Mental Health 101: Dr. Mike’s Four Truths of Personal Growth

At a time in our history when truth appears to be under assault, it’s good to know that we can still look upon our own life experiences, apply wisdom and reason to the best of our ability, and accept the result of that inquiry with some measure of confidence. In that spirit, I offer my four truths of personal growth, and I hope that they align, at least in broad strokes, with some of your own experiences, wisdom, and reason.

The Four Truths
1. We all have “stuff,” broadly defined as the attitudes and behaviors that we inherited through our family of origin that get in the way of our full development as healthy persons (spiritually, physically, relationally, socially, etc.).

2. We all tend to deny that we have “stuff”—or at least we deny some of it, particularly the more disreputable manifestations of what we’ve inherited. Our “stuff” can be embarrassing—it might include racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices, for example, or negative patterns of interpersonal relations, or unhealthy values resulting from poor role modeling.

3. The first step on the path to wellness—the path to more fully being the persons we are called to be—is the acceptance of those first two truths and the subsequent willingness to confront our “stuff.”

4. Each successive step involves the ongoing commitment to notice our “stuff” when it arises and to make a more intentional response to it. Noticing one’s “stuff” is a habit that can be developed, like all habits, through practice. My personal experience with this is that it is a lifelong struggle; however, again like all habits, it gets easier over time.

I can distinctly remember an incident of my own family-inherited “stuff” of anti-Semitism becoming present to me when I was in my thirties. It was in the form of an instinctive negative judgment on my part, and I was confronted immediately with the incongruity of my response (it had nothing to do with the specific situation at hand, only about the religion and ethnicity of the person involved), and, sometime later, with the horrific wrongfulness of it. How many times before then had I not noticed those instinctive negative judgments?

I have learned through many life experiences that I am perfectly capable of creating my own “stuff.” I can be hurtful, inconsiderate, and self-absorbed, entirely independent of any negative learnings from childhood. I can create plenty of mischief all by myself without holding on to the “stuff” I inherited, and I most assuredly don’t need to pass that inheritance—or my own home-grown mischief—on to others. May the “stuff” of my family of origin die with me, and may the good that I inherited—and there was much of that—expand and be shared.