Salutogenesis, the capacity to use positive experience, as defined in The Mentalizing Approach to Psychopathology: State of the Art and Future Directions, is a powerful tool for resilience, emotional well-being, and optimal living. Salutogenesis is about owning and integrating what one creates or can do into one's core identity. It guards against identity diffusion. A hopeful or optimistic inner stance is fostered and maintained by the capacity to use positive experiences. Incorporated accomplishments, as opposed to those disavowed, are a source of sustenance, vitality, happiness, motivation, self-esteem, and momentum.
Salutogenesis solidifies identity, moves one forward
Cemented soundly, one's achievements are building blocks for a solid sense of self. As if to say, When I hold on to the awareness of what I have sown, and when what I do becomes who I am, my strength builds. The more I engage, the more I invest in meaningful endeavors aligned with my abilities, and the better, more grounded, and more able I feel. Salutogenesis solidifies identity, moves one forward, and sets the stage for larger contributions and the ability to be of service to others.
The incapacity to use positive experience, the anti-salutogenic position, plagues some individuals. This is similar to the fear of success but in the anti-salutogenic case, success has already occurred. Though success has not been avoided, it doesn't feel good or right when achieved. The book I've Done So Well, Why Do I Feel So Bad? was written in the '70s, and it captures conflicts regarding success.
Freud wrote about being wrecked by success or feeling angst in the aftermath of success. The damage he refers to is not about literal wreckage (as some recent research that tries to debunk the wrecked-by-success concept suggests) but rather internal strife. One can maintain jobs, friends, families, and physical health—the external successes—but still struggle psychically. Internal life is an entirely different matter. Inner collapse and conflict are not reflected in the performative self, the projected persona, what others can see, or a stellar resume. The greatest person with the greatest life and greatest resources may be a wreck.
What phenomena can interfere with salutogenesis and lead to inner strife? Doing well can elicit guilt or shame in some people. Being humiliated for efforts or even gains by unknowing or uncaring past figures has an impact. The running critique can be hard to silence. Social, creative, or professional success can bring on a fear of retaliation or real retaliation. Worrying about envious others and their fratricidal feelings stems from twisted early relationships. Early figures can haunt the inner life and render success forbidden in the unconscious. As the writer Ambrose Bierce wrote in The Devil’s Dictionary, “Success is the one unpardonable sin against one’s fellows.”
Why one might eschew success
Absence of healthy narcissism and healthy entitlement, cherophobia, identity diffusion or confusion, imposter syndrome, fear of negative evaluation, spotlight, and exposure, fear of punishment or abandonment for individuation, unconscious guilt for ambitious strivings or special talents and feeling like a usurper are other reasons why one might eschew success. A possible inner conflict: It was never supposed to be me, but somehow I got here. The psychological challenges of uncertainty and impermanence also play in. Joyful experiences can cause anxiety because the fear of losing trumps the pleasure of having. Disavowal feels protective.
As an aside, sometimes people have an attribute or capacity but would rather not develop it. This choice might be due to a positive intuition about a better direction or a more pressing desire. The self-defeating, complicated, and buried desire to inhibit one's growth is a cause for concern. Affect or emotion can be clues to a person's inner position or conflict. Tears rolling when describing a gain speaks volumes.
When negative feelings occur in the face of positive strides, something is awry. Neurotic mediocrity in a gifted individual or the drive to be lesser than can be elucidated, processed, and relinquished. Salutogenesis can be fostered intentionally if it does not come naturally or was thwarted by misfortune or mistreatment. Both psychodynamic and behavioral approaches are useful.
9 Psychodynamic Goals for Salutogenesis
- Practice self-awareness
- Identify the conflict
- Empathize with the resistance. What do you fear?
- Contemplate why might you feel un-entitled or undeserving
- Consider your comfort level with or capacity for pride. Is it hard to feel?
- Reflect on early figures who might have interfered with your owning your capacities
- Wonder if your negativity is excessive, useful, draining, rational, well-founded, or irrational
- Examine your ease with competitiveness, striving, and the spotlight. Do you avoid these things?
- Note if you derive energy from your can-dos and continually remind yourself of this association
9 Behavioral Goals for Salutogenesis
- Do the thing that scares you in small doses
- Do the uncomfortable thing in tiny steps
- Do the thing you are not motivated to do and create a small reward
- Do the avoided task with a pleasurable activity. Music? Company? On a stationary bike?
- Envision outcomes that elevate your mood as well as you
- Envision getting past psychological and practical obstacles with just a dust off
- Envision yourself as able, willing, and appropriately pleased to reap what you sow
- Envision your hard or tedious effort and honor it—not everyone has the industry
- Envision an inner purpose—bestowed, cultivated, random but compelling, or innate