circumstances to keep our psychological environment “clean”.
- Patch up resentments and unfinished business with family members. Do whatever it takes so at least you know you’ve tried.
- Make room for feelings and their honest, appropriate expression with your present family system or relationship system. A free flow of feelings is like the healthy flow of blood in the body.
- Focus on the love and appreciation of the other members of your system. This fosters an upward spiral of acceptance and ease in being together. Remember: ease is the opposite of dis-ease.
- Make conscious agreements on how to handle the “negative” emotions like anger, jealousy, etc. A good rule of thumb to remember is that those feelings generally don’t stand alone, and mostly sit on top of feelings of hurt or fear. At those times of negativity, make the choice to share the whole truth that includes those hurts and fears. Let yourself be vulnerable and cultivate trust. Initiate this style of sharing in your relationship system. How many times people just wait for the other one to start, and then it never happens!
- Actively respect the integrity and other-ness of people in your system and avoid the traps of right and wrong. A healthy system includes correction, not wrong-making. When you make someone in your own relationship system wrong, you are literally hurting yourself.
We don’t live in a psychological vacuum. In fact, we live and breathe within the psychological environment of our relationships and families. Each of us has the responsibility to keep this environment clean and flowing.
Article by Andy Roman LMHC, MS, RN