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Updated April 21, 2006

Jupiter Media

Life has its ups and downs. We all face different stressors, and we all react to them. Why do some people cope better than others? One reason may have to do with balance.

Some people live in world of extremes. There can be biochemical reasons for this. People with bipolar disorder alternate between periods of depression and periods of mania or hypomania. There is a large hereditary component to this disorder, and medications are needed to restore a proper biochemical balance. This balance can be quite delicate, however, and life events sometimes easily upset it.

We are not born with balance. Babies can't balance well enough to sit up, let alone walk. Their emotions vacillate wildly. A baby can be crying loudly one minute, laughing the next, and fast asleep a few minutes later. How do we ever get these emotional swings under control?

Warm, consistent parenting seems to be essential in helping helping us gain emotional balance. A mother rocking a crying baby helps the child regain control over his or her own emotions. A steady parent helps a young child rein in these emotional extremes by giving them a counterpoint to their feelings. The fact that the parent reacts in a steady and consistent manner allows the child to develop a consistent and balanced personality.

What if parenting is not warm and consistent? Some children live with a parent who is warm and loving some times, cold and distant other times, and cruel and hurtful at other times. It is almost impossible to develop a balanced personality in such a family. Some adults from such families live in worlds full of extremes. Life seems to either be going wonderfully or horribly. Such imbalance can also apply to relationships. Best friends can become bitter enemies over relatively small incidents.

Some theorists, such as Frank Putnam, M.D., have suggested that borderline personality disorder and dissociative disorders can be related to growing up in such a family. If a baby develops a personality by bouncing their emotions off a consistent caregiver, a wildly inconsistent caregiver may interfere with the development of a stable personality. An extremely inconsistent caregiver - one who is warm one minute and abusive the next - may even influence the development of multiple personalities.

We seem to need balance in many areas of our lives:

  • We need many different hormones and neurotransmitters to be in a state of biological and chemical balance. Imbalances can cause many metabolic disorders, as well as biologically-based mental disorders.
  • Our immune system needs to be balanced to fight off invaders, and to refrain from attacking the body's own tissues.
  • We seem to need a balance between excitement and calm. Too much excitement and we seek relaxation. Too much quiet and we seek excitement.
  • Solitude and companionship also need to be balanced. Too much time alone and we seek the company of others. Too many interactions with people and we seek the quiet of our homes, or a quiet vacation getaway.
  • We need to balance work and play. This may especially be true of those in helping professions. If you spend a lot of time helping others, be sure that you also do things to nurture yourself.

If your life seems stressed-out, take a look at balance. Are you too extreme in any of these areas? Do you sometimes vacillate between extremes with difficulty finding any middle ground? It is possible to restore a balance to your life. Start by recognizing where your life may be out-of-balance. Seek to counter these tendencies gently, to avoid swinging to the other extreme. If the lack of balance is extreme, consider getting assistance from a health professional or a self-help group.

Last updated 4/20/06

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