Saturday, April 23, 2016

Brushes With Reality and Mental Health: Look Before You Leap

Experience gained from my 30+ years  in practice as a cognitive-behavioral psychologist shows that with the right tools people readily learn to elevate and maintain emotional well-being and happiness. 

At the Think Right Feel Right Blogoscope you will find the behavioral tools and techniques that help to ward off anxiety, depression and addiction.  You will learn about ways to defeat troubling emotions such as anger, worry and sadness.  You will also find practical strategies for increasing self-esteem, positivity and for being a happier you. 

Reality and Mental Health: We readily come by the idea that "being in touch with reality" is a pretty important thing.  The word on the street as well as the psychiatrist's office is that we had better be in touch with reality. The message all around us is: keep your head anchored to reality or risk becoming unhinged!  And there we have it, a concise, easy-to-remember strategy for living life while not losing our marbles.

Realists lead the charge with Existentialists not far behind.  Avid realists insist that we see the world for what it is.  So all I need to do is see things the way they are.  OK, but what way is that?  Should I just try to see things the way others do, a few others, a lot of others?  How do I do that?  How do I know if they are even in touch with reality, if they agree on it—or, God forbid, they all  do agree and think that 9/11 was some kind of government conspiracy?

We seem to do a little better with reality when we focus on physical events such as the amount of local rainfall, the magnitude of earth tremors, the average number of hair follicles on the human thumb or how many pledged delegates Senator Ted Cruz has.  Once we move past the empirical however, reality starts to get slippery, skewed by our perceptual and cognitive frames of reference.

Realities involve meanings, and meanings come from the thoughts and beliefs that we have learned to attach to circumstance.  Realities differ.  My reality may be: "life is what you make it." For someone else, its all about "being at the right place at the right time."  I don't think I share many of the realities of ISIS fighters but,  I suppose they would say the same about me.  Marriage is between a man and a woman, true and not so much anymore.  Many realities are anchored in points of view, in our perspectives.  They come and some go away; some help and some hinder.  They form our mindsets about the world—our working theories about things.  

In an attempt to get on the right side of truth and reality, Realists tell us to strip away idealism, romanticism, and positivity from the pages of life's book.  Look at the world the way it really is. Perhaps they find comfort in the belief that they are getting closer to the truths about reality when they strip it down. Unfortunately, realists often get stuck in their realism, believing that it is realistic to think and feel a certain way when such and such happens. They may contend that it is only natural to be sad when your team loses, or say,  "let's be realistic, life is really not a picnic.  Life sucks and I can prove it." What is inescapably true (realistic) about such viewpoints is that those who hold them create a self-fulfilling reality: for them, life does suck.

We need to be cautious, mindful and flexible regarding the views we hold about reality (if there even is one we might know).  Remember this: not only do we own our viewpoints on reality, but they also own us. They let us see and experience things one way but maybe not another way. They help us to see, and they keep us from seeing. Our views about what is real make us happy or miserable.

Too often our sense of reality is shaped more  by the vagaries of circumstance than by us.  Did you form your reality, or did others have a heavy hand?  What would your reality be if you were born and raised in a different time or raised somewhere far away?  Your reality rests upon what you learned, the sources and circumstances, and, of course, what you didn't learn.

It is important to realize that you can author and reauthor how you want to look at your world.  You can create, shape and reshape your realities.  By taking an active hand in assessing the merits of various points of view and notions about reality, you can choose those that strengthen  prosperity and well-being for you and others. You can guide rather than follow "truths and realities" delivered by the winds of circumstance.  By being an active and mindful author and editor of your thoughts on reality, you bolster, rather than limit, opportunities for a fulfilling and mentally healthy life.

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