Licensed Professional Counselor
The Cycle of Mental Health
Each time we become aware of something, we begin the process called the Cycle of Mental Health. Each awareness, whether through our five senses or bubbling forth from our intuition, begins a cognitive process that sets into motion a Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Consequence psychic cycle. Operating in our unconsciousness or pre-consciousness, this cycle is the source of the psychic energies we employ throughout our lives.
Thoughts and Beliefs
Our thinking, or logical processes, can be quite different from our beliefs. Beliefs hold gravitas to our thoughts. Our thinking has a 'here and now' quality based on our sensory input and cognitive processes. Beliefs are long-held positions about ourselves, our realities, our spirituality, our values, the world as we see it, and our expectations we have of people - things we just "know". Let's say, for example, you are a Republican. You did not awaken this morning contemplating whether or not you are a Republican, Democrat, or independent; you awakened "knowing" you are a Republican. You do not debate yourself each morning to rediscover your political views.
Your belief systems are a collection of thoughts, memories, and experiences compiled over your lifetime. Furthering our example, you wake up each morning a Republican and, at times, join in political debates that either justifies, explains, or enhances your republican beliefs. It is important to note that belief systems are highly subjective to personal biases. Beliefs rarely change and do so with great difficulty. Conversely, our thinking is easily modified in the moment by the here-and-now sensory stimuli, uncovering new facts, or when faced with irresolute logic.
Heavily influenced by social norms, often formed by early family expectations, shaped by our life experiences, and warped by the traumas we encounter, we build our lives on the foundational concrete of our beliefs. Unfortunately, this foundation is the root cause of some of our major challenges we face. The beliefs we hold dear may not be grounded in fact or reality, providing a major source of dysfunction and impairments in our lives. In fact, our beliefs may be flat wrong. For example, if your beliefs are Republican, just ask a Democrat.
Feelings and Emotions
Our feelings and emotions are devoid of logic. However, our emotions derive from the logical process, the first process in the Cycle. Our emotions hold gravitas to our feelings, since feelings, like thoughts, have a here-and-now quality. Like an iceberg, we are conscious of only a small portion of our emotions and feelings churning inside. Feelings and emotions are the generator of our psychic energies, the fuel that moves us through our lives.
For example, let's say you have a history of experiencing anxiety. While you are aware that you are anxious, you probably cannot say exactly why you have been this way for most of your life. This is the emotional experiences that churns under the surface and out of your consciousness. However, you are probably aware of your high degree of the psychic energy generated from your chronic anxiety. Characteristically, you might have sleeping issues, physically you might feel "stressed" and irritable, you have "nervous energy" that makes it difficult to sit still, you might struggle with smoking or some other deficient coping skill (i.e., eating issues, drugs, alcohol) to relieve physical stress, and so on. What we have now discovered is how our emotions and feelings - our psychic energies - have driven our behaviors (sleeping, stress, irritable, smoking, eating improperly, and drugs and alcohol, to name a few).
This is a simple example of how psychic energies generated from a chronic emotional state of anxiety can overwhelm and keep us "alert mode" and in the "flight-fight-freeze" response to fear (Note: anxiety is a psychobabble word for "fear of future"). As humans, we must develop functional skills to address our emotions and feelings, disbursing these energies in healthy ways that support positive results in our lives.
Before leaving this topic, remember that our feelings and emotions are not logical. We cannot live our lives based on avoiding, denying, altering, or medicating our emotions. These behaviors are a main reason people are in therapy or will wallow in the negative consequences of their actions.
Behaviors and Actions
As we just discovered, the psychic energies of our emotions and feelings often drive our behaviors. However, we, as humans, have alternatives. Because of human evolution, we have a frontal cortex and other higher brain functions that allow us to intervene in this emotional-behavioral process and choose our behaviors. Spirituality defines our ability to choice our behaviors as "free will".
Unlike virtually every other animal on earth, we have the ability to response to stimuli. Thus, we have response-ability. The gazelles on the plains of Africa basically live with five skills - eat, sleep, eliminate, make baby gazelles, and run. When faced with a lion, they have no choice but to run. They run past slower gazelles or until they cannot see the lion. When the danger has passes, they will stop running and go back to eating, sleeping, and making baby gazelles.
We, as humans, have different responses to choose from if faced with a charging lion. We could choose to run, but we know that is a low-probability choice since we cannot run like gazelles; therefore, running is a choice of a last resort. We can get back in the Land Rover and close the door, we can shoot at it and make noise (or shoot it if noise is ineffective), we can climb a tree, or we can get with other people to intimidate. Some brave souls might choose to tame the lion. We have lots of choices when confronted with fear. The gazelles only have flight. We have flight, fight, and freeze. For humans, these are all choices that each of us are free to make.
Through the exercise of will and choice, we naturally inherit a societal accountability that accompanies our responsibility. This accountability is called consequences. Consequences are given by others - we are not efficient by our human nature in giving ourselves our own consequences. Each individual behavior as well as our patterns of behaviors are subject to consequences.
Let's use the behavior of alcoholism as an example. American society has mixed consequences regarding alcohol consumption and alcoholism. If you are a "private alcoholic", where you never drink away from home and never drive intoxicated, society generally could care less. There are no laws against alcoholism. However, there are laws against driving intoxicated, public drunkenness, open container, and underage purchasing and consumption. Society has deemed, through legal referendum, that behaviors that places others at risks will have consequences, including jail, loss of driver's license, loss of business license, and etc.
Still, you can drink yourself blind in the privacy of you own home without statutory consequences. However, consequences still are accruing. If you are drinking to this level, your marriage and family relationships are at risk, your job and career are in jeopardy, you may be facing financial risks, and certainly you are facing health care consequences. Societal consequences are multidimensional and accrue over time. This is the natural accountability deriving from your ability to choose your behaviors.
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