Mental Health Principles from the Wisdom of Psychotherapy

In thinking about a philosophy or value system based on psychotherapeutic principles, I began to consider some basic guidelines that might prove to be of value for achieving a freer, more satisfying existence. What follows are certain important concepts that people might apply in their lives. 

* Approach yourself with kindness, much as a compassionate therapist or trusted friend would.

It is never acceptable to attack or punish yourself even when you have made a mistake or done something bad or wrong; it’s more important to explore the origins of your actions, to understand and to change rather than judge yourself In addition, you can apologize or try to make amends for hurtful actions.

* All feelings are acceptable, whereas our actions are subject to both reality concerns and moral considerations.

Thoughts and feelings arise spontaneously, and are essentially innocent. Religious orientations that equate feelings or thoughts with action have a destructive effect on personality development and adjustment.

* Anger is an automatic reaction to frustration; it is not related to rationality or logic. Rather, it is proportional to the degree of frustration. When anger is suppressed, it leads to projection or is turned inward against the self; both solutions are dysfunctional.

Angry or even vicious thoughts are innocent, whereas even a mildly sarcastic remark may cause pain. It is important to fully feel one’s anger, and to decide how, when and where to express it. According to Saul Bellow, “One thought murder a day keeps the psychiatrist away.”

* It is dysfunctional to play the victim; it’s more functional to feel one’s anger and express it appropriately.  Feeling victimized leads to passive inward brooding and obsessing without a healthy release.

* Being vulnerable is not a weakness, it is a strength;

Being open and sensitive to your feelings and your wants leads to more direct action and you are more likely to succeed. Being vulnerable leaves you less duplicitous in your communications and other people are more likely to give you what you want. Being controlling is the opposite of being vulnerable.

* Everyone has the right to ask for what they want; however, they are not entitled to get what they want.  Feeling entitled generally leads to a sense of victimization and paranoid thoughts.

* People have no proprietary rights over one another. They cannot possess or “belong” to anyone else, a romantic partner, husband or wife.

Children do not belong to their parents; they belong only to themselves. Each person is unique, separate, and genetically different from everyone else, and cannot be owned. This does not deny the possibility of long standing intimacy, love and closeness.

* Love is not just a feeling, it must include action as well.

Many people believe that they love each other, but their actions are disrespectful, unkind etc. Real love includes such behaviors as affection, kindness, respect for each other’s personal freedom and boundaries, equality and support for each other’s goals and priorities. If these characteristics are not present, it would be inappropriate to consider the relationship loving.                    

* People can learn to love. One is best served by developing one’s capacity to love; it is the only antidote to the despair inherent in the human condition.

As people free themselves from traumatic feelings from their early years, develop insight and work through deep seated personal problems, they can expand their capacity for sensitivity, respect and compassion.

* Everyone has the right to choose their relationships partners and to reject them in the course of one’s development. This does not imply casual abuses or inconsideration of another person’s feelings.

* A person has the right to win in a competition even if it means the other person loses.

Feeling competitive is not a moral issue; it’s a normal feeling reaction to wanting and is directed toward the person or persons who are competing for the same thing. Many people feel guilty about their competitive feelings and shy away from competing to their own detriment. 

* Generosity is not merely an act of kindness; it’s a sound mental health principle. It is its own reward because it contributes heavily to a person’s sense of well-being and good feeling.

Everyone has the personal power to change, but we are up against deeply engrained habit patterns. For this reason, it is not that easy to apply the above ideas in everyday life. However, with energy and dedication, we can get to the point where these precepts become a more automatic and integrated part of our personality and approach to life.

This blog includes a number of basic concepts from the concluding chapter in my new book Separation Theory –A Unique Insight into Self-destructive Thought and Behavior (in press). Tentative publication date is December, 2107 from Zeig, Tucker, & Theison Inc., Publishers.

Read more from Robert Firestone at PsychAlive.org

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