My last two blog posts (part 1 and part 2) have introduced the concept of taking personal responsibility for the way we respond to challenging situations, of operating ‘above and below the line’. In those posts I made passing reference to ‘emotional health’, so I thought it would be a good time to explain that concept too.
The idea of emotional health takes the notions of personal responsibility and ‘above and below the line’ a few steps further. As we discuss emotional health we are getting to the real core of the work of Global Leadership Foundation, that is to support leaders in increasing their emotional health levels and understanding the positive impact this has on themselves, those around them, their organisations and the broader community (local and global).
It’s easier to discuss emotional health in reference to the diagram below, which we’ve adapted from the work of Don Riso and Russ Hudson (1999).
The way we like to explain this is to start in the middle and then describe the differences we see as we move up and down from there. In future we’ll provide a little detail on the individual levels.
Let’s take a hypothetical person who is centered at level 5 on this diagram (we would say this person has an emotional health level of 5). This could be the level of the average Western population (in general).
At this level, our person wants to have a ‘good’ life, have friends, a comfortable place to live, go on holidays and have a steady job – all of this is likely to be familiar to you. Our ‘level 5’ person will react thoughtfully to some of the situations that they find themselves in, thinking as much about others as they do about themselves.
But there will be other times when our person will respond to challenging situations in ways that are quite reactive and without thought. Their response or reaction in the moment will be quite automated – below the line – with blaming, denying, defending and justifying appearing in the mix. We know that it is often our person’s loved ones who are likely to trigger these behaviours by pushing their ‘hot buttons’ (you are probably familiar with this also).
What this means in terms of our diagram is that if you draw a line across to the blue triangle, the ‘range of behavioural freedom’ the person had at that time they were challenged is limited (it’s about mid-range), hence their resort to an automated response. And if you draw a line across to the red triangle, their ‘degree of self-centeredness’ is also about mid-range, meaning that the person has a level of concern themselves, rather than others, in this moment. This self-concern also contributes to their automatic, self-focussed response.
It is interesting to note that our ‘level 5’ person will often regret their behaviour afterwards. The will realise that they did think before they acted, and perhaps did not make the choose the best response to their situation. But this realisation it is often too late.
As our diagram illustrates, the top and bottom of the range of emotional health levels represent extremes in self-centeredness and behavioural freedom.
A person with an extremely low level of emotional health (level 9) will display automated, ‘below the line’ responses to virtually every situation they encounter. They have a continual focus on themselves and have almost no behavioural freedom to react other than automatically. They are never ‘present’. People at this level are often fixated, delusional and self-destructive, and are generally under medical and/or psychiatric care (or should be).
The person with high emotional health levels (level 1) is completely open, well balanced and liberated from any degree of self-centredness. With complete behavioural freedom, they are able to make mindful decisions about every situation they encounter and continually take personal responsibility (‘above the line’) for their responses. People like this almost define the term ‘presence’ with their clarity of thought and way of ‘being’ in the world.They access the highest of qualities, showing compassion and deep caring with ease and leading by the highest of examples in all aspects of their lives.
For most of us, our goal would be to increase our emotional health level over time. We will have a look at the levels ‘above and below’ Level 5 in coming posts as well as providing some descriptions for each of these.