I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
Lately I’ve received the gift of positive peer pressure and inspiration to not be complacent and passive about my emotional maturity, but to take it seriously, as an essential element of living a happy, healthy life.
Now, as you know, I’m no stranger to the world of self-help, therapy, personal growth, and psychology. I am a person who has been utterly broken by life and has had to put myself back together in a new, life-enabling way. I’ve sat on therapy couches and group therapy chairs and poured out my heart and faced my demons. I’ve learned new ways of living and cultivated healthy relationships. I’ve done the work and have finally become stable, functional, and healthy—even thriving. Hooray!
But that doesn’t mean I can just sit back and see what happens next.
Just as recovering addicts must work every day to renew their commitment to sobriety and keep cultivating healthy habits, in order to protect themselves against the physical force of the addiction, I too must continually practice skills of emotional maturity—skills such as interpersonal boundaries, self-soothing, impulse restraint, self-awareness, and self-care. (I’ve written about several of these topics here before; I linked you to a few such posts.) Otherwise, it’s easy for negative habits and destructive forces to creep in and send me back downhill.
Let me illustrate what I mean by sharing three things that have influenced my thinking about this recently.
First, last week I was talking to an old friend who was telling me about her experience going to grad school for drama therapy. She said that because she and all her fellow students were training to become therapists, they were all undergoing intense therapy for themselves, both formally and through practicing what they were learning on the only readily available subject they had to practice on—themselves. As a result, there developed a strong culture of positive peer pressure to communicate and behave in healthy, responsible, and mature ways. When someone would act out with, say, passive-aggressive behavior, everyone else would immediate call her out on it.
How awesome! Hearing about that really inspired me. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had that kind of positive peer pressure? I may not be in therapy school, but I do have a few likeminded friends who provide some of this kind of positive peer pressure and accountability for me. But I want to cultivate that mindset more strongly in myself and take my own emotional maturity more seriously.
Second, I have been watching a family drama show on Netflix (I’m a sucker for those. I know I’m not at all cool—I’d much rather watch a scene of heartwarming conflict resolution over one of zombie head-smashings! But I am who I am) called The Fosters, about a biracial lesbian couple who are mothers to five children: one biological son, two adopted children, and two new foster children. The characters of the mothers are great examples of the kind of mindset I’m talking about: they are committed to mature and healthy communication, behavior, self-awareness, and handling of problems. Of course they’re not perfect; they sometimes say or do thoughtless things that end up hurting someone else—but then they work through it maturely, and they create a safe atmosphere for their kids to do the same. Their lives are ruled by trust that’s based on honesty and respect for boundaries, both others’ and their own. So, even though they’re not technically “peers,” they still give me some seriously positive peer pressure!
Third, I recently listened to a TED talk by psychologist Guy Winch titled “Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid.” (I highly recommend it!) He talked about how we all see the need to take care of our bodies—we learn from an early age to brush our teeth and treat minor injuries with first aid—but we don’t see the need to give the same level of care to our minds by practicing emotional hygiene and treating our emotional injuries, such as loneliness, rejection, anxiety, etc. I love this idea of thinking of my emotional health on the same level as my physical health!
In My Life
So, inspired by all these examples, I want to invest more attention to living maturely and proactively, in the clarity of self-awareness, rather than in foggy passivity. It’s a different kind of self-analysis from the religious and shame-laden navel-gazing that I engaged in during my (extra-long) teenage years. This is an adult mindset, characterized by a commitment to emotional responsibility, and for the goal of living a healthy, happy life with healthy, happy relationships.
For me, this mindset needs to particularly involve the practices of:
1. Stopping negative and unhelpful thought patterns in their tracks
I’ve already made a lot of progress with this, fortunately, through learning to practice self-care, self-soothing, and self-awareness.
2. Setting and enforcing boundaries with other people
This is still a huge area that I need to work on—not so much the actual setting and enforcing of boundaries, but seeing the need to do so in the first place. I need to more consistently claim my right to my own needs, personal space, feelings, desires, and opinions.
3. Setting boundaries for myself—what I call “self-parenting”—to take care of myself, restrain my impulses, protect my energy/needs, etc.
This is tied with #2 for the biggest area that I need to work on. So it’s all about boundaries right now for me!
4. Staying self-aware so that my needs, thoughts, and feelings are clearly visible to me—so that I can then practice responsible communication, boundaries, self-soothing, or other “emotional hygiene” skills as needed
This one dovetails with another desire I’ve had lately—to redevelop my spirituality. When I was a Christian, prayer was always a time to check in with myself (among other things). Now I can re-invent that experience and take quiet moments, both spontaneously and ritually, for self-check-in and centering.
I’m excited to challenge myself to reach higher levels of personal growth! Who’s with me?