What is normal? What does healthy look like? We talk a lot about being healthy on this site, but If you’ve never seen it, or had anyone demonstrate it to you, how do you know what it looks like?

I’ve spent years trying to figure out what healthy is, because I knew I wasn’t. I always felt that there was some hidden mystery I had to figure out, a secret that other people knew that I didn’t. While I was in the midst of my darkest despair I did a lot of traveling all over the world and I talked to a lot of people trying to solve this riddle, people that I admired and respected and those that I’ve studied, who I consider my mentors. I compiled a list of several traits I noticed that they all had in common:

They are self-focused not other people focused: That’s not to say they don’t put other people’s needs ahead of their own at times, but they don’t lose themselves or neglect their own needs in favor of someone else’s. They have a good sense of what they want, what they like, what they need and they have no problem making these things a priority. They have their eyes on their goals and their future, independent of anyone else.

They have a very low tolerance for dysfunctional people: Healthy people don’t have a need to fix or control other people. Because they are self-focused, they aren’t interested in carrying someone else’s baggage. They look to make themselves better by association, not worse. Certainly they will help out someone in need, but they don’t invest their lives, their emotions, or their future in deeply troubled individuals. They don’t ignore red flags and serious issues. They aren’t interested in relationships that soar and crash and cause havoc and drama in their lives, instead they seek out relationships that are stable and reliable, with like-minded people.

They aren’t afraid of conflict and they communicate effectively: As codependents we’re taught to be quiet, not to rock the boat, that our wants and needs aren’t important and to avoid any behavior that might arouse anger, aggression, criticism, or attention from our emotionally manipulative parent. Communication is vital to every human relationship and when this is how you’ve been trained to interact with the world, you’re starting out with a huge disadvantage right out of the gate.

I’ve spoken in a previous blog about the 4 types of communication – passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive and direct. The only mode of communication that is healthy is being direct. Healthy people don’t stay quiet and assume others should know what they want. If they want or need something, they know that it’s their job to speak up and make their wishes known. They don’t sit back and accept poor treatment because they’re afraid of upsetting or losing someone.

How you express yourself is a measure of your self-esteem. Don’t keep quiet about important issues that need to be address, with the hope that they will go away, or that the other party will come around to your way of thinking. And don’t expect people to be able to read your mind. All that does is set you up for failure, heartache and pain.

Healthy people are not  passive aggressive. They don’t agree to do something and then not do it, or sulk in protest. If they don’t want to do something – they say they don’t. They aren’t overly aggressive either. You don’t need to yell or intimidate and get into someone’s face to get your point across.

When you don’t speak your mind you leave the door wide open for miscommunication. Emotional manipulators live in life’s ambiguity. When you’ve clearly indicated your intention, there’s no room for misunderstanding and when you get in the practice of always saying what you mean and meaning what you say, Narcissists will have a much more difficult time trying to convince you that you’re crazy and confused.

They are impeccable with their word: Emotionally healthy people aren’t looking to con, deceive or manipulate others to get ahead. They are independent, dependable, reliable and trustworthy. If they tell you they will do something – they do it. They aren’t passive aggressive about it, they mean what they say and they say what they mean. There is no guess work with healthy people, no drama – they prefer honesty and integrity.

They make self-care a priority: I have a beautiful friend named Jane. Jane is flat out gorgeous and every morning her alarm clock goes off at 5:00am. She gets up and heads out the door to her gym, where she and her friends meet and work out every day before heading off to work. Jane also runs marathons – big ones, like the New York Marathon and the Boston Marathon, every year. When I first learned of Jane’s proclivity for fitness I asked her, what any student of human behavior would – why? Why do you do this every day? What motivates you? What stops you from hitting the snooze button? Her answer was that it felt good to give her body what it needed – to make it strong, to have good endurance, to be able to breathe deeply and to look good. Her most important reason, she said, was to be there for her two young daughters.

Not everyone can be like Jane. She’s a doer and she usually gets more done by 9:00am than most people do their entire day. I’m a writer, I do my best stuff late at night, when it’s quiet and I can think. I can’t remember the last time I saw 5:00am.

Self-care is more than just fitness though, it’s about taking the necessary time and doing the necessary things to keep yourself balanced. Many of my friends have young children and any mother can tell you how daunting that can be, but I will say, those women who don’t hesitate to take a night off to spend time being with friends, or pursuing their interests and hobbies, are the happiest. They tell me, if they allow themselves to get too overwhelmed, it will show in how they parent. They’ll have less patience, get angry, or frustrated more easily and generally, be more stressed out –which affects everybody. But when they take the time to recharge and get centered and have fun, they know they will be better all around, for taking care of themselves first.

They hold themselves to higher standards and have more confidence:  Looking back at my childhood it almost seems like my mother made it her life’s mission to make sure I didn’t feel good about myself and that I had no confidence. Consequently, I grew up with little to no self-esteem and a belief that I couldn’t do anything right. It always seemed like I had more obstacles to overcome than everyone else, which made even starting a task more difficult, let alone all the doubt and uncertainty that would plague me all the way through.

Today when I observe my very accomplished friends, the one thing I notice is that they dive right into their tasks. They don’t procrastinate, over-analyze or get bogged down with self-doubt – they just do it. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have a plan, or they won’t redo their work several times, but they roll up their sleeves and get to work, knowing that nothing is impossible for them and they even look forward to the challenge. They have certain expectations of themselves, they’re committed and they know they’ll do it right. Their expectation is born from the belief that they have in themselves, their abilities and their past experiences with success. When you start off knowing that you can do something, you’re already more than half way there.

They are not self-destructive: Healthy people don’t feel that they are lacking, or that they have voids to fill. Sure everyone has something about themselves they would change, but healthy people don’t get hung up on these things. They’re not looking to escape reality, or dull a hurt. Healthy people don’t want to hurt themselves. They have healthy attitudes about themselves and their abilities and they are genuinely happy and positive about life.

They have and enforce boundaries: Boundaries are kind of the buzz word of my blog. I grew up with no boundaries and that led to people walking all over me throughout my life. Healthy people are taught to have boundaries, to respect their rights and the rights of others. They were taught about fairness, morality and respect. Healthy people have a strong sense of right and wrong, they have no problem helping someone out, but they know where the line is between helping and being taken advantage of. They have an intact and fully functioning warning detector and they trust it. They treat people with respect and if that same curtesy isn’t reciprocated, they have no interest in any further engagement.

They hang around with like-minded people: When I was younger I used to hang out with losers, self-destructive people that were always upset, angry or in pain. I felt comfortable with them, because that’s how I saw myself. That was the universe doing its, ‘like attracts like’ dance. I don’t hang out with any of those people anymore. I even think one of them now has a tattoo on his face – his face!!!!

In my current circle of friends there are two lawyers (prosecutors), a yoga instructor, a marathon runner, company executives, artists, computer techies, an internet guru and a TV producer. Most of my friends are relatively new friends and I can safely say, there’s a distinctive difference between the type of people I attracted back then and those I attract now.

Healthy people aren’t interested in drama and tension in their relationships with family and friends. They seek out peace and being with people who they can trust and reasonably predict their behavior. They don’t do the egg shell shuffle. They like to laugh and have fun and enjoy simple pleasures.

Last week I was talking to one of my artist friends and he said something so profound I made him repeat it three times, so I could write it all down. He said, “Sav, if you ever find yourself feeling unhappy with your life in some way, take a moment to reflect on the people you spend most of your time with. I’ve found that one’s personal, emotional, mental, spiritual and even financial state is deeply affected by the influences of one’s peer group. Lately I find myself surrounded by people with a zest for life and a passion for music and I feel the change in me already.”

He capped off his great quote by saying, “You can’t CHANGE the people in your life, but you can change the PEOPLE in your life.” Dezz A.

What a great quote. So there it is. I was looking for this big mystery and it was right in front of my eyes. If you want to know what healthy is, take a look at the attitudes and behaviors of those you respect and admire most and then do that.

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