04 Nov What is Wrong With Me?
“I don’t know why I do the things I do”
“How do I fix myself?”
“Why do I feel so broken?”
“Why can’t I be normal?”
How often have you found yourself staring at your reflection in the mirror, asking these questions of yourself? Or heard your loved ones say this aloud to you?
Have you found the answer yet? Is there even a simple answer? To put it simply, yes, there is.
There is a reason we are the way we are, there is a reason we do the things we do, there is a reason we develop certain hard-to-shake behaviors and thought patterns.
The reason is trauma.
We are born into a world that is less than perfect, and hence by default, we have experiences that are less than optimal.
Thus, experiencing trauma, is an undeniable and unavoidable aspect of our reality.
Trauma is not one single event that leaves us impacted for good; anything that overwhelms our body’s capacity to cope is an experience of trauma for us. When we experience stressful events, our body goes into action to keep us alive and help us survive in the world. In the effort to survive, our body uses a variety of responses to ward off the threat to our survival – whatever that may be for us. A response sticks, and it helps us maintain our sense of safety in the world.
With that response are associated certain traits, behaviors, thought patterns, beliefs, and emotional reactions that contributed to keeping us safe in the face of the traumas we were experiencing as a result of living life.
Essentially, those sets of survival responses are who we are today. The behaviors we cannot shake, the thoughts that are recurring, the beliefs that are deep rooted, the emotions that feel turbulent, are results of the trauma we faced in our life. It is our mind and body seeking to survive and maintain a sense of safety.
When we understand it as such, there seems to be nothing ‘wrong’ about the way we are today.
What happens, however, when we grow up in a world that takes this essence of survival out of the narrative and focuses on just the responses and behaviors that have developed?
We grow up feeling like something within us is amiss. We grow up with a notion that we are diseased and require fixing.
How often do you find yourself, or others around you, opting for therapy because they feel that there is something within themselves that they need to fix?
Contrastingly, how often do you find that others around you, or yourself, are resistant to therapy because they are afraid of receiving a diagnosis that confirms that something is indeed wrong?
The field of mental health today is ripe with words such as disease, illness, disorder etc. Like a pathologist studying a sample, the clients are studied under a microscope, zoom in on their maladaptive patterns and jot down notes of what we see with the intention of sorting them into one of the categories of disorders we are familiar with.
Once people are neatly fixed within a label, then the real work begins with turning to the toolbox of therapies to look for the one that works best with the kind of disorder identified.
While this process gives clarity and allows us to make deductions and predictions more easily, it reinforces the notion that something is broken and must be fixed; with therapy being the tool to fix it. It leads to the thinking that if I seek therapy, there is something wrong with me.
What if the only thing that is truly “wrong” in this equation is the idea that something is wrong?
What if the only thing to fix is the way we approach our psychological health?
What if we can look at ourselves from the lens of truly understanding our experiences and humanizing the patterns that have developed as a result, rather than pathologizing ourselves?
Such a way does exist, and, in recent years, it has been studied and backed by research.
This way is called Salutogenesis. A mouthful of a word, with a handful of humanity in it.
The Salutogenic approach to mental health is one that takes into account the reality of survival and states that there is nothing wrong with us; that at every point we are always working towards remaining healthy and alive in the way we know how, with the resources we have. It understands that we develop from our life experiences and, as such, our behaviors and coping mechanisms reflect the stresses we have undergone.
The focus shifts from how we were scarred by our trauma, to how we developed coping responses to survive our trauma. It’s a shift in language and perspective that brings a whole shift in approach and action. When we look at ourselves as survivors instead of victims, we start to feel more empowered and less diseased. Our body has one purpose: to keep us alive. And in the midst of chaos, it utilized the resources it had to ensure our survival. Because it did what it did, here we are today.
When you look at ourself that way, does anything really feel wrong?
When we view ourselves and others from a lens of wellness rather than illness, we focus on the factors that promote physical and mental well-being rather than those that cause disease. We view our behaviors and responses from the lens of a nervous system that utilized whatever resources it had to help us feel safer in the face of trauma and stress.
In a nutshell, it allows us to see ourselves as humans with resources rather than defects. This is the crux of the Salutogenic model of health.
In a Salutogenic therapy model, the focus then becomes on building and maximizing resources to promote health and wellbeing, rather than scoping out disorders to diagnose and treat. The process of therapy becomes open-ended, holistic and collaborative, not to mention humane as your therapist sees you for the resourceful individual you are rather than for a label that limits you.
In such a setting, a therapist does not assume a pathology behind their client, they only assume capacity and resilience. From that assumption springs the unconditional positive regard that drives out any notion of being fundamentally flawed.
The question shifts from “what is wrong with me?” to “what worked for me then and what works for me now?”
Can you imagine the implications of living in a world where that question is what you ask yourself when you look in the mirror?
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