What language do you speak when it comes to feelings? Mental health? Diagnoses? Given the choice, how would you explain depression or anxiety or anger to a child you cared for? How would you want that child to see the world?
Being trained as a social worker, I learned what is called the “strengths perspective.” We focus on looking for what is good about a person and their environment, while the traditional medical model tends to look for what is wrong. I don’t fault the medical folks- it’s their job to find out the problem and determine the best course of treatment. But when it comes to a person’s mind and spirit, that’s not my preferred perspective. I like to look at all of it, not just pieces of one or the other, because knowing strengths can tell you much about how to fix the problem.
I believe it’s important to develop a language for feelings. It truly matters. Most of us don’t learn this in school or even from our families. If it were up to me, every school would have a class in feelings and how to regulate our emotions, as well as how to talk about them. Instead, what tends to happen is we grow up using whatever skills we’ve figured out (some that are helpful, and others that are maladaptive) and we go out in the world and sort of mess up a little and maybe get a diagnosis or two, and wonder what is wrong with us. We wonder what is wrong with us.
Allow me to share my perspective: There is nothing wrong with you.
There is completely nothing wrong with you. There are many things wrong with the world, but not with you. There are definitely real diagnoses, and perhaps you’re someone that has one or more in your medical file. But that’s not something wrong. That is simply “what is.”
It’s all about language.
Things “are” in the same way that you are a certain height. Typically, it’s not acceptable to ask someone, “Why are you so tall?” because we recognize these things just are. While someone’s height may be striking to us, we accept it as out of that person’s control. They just grew that way. It just is.
Your feelings are no different. Once we can accept that we feel certain things and our brain works in certain ways, we can move forward. Once we can agree that we just are, we understand there is nothing wrong. There may be things we don’t like about ourselves, or things we want to change or improve upon, but that’s a separate issue. Certainly if we have unsafe or harmful behaviors, we want to eradicate them so we can live a life in recovery. People sometimes have behaviors that are harmful because at the time, it seemed like the best option to handle their feelings. Coming to a new understanding about how we arrived in that place can help us release the judgment and forgive ourselves, and gives us a new language with which to think and speak of our emotions. It allows us to move forward, instead of critiquing where we’ve been. Understanding “what is” is not denying there are problems-it is simply removing the self-blame and accepting how you got there so you can do things differently in the future.
There is nothing wrong. We are all totally imperfect, flawed, tenacious, and strong people. A diagnosis is not a chip in the armor. Do not believe those who dismiss that mental health diagnoses are documented, neurological disorders. If you see things within yourself that you want to change, please find the resources to meet your goals, and if you are doing things that are unhealthy or harmful, you must keep yourself safe. But always understand you are never starting from a deficit. Plant your feet in your strengths-they will tell you how to find your solution and meet your goals.
And watch your language.