Grounded and Soaring



Who Is Unhealthy?




The Invisible Line Between Neurotic Behaviors and Healthy Coping Skills

The term "unhealthy" is used quite often when it comes to how people function in day-to-day living. Just this morning, I encountered the word three times in my research. Many times it seems appropriate, especially as I browse information on mental illness and therapy. I have used the term myself without a second thought.

But at what point do we question what this word means in the realm of mental health?

I personally suffer from a couple diagnosed mental disorders (most pronounced would be my struggle with social anxiety disorder). I am no stranger to the life of trying to decipher what is considered healthy behavior versus unhealthy. It is very important to me to be as healthy as I can possibly be...for me.

But the unhealthy/healthy line is very fine, microscopically so, especially when you enter areas that are unfamiliar. And, let's face it, most mental health is unfamiliar to those who are not struggling with it.

Everyone struggles somewhere. But someone with a minor case of postpartum depression may look at Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as a foreign land. Another whose life is engulfed by Borderline Personality Disorder may have never even heard of dermatillomania. And the large population who suffers from General Anxiety Disorder may still be clueless about the details and intricacies of Post Traumatic Stress (there is even an educational divide between those suffering from PTSD and those with Complex PTSD).

Simply put, many people just do not understand mental health disorders.

And because of this lack of understanding and knowledge, even about more common disorders, many are quick to toss those actually using healthy coping skills into an "unhealthy" box, vastly distorting the terms and attaching stigmas to something which should be celebrated.

Picture this: You meet someone for the first time. Overall, they seem very average. They converse and interact effortlessly and you even find their conversation a delight. Yet, every few moments, you cannot help but notice them running their fingers along the seams of their clothing. After a few moments, this behavior becomes distracting, making it difficult to even pay attention to their words. Your brain starts to wander through different scenarios of what could be wrong with this person. You pull from a very limited source of terms to categorize this bizarre action, deeming the quirky behavior unhealthy.

Little do you know that what they are performing as they rub the seams of their pants and shirt is a very healthy coping mechanism for an incurable struggle: trichotillomania. After years of cognitive behavioral therapy, they have taken a genetic behavior, compulsively pulling out individual hairs on their head and body, and shifted to a very healthy form of compulsive behavior, simply touching their clothing.

Each time they rub a seam, they are rejoicing at another successful moment of coping in a healthy manner.

There are definitely healthy and unhealthy behaviors, but these can look very different to each person. Everyone has personal, unhealthy behaviors they struggle with daily. Everyone has amazing coping skills and healthy responses they should rejoice in daily.

Only the individual and those closest to them can decide what is healthy and what is unhealthy. No stranger in the grocery store or casual acquaintance at the office, and certainly no anonymous individual through the internet, can have any idea what healthy or unhealthy looks like for your personal situation. Even those who flaunt a psychology degree or boast about their extensive knowledge of the DSM-IV cannot begin to decide without knowing an individual's experiences.

So no matter how healthy or unhealthy the outside world may decide you are, know yourself. Know your strengths. Work on your struggles. And above all, rejoice in each and every healthy coping skill you have worked so hard to achieve, tossing aside the pride of others who wish to tell you otherwise.

I Think You Mean Closed-Minded

I am an extremely judgmental person. Very few moments go by in the day when I am not passing judgment on something.

Those leftovers? I think they've turned.
Your new shoes? I adore them!
Schools? Prisons.
Gay marriage? Go for it.
The sketchy looking guy at the mall? I think I'll go walk over here instead.

Judge. Judge. Judge. I am full of them.

So are you. It is a sign that you are living and breathing. In fact, to take it a step further, it is a sign that you are intelligent, emotionally healthy and capable of survival.

Judging is a natural, ingrained piece of who we are. It helps ensure our survival. It allows us to make quick decisions in confusing situations or well-thought out choices that will affect our futures.

To judge is to have an opinion.

It is impossible not to have opinions. In fact, it is emotionally unhealthy to not have your own opinions. Forming opinions is not shameful or wrong and those who make you believe that it is are using common abuse tactics to silence those with differing views. (Shame, after all, is one of the easiest ways to bring silence to opposition.)

Many well-meaning people use the term judgmental in the wrong fashion. They call out others for being judgmental as though it is an insult, not realizing the shame they are attaching to a word which should be celebrated in our humanity. To those, I wish to point out that you do not mean "judgmental."

You mean closed-minded.

By definition, to judge is to form an opinion about something. Recognize the lack of finality in that definition. One can make an initial judgement based on the information available to them. When new information becomes available, they naturally judge the new information, leading them to reaffirm their initial judgment or alter it to form a new judgment.

Now let us take a look at the definition of closed-minded (according to Dictionary.com): "having a mind firmly unreceptive to new ideas or arguments."

Finality.

To be closed-minded is to make an initial judgment and then refuse any new information that may alter that judgment. Much unlike being judgmental, closed-mindedness is a sign of unintelligence and poor emotional health.

Closed-mindedness is a negative trait. Judgment is a positive trait.

In losing sight of this, a frightening thing is happening. People are becoming afraid to have opinions. They are scared to speak their mind lest they be considered "judgmental." They are shamed into silence while the closed-minded continue to preach loudly and proudly.

So I am firmly resolved to having opinions, proudly and unbashedly. Fluid, open-minded, ever-changing and growing opinions. I challenge you to embrace your ability, and responsibility, to have opinions. Stand proud in each and every one of your judgments, embracing the humanity of a positive, daily thought process.

Challenge thoughts with your own. Invite mature discussions. Seek new, unfamiliar information. Keep your mind wide open and be judgmental.

And when someone tries to shut you down, let them know they are being closed-minded. By all means, judge them.

My Fear-Based Choice

I do not vaccinate my children.

What thoughts come to mind when you discover that? Rage? Fear? Confusion? Compassion? Understanding?

What thoughts jump into your mind? She must be an uneducated person who thinks they cause autism. Obviously she just follows the media hype and the Jenny McCarthy crowd. How can she be so selfish? Clearly she just wants the "Natural Mommy" stamp. I hope she keeps her kids locked indoors.

Or maybe your thoughts jump to the other side: Good for her for fighting the FDA. I am so glad she isn't another "sheeple" endangering her child. If other people care, they can just vaccinate their own children. Way to stand up to Big Pharma!

Don't worry. I have heard them all. I have listened to the flings of hatred toward me or "them" for years. I have stood my ground as people have filled in the blanks of my line of thinking after only hearing one statement. I have been lumped into a massive grouping of individuals who presumably have no brains.

And I get it.

I understand why you feel that way. I understand the passion that this topic brings about because we all have the exact same intentions: keep children safe. I am the first in line when it comes to advocating for the safety of children. I will preach from the hilltops that they are human beings who deserve human rights. I am filled with sadness, and sometimes anger, when I hear of circumcisions, spankings and public humiliations. These children need a voice and I think it is amazing that there are so many people to give them that voice. That is what we need.

But the simple fact is that life is not as black and white as our passions want them to be. The blanks that our brains fill in when we hear a choice another has made are not complete, if they are even remotely accurate.

What leads us to fill in those blanks? To jump to such extreme and anger-inducing conclusions?

Pride.

Pride is what prevents us from showing compassion. Pride ceases our ability to see the humanity in others. Pride shuts down our empathy and raises our voices. Pride lumps people into groups as opposed to separating them into souls, with minds, backgrounds, experiences and individualities.

Pride fuels the anger and destroys the discussion. The very same discussion that may change minds where they may need to be changed and soften hearts where they may have hardened.

Getting vaccines is scary. Not getting vaccines is scary. These tiny lives are in our hands and the first major decision we need to make with their body is scary.

I can only imagine choosing not to vaccinate and infecting a child who did not have the choice. I can only imagine how it feels to want to vaccinate your child and choosing not to because of a medical condition or a family history.

I can only imagine the outcome of vaccinating a child who has a family history of death from vaccines. I can only imagine what would happen if a child with a serious, rare allergy was vaccinated at birth and injected with a large direct dose of that allergen.

I can only imagine making the wrong choice.

Whether we vaccinate or we do not vaccinate, we all have to make a choice. A terrifying, potentially life-altering choice. No matter which side of the debate you are on, for the sake of children, I urge you to take your stand with compassion and love. Generosity and charity. There are people out there who need to hear what you have to say but no one listens to anger, attacks or pride.

Each one of us is working through this fear-based choice. And as long as children's lives are at stake, I pray that the fear never ceases.

The Problem with "Good Touch, Bad Touch"

Teaching our children the differences between "good touch" and "bad touch" has been preached about for quite some time as a means of protecting those children from possible sexual abuse. It sounds good and makes a great deal of sense to the parents. Good touch referring to hugs, kisses and gentle brushes meant out of love and bad touch means touching any private areas. Sounds simple and effective, right?

In reality, however, most parents and sadly even some mental health professionals and law enforcement are very uneducated in the typical child sexual abuse scenario where phrases that seem so clear to adults are easily blurred and skewed once in the mind of a child through no fault of their own.

Most sexual abuse cases occur from an individual who is close to the child and has access to them over a period of time. Through this time, the adult is seen as an important figure in their lives, becoming both trustworthy and respected. Often times they are the "fun" adult and while the parents, in their role of protecting and caring for them child, can turn into the "meanies." Due to this arrangement, the abuser can easily "groom" the child by spending a great deal of time mentally preparing them to accept the abuse, expect the abuse and believe that they deserve the abuse.

Shame

A key part of the abuse is that most children who do not immediately disclose have been led to genuinely believe that they deserve the abuse and are at fault. They are conditioned to think that telling anyone would lead to swift punishment for what they "allowed" to happen. By applying clear cut terms such as "good" and "bad" to what is occurring, the well-intentioned parents have played right into the abuser's game.

When they condition children to believe they deserve the abuse, the word "bad" carries with it the shame used to keep the children quiet:

The touch is bad. They deserve the touch. They are bad.

The shame is effortlessly placed by the abuser and the child is now left vulnerable and feeling guilty. Each time the parents reinforce this phrase to their children, they are unknowingly reinforcing the shame that keeps the child quiet while the abuse continues.

Confusion

Another problem with teaching children the differences between good touch and bad touch is that in some cases it may conflict with their feelings leaving them confused about the truth. As adults who know the difference between positive, loving touch and abusive, unwanted touch, the idea that abusive touch can feel good seems baffling yet it occurs all too often, usually during the early stages of grooming and touching.

When someone a child has been taught to trust and admire begins touching their private area in a way that makes them feel good, they are left wondering why this is considered bad touch. Suddenly the parents words seem untrue and the abusers words make more sense. In the innocent mind of a child, this credibility strengthens the abuser's case and weakens the parents' words.

Incomplete

When taught the difference between good touch and bad touch, the boundaries are usually private areas versus non-private areas. As parents, of course we want to ensure that our children's private areas remain their own, but sometimes being touched or touching in non-private areas can be just as abusive.

Not all abusers are focused on the classic sexual behaviors that come to mind. Sometimes they force or coerce children into sexual behaviors aside from private areas like tickling, kissing, ear-licking or stroking other non-sensuous body parts. Each of these behaviors are still sexual in nature yet do not match the profile that good touch, bad touch covers.

In order to break down what is good touch or bad touch, parents would have to tackle a wide range of behaviors and actions that may not necessarily be complete nor appropriate for the child leaving the catchy phrase lacking at best.

What You Can Do Instead

Educate Yourself
This point cannot be stressed enough. There is far too much misinformation about child sexual abuse and sexual predators running rampant. Whether or not you believe your child is currently at risk, obtaining as much information as you can on the signs of abuse as well as signs of a predator, the better chance you stand in protecting your children.

Please, never assume that your children will come and tell you that someone is abusing them. This is far from reality in most cases.

Educate Your Children
Rather than focusing on good touch and bad touch and other catchy phrases, consider just talking to your children regularly about their bodies. I in no way mean that you should prematurely jumped into the birds and the bees, but teaching your children the basics can make it easier for you to recognize signs of abuse as well as helping give them the language to disclose.

Making sure your children know the appropriate terms for their body parts is especially important. If your son knows that he has a penis and suddenly starts referring to it with strange pet names, that is a great time to nonchalantly bring up where those names came about. Most predators are not going to use "vagina" and "penis" during abuse. If your daughter comes to you and says, "uncle hurt my vagina," what occurred is more clear than if she approaches you with "uncle hurt my tummy" (a common term girls will use when they have been sexually abused).

Teach them their body is theirs
Between school rules, church rules, etiquette rules, house rules and the punishments associated, children can sometimes be left feeling as though they are not in control of their own bodies and others are free to dictate what is right and wrong. By living in a way that they have full say over their bodies and their choices (within reasons of safety), they will know their body is fully theirs.

Spanking children, forcing them to hug or kiss loved ones, making them comply to any adult as authority, no matter how well-intentioned, are all ways children learn that their body and their needs do not belong to them. These actions are all too easily skewed by the abuser. Consider the following common phrases parents use with good intentions:

"If you didn't keep doing [X] then I wouldn't have to spank you."
"If you really loved Nana, you would give her a kiss."
"It is disrespectful to not listen your teacher. She is the adult and in charge."
"Be good and do whatever the babysitter tells you."

Each of these phrases so closely resembles the methods used in classic abuse cases:

"If you didn't keep doing [X] then I wouldn't have to hurt you like this."
"If you really loved me, you would let me kiss you here."
"It is disrespectful not to listen to me as an adult when I ask you to [X]."
"Mommy said you have to do whatever I tell you."

Now imagine if the child was taught that they have full control over their body:

"You deserve to be safe which is why I have asked you to stop doing [X]."
"Nana knows you love her whether you choose to give her a kiss or not. Only do what makes you feel comfortable."
"You can always inquire 'why' when I ask you to do something. If you do not like my reason, we can talk it through and consider more options."
"You know our house rules. Please follow them while the babysitter is watching you."

Those phrases are much less likely to be twisted as they give the child safe control over themselves without shame or conditions to love.

While there is no guarantees that your child will not be met with an abusive situation, educating ourselves, educating our children and keeping communication open without shame, labels or manipulations can help them understand that the abuse is never their fault and lines of communication are always safely open. If you would like a catchy phrase to end your conversations about abuse with your children, may I recommend:

"I love you unconditionally and am always here to listen without judgment or shame."

Be aware, not afraid.

When Shame Has No Power

I have been thinking a lot lately about the different paths to personal discovery and self-improvement. The continuous stream of emails, comments, reviews and connections from readers keeps me aware of the many different places we each are in life. It is no secret that everyone is in their own place on their own journey, yet I feel as though this notion is pushed far back in our brains rather than right up front where it may best serve us.

Not one of us is perfect. We all have our demons rolling around. To add to those demons is the shame of them being exposed, no matter how small. When they are exposed, the last thing anyone wants is for them to remain a permanent fixture, coming back to them in critiques or reminders from loved ones or strangers...perhaps worse, enemies.

But an amazing thing happens when we let go of this shame, when we remove the fear and expose as many demons as we can. In that moment, we can live the feelings to their fullest, discovering that these demons, these fears, these shameful pieces of our broken selves hold zero power.

Zero.

I have been publicly writing for several years, everything from superficial housekeeping and recipes to exposing personal thoughts in my book. I can tell you honestly that not a week goes by when I want to hit the delete button on my blogs and unpublish my book. These are pieces of me, some I hold with pride while others bring me shame and they float around for others to read at their whim, critiquing as they will sometimes without a second thought of my humanity.

But each piece I have written exposes me during a certain place on my path and all those around me are each at their own place. Despite the fact that picking up my book and glancing through it makes me want to edit it to pieces to show where I am at now, that would serve no purpose to someone reading it who is in the place on their path where my words may help them. It shows the old me no compassion and shows those who relate to those moments no compassion either.

I am still no where near perfect. I raise my voice at my children. I eat too many cookies. I gossip after church. I judge those around me. I am a sinner, daily. To publicly hide those sins gives them power. To run back through my written past and cleanse each piece is insulting to my soul, to my reality. Living in secrecy, fear and shame serves purpose only to Satan himself. Hiding our faults fuels his use of them.

I grew up conditioned to live in secrecy and shame and it did me no good. I thought I always had to be perfect lest others judge or condemn the core of me. I vowed to myself to never go back to that.

Thus, my words will remain out there for any who wish to view them, complete with my sins and my glories. Everything from my thoughts, to my budget, even down to my waistline because I have nothing to hide.

I realized years ago that writing is my calling from God to help those who need to read what I write. He chooses whose hands my words land in but those individuals choose what they do with those words. My responsibility is just to show up and write. Write honestly. Write purely. Write without shame.

So when you stumble upon the words of another, whether mine or the millions of others who God leads you to, recognize that, like you, they are imperfect beings on a journey. And before you jump to point out their failings, consider that their words may not have been meant for you. Or better yet, consider that they may be.

"Re-examine all that you have been told...dismiss that which insults your soul."
- Walt Whitman

(As I sit here, pondering whether to leave this post as one I wrote just to make me feel better or to press the publish button to allow others to read it, I recognize that it is shame, fear, worry, anxiety that runs through me. No matter what I tell myself, these feelings are still there, plaguing me. So with that, I will publish it as the only way to take away their power. They have no power. Zero.)
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Jennifer Soldner is the author of A Look Inside a Rare Mind: An INFJ's Journal Through Personal Discovery. She is the founder of INFJ Anonymous, a website devoted to helping other INFJs along their path of personal discovery as well as Joyfully Freefalling. An INFJ, Empath and Highly Sensitive Person, she is also the author of the wildly popular article Top 10 Things Every INFJ Wants You to Know. You can find her on Pinterest, Twitter and .