(These are similar, yet very different dimensions of your total “Self”)
Experiencing a great quality of life involves a balance between your physical, your emotional and your spiritual selves. The well-used analogy of a “‘three-legged stool” can be used as a visual image of what happens when one or two legs of your physical-emotional-spiritual selves are not in balance, or maybe not even present. Many people usually give their physical self the majority of attention and the emotional self receives a very small minority of attention. Leaving, more often than not, the spiritual self totally abandoned and without any intentional nurturing.
As this triad of total holistic health becomes more balanced, each leg’s strength or sphere of influence begins to overlap the others. The greater the overlap, the stronger the triad and a person’s resilience to crisis and daily cumulative stress.
For the remainder of this discussion, let’s assume your physical self is well established and is the strongest leg of the “three-legged stool” of holistic wellness.
Emotional Health is internally managed and directed. This area involves your ability to process and work through experiences and stress. Your emotional health also refers to your ability to recover (your level of resiliency) from draining and overwhelming experiences in order to be able to respond to stressful situations later in a more appropriate manner. Emotional health is your ability to handle emotional baggage that you pick up while doing your job and living life. When you don’t possess good emotional health, you are more apt to become trapped, helplessly, in dark emotional states. Developing good positive ways to cope is crucial.
Spiritual Health is externally directed or influenced. This is your big picture perspective of life and how you connect to nature, the divine, crisis and even your own meaning and purpose. Spiritual health gives purpose to your human existence, while guiding and developing your character, morals, integrity and values of life. This area primarily involves how you interact with an external value system. Your spiritual and religious values shape your decision-making (ethics) and how you decide what ‘right or wrong’ to be.
Do you act and look at yourself and your work from an external perspective? It is from this external vantage point of higher, absolute values (may be religious or not) which shape your decisions of life, relationships, work integrity, and even the value or sanctity of life itself. Your spiritual health informs and guides the reasons and considerations that go into your daily decisions. People who state that they have a ‘calling’ to do certain type of work have a spiritual perspective for what they do. In fact, they realize that even if they made much more money doing a different job, they wouldn’t be truly happy not doing what they were divinely “called” to do for humanity.
Both emotional and spiritual stressors can create deep scars which, when not appropriately addressed, may even kill (through addictions and suicide). Both law enforcement and healthcare workers have a substantially higher risk for addictions and suicide. How is your emotional self? Your spiritual self?
If emotional health were the only consideration, then most first responders and healthcare providers would probably leave the field. Developing good emotional health is not enough for the fast-paced, cumulative stress. Your level of emotional health is how you react, manage and decide to cope (positively or negatively) to stress. You might be able to manage for a while, but eventually the stress will overwhelm you. In order to not become chronically overwhelmed, you must nurture your spirituality. Spiritual health is what inspires you and informs you of why you do what you do for others. The oft ignored spiritual component is the missing link to truly living life to the fullest.
It is when first responders (law enforcement/fire/ems) and healthcare providers go into their respected fields and develop a deep inner, spiritual connection to their job (and realize how they dramatically influence and impact society) that this spiritual awareness, energy, and inspiration keeps them healthy through a long career of helping others. But without good spiritual health, even when you have strong emotional coping strategies, you might easily burn-out and even consider harming yourself, others and even suicide. It is the spiritual component that generally is the weak area and serves as the tipping point in the three-legged stool analogy.
Just as physical health is of critical importance for you to do your job well, completing a healthy triad by developing and maintaining a good balance in your physical, emotional and spiritual health is of paramount importance. Don’t become a physical marvel who only possesses an empty, barren soul. Become physically, emotionally and spiritually balanced.
Kevin Gilmartin PhD, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, 2002.
Rabbi Carey Friedman, Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement, 2015.