cat peering over a wall

Image by Guylaine2007

These three qualities come from Transactional Analysis (usually abbreviated to TA). (Transactional Analysis is a psychotherapy invented by Eric Berne and his friends – people such as Muriel James, Dorothy Jongeward, Stephen Karpman, Claude Steiner and many others – on the West Coast of America in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The best introduction to it is Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward’s Born to Win.)

For TA awareness, spontaneity and intimacy form a rough and ready definition of psychological health. Let’s have a look at each of them in turn.

1. Awareness means being in touch with what’s going on: not only the physical world around us (by sight, sound, touch, taste and smell) but also within ourselves – knowing our own thoughts and feelings on the different parts of our lives. It also means having a sense of our social world – the codes of communication that we use and what our psychological needs are.

Awareness can sound intimidating. So, I want to stress that most of us do a pretty good job of it most of the time. We generally don’t go around bumping into light poles or offending one person after another. (Unfortunately we tend to remember the unfortunate events so we can end up thinking that we have less awareness than we do). For most of us, most of the time, we get through the day reasonably satisfactorily.

What usually happens is that our awareness doesn’t function so well in one or two areas (for instance, listening to what you like as food – a major challenge for me – or relationships with members of the opposite sex). Once we realise that we have good awareness in other areas we can start looking at why we don’t use it in the area we have difficulty with as well. Often it will be due to some kind of trauma in our past.

2. Spontaneity, at least as TA speaks of it, does not mean acting thoughtlessly – ‘doing the first thing that comes into my head’. It means choosing from the options available.

Often we get into routines. These are valuable and make our lives easier. Unfortunately they can also lead to us getting stuck in a rut and feeling stale. Choosing from the options available helps us remember that we have some control over our lives, which can be very refreshing when we are feeling stuck and stale.

3. Intimacy means being close to what we find precious and valuable. This will usually mean that we can be close to others also. (There are times, with dangerous people, where this isn’t appropriate). Being able to close off to others is also part of intimacy: being forced to disclose everything does not lead to intimacy but defensiveness and sometimes shame.

One of the striking possibilities with intimacy is that it can happen through differences, not just similarities. When we speak about our individuality and listen to another person speaking about their uniqueness then we draw closer together. We get closer by appreciating each other’s differences as well as being united by our similarities.

Here are some ideas for what you can do to increase the amount of these qualities in your life.

  • To increase your awareness

keep a journal
take a few minutes to sit quietly, pray or meditate

  • To live more spontaneously

try using the phrase ‘there are always six options’ as a reminder to look more widely the next time you feel like you don’t have much choice about what to do.
set aside five or ten minutes in the next day to imagine as many ways of possible to do something routine (say the washing up) – ridiculous is permissible (a garden hose that dispenses detergent as well as water?). Frances Gabe invented a self-cleaning house with a nozzle in the roof of each room that did this.

  • To have more intimacy in your life

connect with the emotion of what someone is saying as well as the information
let others know what you care deeply about it (especially if it is them!)
What do you make of awareness, spontaneity and intimacy as a definition of psychological health? Would you like to add other qualities? Do you think this is just way off beam? Let me know in the comments.

If you liked this post you might also like:

The Drama in our Relationships

Psychotherapy: a brief guide to what it is

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13 Comments to “A Psychological Health Checklist: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy”

  1. “six options” — I like this. Its always nice to find little, easy-to-remember prompts that can help break us out of our rut (and there seem to be ruts everywhere, after years & years of marriage).

    Great post. I’ll be checking back.

  2. Mark says:

    I use my blog as a journal does that count for keeping a journal?

    As far as intimacy goes. My wife and I seem to be getting more and more connected as time goes on. And also some of my blogging buddies and I seem to be getting closer.

  3. Evan says:

    Thanks Ph.D. (Do you really have on in yoghurt?). Ruts certainly are everywhere.

    Thanks for commenting.

  4. Evan says:

    Hi Mark,

    Yep blogs count, as far as I’m concerned.

    I’m glad intimacy is growing for you. For me this is one of the best things in life.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. Steve Mills says:

    Hi Evan,

    Great post, definately some strategies for living a more “alive” life connecting more with ourselves and others.

    I have recently found myself caught in a rut, causing myself a bit of stress and burnout. Thankfully I can normaly realise this before it gets out of control, and start to do some of the things outlined above to get myself back on track

  6. Evan says:

    Hi Steve,

    Hope you’re back on track now.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  7. Hi Aaron, all very good thoughts you’ve given us here, thanks!

    I’d add re: awareness that after studying A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle that not everyone is living in full awareness and you can actually function in daily life while not even being aware.

    True awareness is living completely in the moment instead of doing whatever you’re doing to reach an end. It might not always be where you want to be either, but when you surrender and go with the moment, life can be so much easier (no more resistance).

    Thanks! 🙂

  8. oops, meant to comment on your picture, I LOVE it – looks like a craaazzzy cat, how fun! 🙂

  9. Evan says:

    Hi JoLynn,

    I like the cat too. To find a picture for this post I thought would be pretty hard, but I saw this cat and knew I’d found it.

    I think ‘awareness’ has degrees. Most of us don’t have full awareness at any given time. Living in the moment I think means participating fully in remembering and anticipating too. I don’t see planning as incompatible with living in the moment. This is a big discussion I know – I’ve pursued it and related matters with the Easternish-type blogs I wrote about a couple of posts ago. If you aren’t aware of them I recommend them all highly.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  10. Emily says:

    Great practical advice. Some friends of mine and I agree that our differences are what strengthen our relationships now (years after they formed) even though we got together because of our similarities — or think we did …

  11. Evan says:

    Hi Emily,

    I do think our differences are what can strengthen our relationships. I do think though that we need to have a way to communicate with each other.

    Thanks for your comment.

  12. Judy says:

    Thanks for such an practical advice. I like it
    Thanks

  13. Evan says:

    Hi Judy,

    I’m glad you like it. I hope it’s useful to you.

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