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.