This blog contains information extracted from my one-hour webinar ‘Emotional Health: The Missing Link’. If you’d like to arrange for Jon to run the webinar for your team or employees please, Click This Link.
I refer to Emotional Health (EH) as being ‘The Missing Link’ not because it’s really missing, but because EH is generally poorly understood as a concept.
In the last decade or so there has been tremendous progress made in normalising mental health problems and putting them on a par with physical health issues. Following on from decades, or even centuries, of viewing mental illness as being a curse or an embarrassment and something that should only be talked about in hushed voices, we are now at a stage where the stigma of mental illness is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Also over the last 20 years or so we’ve started focusing on the benefits of individual and corporate wellbeing.
There generally seems to be a view that wellbeing is at one end of a continuum and at the other end is mental illness – the distress and despair experienced by someone with mental health problems clearly being so obviously opposite to our idea of what it is to experience wellbeing.
But what’s in the middle? What fills the space between profound wellbeing and profound mental illness, and what, if anything, links the two?
This is why I refer to EH as The Missing Link because it spans the gap between wellbeing and mental illness. Actually, the range of a person’s EH encompasses wellbeing at one end, when a person is totally emotionally healthy, and mental illness at the other end when they are completely emotionally unhealthy.
But the vast majority of us sit somewhere in the middle – although there is a marked difference in our attitude towards the two experiences. Whilst we strive to experience wellbeing – by doing things that we believe will enhance it – which suggests that we feel empowered in the process, yet we hope not to experience mental illness, by . . . well, by crossing our fingers mainly it seems, which suggests we feel disempowered.
My experience over more than two decades in this field has shown me that we can actively do something to ensure we experience wellbeing whilst simultaneously minimising our chances of experiencing mental health problems – we can ensure that we are emotionally healthy. To do this, it’s important to first understand the concept of Emotional Needs.
It’s well established that humans, in common with most other living organisms, have some basic physical needs that must be adequately met in order for us to live – oxygen, food, water, shelter (in order to regulate temperature), movement and sleep. It’s easy for us to see that if we are unable to get the above physical needs adequately met we will suffer and may die. So if we’re hungry enough, we’ll eat anything, if we’re thirsty enough, we’ll drink virtually anything, just to try and survive.
Humans, uniquely though, also have a basic set of emotional needs (listed below) that are also essential for our existence. The urge to get these needs met is instinctive, but the ways in which we get our emotional needs met is a product of many influences – our upbringing, our position on the socio-economic spectrum, personal life events such as trauma, abuse, neglect and political/geographical/societal events such as war, natural disasters and, topically, pandemics.
Ideally, we learn from our parents, our teachers, mentors, coaches and society how to get our needs met in positive, constructive ways that enrich our lives and the lives of those we are in contact with and responsible for. But, as these are emotional needs and not wants, the bottom line is that if we can’t get these needs met in positive ways, we are still compelled to get the needs met in any way possible.
Good or Bad Doesn’t Matter
So, just like a parched shipwreck survivor adrift in a lifeboat with no fresh water will eventually succumb to extreme thirst and drink their own urine or even seawater (which makes things much worse), so will a person who is either unable or incapable of getting their needs met in positive ways, eventually succumb to getting their emotional needs met in any way they can, no matter how destructive or detrimental to their future those ways may be – and to hell with morality or legality or health or what people think – just get the need met!
Our drive to get our emotional needs met governs all our behaviour, both positive and negative and I’ve listed a few of consequences of not being able to get our emotional needs met in positive ways here:
Addictions to harmful habits, activities or substances such as nicotine, alcohol, drugs (prescription and recreational), gambling, sex, technology, shopping, work
Maladaptive behaviours such as aggression (including being in continual disputes and conflict), high-risk relationships, perfectionism, commitment issues, being emotionally distant, eating issues, self-harm, extremism
Our Basic Emotional Needs are:
- Attention: Giving & Getting
- Connection #1: Primary Relationship
- Connection #2: Friendship
- Connection #3: Community/Belonging
- Status/Being Unique
- Privacy/Reflection Time
- Achievement & Competence
- Meaning & Purpose
- Beauty (being able to see it and feeling some kind of beauty yourself)
- Pride & Approval (knowing you are approved of and that you make others proud)
Why is Emotional Health so Important?
Ultimately, knowing how to get our emotional needs met in positive, constructive and proportionate ways is vital if we are to:
- Experience wellbeing and a deep sense of satisfaction with our lives – which means we are happier and more content
- Be resilient to life’s challenges – including to stress and to physical illness (by boosting our immune system)
- Avoid becoming mentally ill – saving untold heartache and financial problems
- Enjoy better relationships – and avoid the distress that goes with relationship problems
- Have better self-esteem and more self-awareness – by caring about ourselves more, (and understanding ourselves better), we engage in less potentially self-destructive/negative behaviour
- Generate more energy, focus and engagement – and so be more productive and an all round better colleague, team member or leader
- Be likeable – by being able to access and deploy our soft skills better
The reality is that whilst there is no doubt that a small number of people may genuinely experience mental health problems as a result of the pandemic, this is very different to the kind of emotional health issues that most people will experience.
Feeling anxious about whether your child’s education is suffering because of the lockdown, or whether you’ll have to wear a face mask when you return to work, or if you’ll have to reorganise a planned overseas holiday – these are valid worries to have, but they’re not something that requires a stay in hospital or powerful medication to resolve. Having a reassuring chat with a friend or a colleague in a similar situation would probably do the trick, as fundamentally, what discussing the worry does is help you to understand the emotional needs that are being challenged by the situation (even if the conversation doesn’t explicitly reference emotional needs).
But perhaps the most important reason that EH is so relevant, especially as we deal with the ongoing circumstances of the coronavirus situation, is that the more politicians and the media continue to reference “the rise of mental health problems as a result of the pandemic” or that “social distancing is having a negative impact on our mental health“, the more disempowered we are inclined feel and the less control we believe we have over our ability to manage our emotional state. This diminishes our chances of experiencing wellbeing and all the benefits that go with that in terms of resilience, optimism, physical health, energy levels, self-esteem and quality relationships.
This topic is wide-ranging and cannot be adequately covered in a single blog, but if you’d like to know more, please consider running my webinar ‘Emotional Health: The Missing Link’ for your organisation.
In it, I cover:
- More information on the role of emotional health in our lives
- all the emotional needs in detail
- how to assess how well you’re getting your emotional needs met and
- which ones may be an issue for you by providing you with a follow-up questionnaire containing more than 150 questions that help you to drill down into which aspects of each of the emotional needs are most relevant to you
- the questionnaire provides a framework for assessing, monitoring and improving your emotional health
- BONUS: A brilliant and instant practical technique for controlling powerful negative emotions such as anxiety or feeling overwhelmed.