The Secret to Good Mental Health is...
…Wholeness. That is to say, a mindset that is unifying.
We have two subconscious mindsets competing for control of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. One of them is divisive, the other is unifying. The relative balance between these two mindsets has a profound impact on how divided (disintegrated) or whole (integrated) our minds and personalities become. Not only do these mindsets determine the quality of our mental health but they also determine the quality of our relationships with others. The terms I use to refer to these mindsets are judgmentalism and compassion.
The mindset of judgmentalism is just as it sounds - judgmental. Though we all make wise judgments (assessments) to live successful lives, judgmentalism refers to the tendency to criticize, reject, and condemn people who differ from us in some way. Judgmentalism is most harmful the more personal it becomes, as when targeting the core of one’s identity rather than just their surface level behavior. What makes judgmentalism unhealthy are its divisive effects - turning people against one another and/or turning people against parts of themselves.
Compassion is a mindset that employs empathy, understanding, respect, and tolerance for others different from us. Rather than being divisive, it strengthens identity and relationships by promoting greater degrees of unity and peace. Compassion is what lies at the heart of the Golden Rule - to put ourselves in the shoes of others and treat them accordingly. The Golden Rule is the only tenet found in virtually every religion in the world, indicating just how fundamental compassion is to humanity.
Our subconscious minds have an Inner Judge, which is the internal authority responsible for controlling us. Freud referred to this harsh internal authority as the superego, the job of which is to control the impulses of the primitive id (sexual and aggressive instincts). He theorized that neurosis (mental illness) is a consequence of unhealthy conflict between the judgmental superego and the naughty id, and proposed that a rational ego is needed to mediate this conflict in order to keep us whole and sane.
It’s not easy to control human nature. Sexuality, aggression, selfishness, greed, pride, and hostility are all natural impulses that need to be tamed. Parents must first regulate these impulses in their children, and how they do so often becomes the model for how those children will eventually regulate themselves and others in adulthood. Parents (and other authorities) commonly resort to judgmentalism because of how effective guilt, shame, and fear are at controlling people. Religious scriptures commonly emphasize the judgmentalism of a righteous God who condemns and punishes those who violate holy commandments. Although judgmentalism is a highly effective mechanism of control, the cost of its harm to mental health can be quite steep.
The purpose of a compassionate mindset is not to control, but to comfort. But when combined with the use of appropriate consequences, compassion enhances the effectiveness of those controlling consequences. Children, teens, and adults are more receptive to rules and consequences when they are enforced by people who make them feel good about themselves rather than bad about themselves. Excessive guilt, shame, and fear are often precursors to anxiety, depression, addiction, and rebellion. We are more inclined to accept and cooperate with rules when they are humanely imposed.
A more concise way of explaining the contrasting effects of judgmentalism and compassion on mental health is this: Judgmentalism provokes divisive opposition, whereas compassion cultivates unifying cooperation (wholeness). And because these dynamics work the same way between people as they do within individuals, developing a compassionate mindset is better for both relationship health and individual mental health.
The sad news is that the mindset of judgmentalism is arguably more prevalent in the world than the mindset of compassion is. People are too judgmental of themselves and others and not compassionate enough with themselves or others. The good news is that there are therapeutic approaches for resetting our minds to be less judgmental and more compassionate. Simply becoming more aware of these different mindsets within yourself and others will help your own mind begin to evolve in a more wholesome direction. And therein lies the secret to good mental health.