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How to Create Emotional Health

The intimate connection between body, mind and spirit has been known and honored in Eastern medicine for millennia. But only relatively recently have we begun to see that emotional health is directly connected to physical heath. Now we know: Neglect your emotional and spiritual health, and sooner or later it will take a toll on your physical body.

Thousands of studies (demanded by the Western cultural paradigm) have proven the mind-body connection. The human body is no longer seen as a machine whose breakdowns are random events. Depression is a risk factor for heart attack (and vice versa); anxiety can provoke digestive and skin disorders; self-centeredness may increase your risk of stroke or heart disease.

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Your emotional health also shapes your ability to succeed "out there." According to researcher Daniel Goleman, author of the groundbreaking book "Emotional Intelligence," your "EQ" is a more accurate predictor of your ability to "succeed" in life than your IQ, a phenomenon he refers to as "emotional literacy."

Detoxify your body of toxic emotions

Beyond physical vitality and personal security, there is an even deeper imperative calling us to pay attention to our emotional health: ultimately, the deepest satisfaction — or greatest misery — comes from our ability to live authentically, deeply and intimately with others. If we neglect our emotional development, we run the risk of isolation as we grind ourselves ever more deeply into cyclic patterns of blame/guilt, hostility/shame, anger/self-hate and other toxic emotions. As a wise friend of mine once remarked, "It is difficult to walk through doorways with a chip on one's shoulder."

Four Myths About Emotional Health

  • "We're only supposed to feel good."
  • "I'm the only one who feels this way."
  • "Most people don't have problems."
  • "I can work through it on my own."

"We take life very seriously, and get hung up in our dramas," notes Patricia Clason, founder of the Center for Creative Living and a personal-development workshop leader for the last 17 years. Her weekend course, "Taking It Lightly," helps people identify their "unfinished emotional work," and move through it to a place in which natural joy and lightness of being can re-emerge.

What You Can Learn from War Veterans

For war veterans in particular, emotions of guilt, shame, grief and inadequacy come up as "old wounds," observes Christan Kramer, director of the Bamboo Bridge, a weekend emotional-healing workshop for Vietnam and other war veterans.

Most participants show up carrying their baggage of skepticism and cynicism, wrapped around the belief that our country has discounted the value of the service they gave and, in some cases, reviled them upon their return. In the workshop, they are able to purge a great deal of the pain and emotional distress they've been carrying, reports Kramer.

Bamboo Bridge, whose courses are offered to veterans free of charge in eight Midwestern cities, is a three-step process: First, recognize the need for change; second, take action; third, recognize that change itself is a process; emotional transformation doesn't always happen overnight. There's still more work to do.

Coaching as a Vehicle for "Courageous Conversations"

While self-awareness is often accelerated in a group environment, often the next step toward greater emotional clarity is to continue into a more focused, one-on-one relationship with a counselor, teacher, mentor or coach. In recent years, this specialized way of furthering one's career, relationship and spiritual development has come to be known as coaching.

Kevin Buck, M.F.T., a founding member of Partnership, Garden Grove, Calif., describes coaching as an ongoing relationship designed to help people produce more fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. It is not psychotherapy. "In most therapy, the starting point is dysfunction. Therapy focuses on fixing a problem. In coaching, the starting point is the client's desire to better oneself personally and professionally. What it's really about is having courageous conversations."

What Are the Possibilities When You Work with a Coach?

  • You take yourself more seriously.
  • You take more effective and focused action immediately.
  • You stop putting up with what is dragging you down.
  • You create momentum so it's easier to get results.
  • You set goals that you might not have done without your coach.

What happens as you gain emotional intelligence? You learn to identify your emotional "triggers." Perhaps the most toxic of all emotions are anger and hostility, for they rob us of peace of mind and the ability to think and act clearly. Hostility can literally kill you by repeatedly stressing your cardiovascular system with a flood of stress hormones designed for brief "fight or flight" encounters.

How Can You Overcome Your Anger?

One way is to "reframe" your anger. Get to know it. Do some inner research, and find out the real "story" behind it. Perhaps, as a child, you were never allowed to go somewhere that was dear to you, and you are still holding deep anger for your father or mother. Your cells hold the memory, and every time a similar incident comes up, you get triggered. You may need to go back and, as Kramer says, "collapse the dysfunctional belief system" that is limiting your possibilities. This may mean letting go of your long-standing resentment and forgiving your parents. Remember, forgiveness is letting go of the need or desire for someone else to apologize for the hurt we suppose they caused us.

Paul Gard's participation in the ManKind Project (formerly known as New Warrior's group) in Indianapolis, helped him "see how my lack of understanding of my feelings put me in situations that I did not deal with in a healthy way, both in day-to-day life and in my relationships. For instance, if I was angry, I might blame you for my anger, whereas now I realize that you may be tapping something for me that is historical, or you may be breaching a boundary I have not set."

In the past, "I might have engaged in shaming behavior — punishing you with my anger — believing you were the perpetrator and I was the victim," he says. His work with the ManKind Project has changed his ability to respond. "Now I can contain my anger, bring it somewhere else, maybe to my men's circle, and sit and talk about what needs to happen. That, for me, is emotional literacy."

You Stop Buying into Media Messages.

Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D., physician and author of Making Peace With Your Past: The Six Essential Steps to Enjoying a Great Future, says "We all live in a hierarchy of competition and comparison; we are never smart enough, successful enough, handsome enough. We hold on to painful fantasies of our sexual and romantic histories. We judge ourselves, and the media reinforces it, causing a deep sense of unworthiness. And it's all an illusion. The truth is, each of us is a child of the universe, and we can make our way through the cultural conditioning and discover a new passion for living."

The dominant cultural story for American men is that of competition. "Men are taught not to share — that's vulnerability," notes Buck. "For women, it's the issue of accommodating others, of always being the caretaker. If you want to stop a conversation, ask a woman what she wants, and ask a man what he needs," says Buck.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" and editor of Health Wisdom for Women, maintains that cultural and media messages often set unhealthy ideals. The impossibly thin image of a model, who looks more like a "prepubescent boy with breasts" than anyone we know, would be so unreal as to be almost laughable, if we didn't take it so seriously.

You Become Aware of Your "Narratives,"

timeworn scripts that may be guiding you to repeat past actions, even if they are counterproductive or painful. Do any of these narratives ring true for you?

  • "I'm not good enough."
  • "I'm not smart/pretty/handsome/tall/thin enough."
  • "I screwed up again! I can't do anything right."
  • "I know my schedule is busy, but when I'm alone, I feel depressed."
  • "Men need to be strong at all times and never reveal their weakness."
  • "If I don't risk being vulnerable, at least I won't get hurt again..."

The common narrative, "I'm a bad person," is rooted in shame, which leads to sham — "when our outer presentation doesn't match our inner feelings," notes Bloomfield. To recapture joy, we must "let go of the slow drip of guilt and regret...the pain of punishment." His advice: Make a list of "if onlys" or "what ifs," then release them, recognizing that "This is the nature of the universe — to regenerate the ashes of the Phoenix."

You Acquire the Capacity to Shift Your Mood.

Many people seem to be "possessed" by their mood. Once you have done some "emotional reconstruction" and have gained a new sense of awareness in action, you may discover that you are less prone to mood swings. You can enhance your progress through deep breathing, meditation and prayer.

Bloomfield wants us to "turn on the light" by tapping into our "quintessential peace. Start by finding the deep peace, then embark on the journey." His vision for us is to move beyond fight-or-flight to a place he calls "stay and play." Meditation is an age-old tool for experiencing quintessential peace. "There is a great deal of haphazard advice in the marketplace," he cautions. "I urge people to find a qualified instructor rather than trying to learn from a book or tape."

Emotional health has long been undervalued in our "continuing education" as human beings. Historically, there has been no "owner's manual" for emotional literacy. It can only benefit every one of us to know that its value is rapidly being recognized in our society.

Could You Benefit from Emotional Coaching?

Would you benefit from coaching or a group study course? If you answer "True" to three or more of the statements below, emotional coaching might be of benefit to you.

  • I sense that I could be happier or more successful than I am now.
  • I sometimes feel that life is passing me by.
  • I find myself repeating old mistakes, suffering frequent setbacks or "bad luck," or reliving/remaining in unhealthy relationships with significant others or authority figures.
  • I often think about or talk about unfortunate experiences in the past (for example, losses, missed opportunities, choices made, handicaps, etc.)
  • I experienced a lot of pain as a child or adolescent, or I cannot recall much from that period in my life.
  • I experience outbursts of anger if I get frustrated by other people, inanimate objects, pets, children, or when I accidentally hurt myself.
  • I sometimes feel that I am not safe to express my emotions to others.
  • I would like my relationships with family, friends, coworkers or neighbors to be closer, more harmonious, positive and/or productive.
  • I am ready to take responsibility for my future and realize a significant next step in my personal and professional growth.

Source: Center for Creative Learning

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