You're fit and healthy, but are you mentally healthy too?

Looking after our mental health is vital to our emotional well being.

Like Comment

You're fit and healthy, you go to the gym, you eat well, but are you mentally fit and healthy?

Many of us are in some way, without realising it, neglecting their mental health. This could be as subtle as working crazy hours, or it could be as obvious as drinking two bottles of wine a day.

In my earlier posts, I have looked at the importance of feeling your emotions, and building emotional resilience, in this post, I will look at what the granddaddy of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud, called "reality testing".

Say you are walking down the street, and you see someone you know. You lift your hand to wave at them, but they do not wave back. How do you feel?

Are you likely to feel hurt and rejected? Or are you more likely to think they did not see you? In therapy, we use the term "mentalisation", to talk about the ability to interpret human behaviour. Due to past conditioning, it can be hard to interpret other's actions in the here and now, because we rely on old wiring. We may have felt abandoned as a child, and when we are not acknowledged on the street, we are taken back to that feeling.

Reality testing is the ability to stand back and ask ourselves: did this person mean to hurt me? Am I reacting like this because I tend to take things personally? It is the ability to put things into perspective.

To do this, it is important to acknowledge how you feel in response to what happened. You may feel that someone slighted you at work, or at a party, and that might well hurt. If it does, sit with the emotion and stay curious as to what it brings up. Does it bring up past hurts? Is there a feeling of rejection that you have experienced before? Perhaps as a child? Or when you were older?

Then, once you have acknowledged how you feel, ask yourself: am I reacting to a past hurt or to what is happening now? Did this person mean
to hurt me? Or do they have their own issues which they were taking out on you?

It may be in some cases, that the hurt was intentional, and then you can take time to think about how you want to handle that: what may or may not need to be said.

But in many cases, we can assume that we are being attacked, or slighted, when in fact the other person is having a bad day, or is not a great communicator.

Reality testing, though, is made a bit more tricky because it can be used as an avoidance strategy. You feel hurt but you tell yourself: I'm sure they didn't seem me, I can't feel upset. Whereas, acknowledging that you do feel hurt, then allows you to think about why, and whether that hurt was intended by someone else.

Reality testing helps us when we are "catastrophising", which is imagining the worst-case scenario: I'm about to lose my job, I won't be able to get pregnant. Using it as a tool, helps us to distinguish between an image we're constructing, based on our fears, and a more objective reality.

Like all these strategies, reality testing takes practice. It means trying to step back from projecting your beliefs and expectations on reality. And trying to see what actually happened, and what the reality actually is.