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Mental Health as Self Denial

By Will Meecham, MD, MA

The mental health system aims to help us build stronger and happier selves. But is this the proper goal?

Exploring how family shapes us, learning to adjust thoughts to build confidence, and even mindfulness techniques that foster comfort with sensations are all directed at us as individuals. True, the family is a collective, thoughts occur in a social context, and mindfulness can reveal the unity of the cosmos. But mental health clinics emphasize shoring us up as individuals, not increasing our awareness of interconnection to others.

Seldom are we trained to look outside our own problems to see the larger world. Even more rarely are we encouraged to explore the relationship between our personal wellbeing and the health of the social network as a whole. But how beneficial is total focus on personality? Centuries of ‘rugged individualism,’ as practiced in America, have failed to create either a just society or a happy citizenry. And without a thriving culture, none of us can feel truly actualized.

4 Comments to
Mental Health as Self Denial

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  1. Excellent article, we are a team, that is the best way to see who we are, and why we are, would you lock yourself up and poison yourself if you were a bit down, or depressed, or would you go and see a friend,try and lift yourself,refocus on the good and the safe, would you do to your brother what you wouldn’t do to yourself.

  2. I agree with you. Self-awareness and Other-awareness are really two sides of the same river.

    • Steven–

      Yes, they are two complementary sides. If a person only helped others and thought only about others, there would be imbalance. Some people with strong codependence become like that in order to avoid looking at the self. In that case, the need to move inward is real. But for most of us with neurotic tendencies, there is too much focus on the self and its desires and frustrations. Because those wishes and aversions are what clients bring up in therapy, they become the focus of mental health work. But obsession with self is the problem, and endless looking at self just makes the situation worse.

      The Buddha advocated the Middle Way. In this context, it means sticking to the center of your river metaphor: not too much focus on self, but only enough for honest self-appraisal and improvement; and not endless worry about others, but enough care and concern to support and love them. Thank you for pointing out that there are, as always, two sides.

      –Will

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