We all know the importance of physical immunity, the body’s ability to defend against harmful substances and protect itself from disease. But what is psychological immunity? A term that’s not as widely known, psychological immunity is the ability of your mind to protect itself from mental invaders, emotional toxins and issues that arise from the waves of joy and sorrow, success and loss (and so much more) that we experience every day. If your psychological immunity is strong, you also have mental stamina, which is associated with steady concentration and retaining memory with age.
How psychological immunity works
Medicine has been slow to recognize that non-physical immunity exists. Focus has been on the body’s physical immune system and its defense against pathogens, bacteria and viruses that abound in the external world. But over a century ago, Freud wrote about the “psychopathology of everyday life,” from which everyone needs protecting. Mental pathogens are invisible but potent, beginning with the universal experience of negative emotions such as fear, anger, hatred, greed and jealousy.
We can become emotionally toxic and infect others, somewhat similar to the way a viral contagion spreads. The psychological version of an epidemic occurs in scenes of mob violence, widespread racism and the virulence of us-versus-them thinking. A society rife with misinformation and hate speech can find itself helpless and overwhelmed, facing struggles to find a cure that will bring back balance and health.
What does psychological immunity consist of?
The elements of psychological immunity, unlike physical immunity, are ours to choose; the major elements are:
- Emotional resilience, the ability to bounce back from difficult situations like a divorce or the death of someone close.
- Self-reliance, the freedom to be oneself despite external influences.
- Emotional honesty, the ability to feel the emotions that actually arise, without fear or denial.
- Detachment, which places a distance between your sense of self and the turmoil around you.
- Emotional intelligence, the capacity to foresee how emotions will work out in a given situation.
These are all qualities of consciousness, which society does not address with the importance they require. Trying to improve each element of psychological immunity, however, can be complicated. The human mind is complex, and we often are detached from our deeper awareness, making it tricky for therapy to quickly bring resolution.
The world’s wisdom traditions cut through this complexity and denial by stating, very simply, that consciousness itself contains everything needed. Below the level of constant mental activity, which is the breeding ground for psychological toxicity, self-awareness is quiet, calm, undisturbed, stable and immune from external pressures. This level of awareness is not separate from you at this moment. You experience it as your sense of self.
Your sense of self has been with you since birth. It silently tells you that you exist and are here. Nothing more is needed except to identify this experience, which is basic in every moment of our lives, and to give your allegiance to it. The stronger your sense of your inner self, the more immunity you will have in any situation in which the mind engages.
How psychologically immune are you?
As simple test for where you stand at this moment is the following: Your psychological immunity is equal to your power of attention – that is, how long you can sustain your attention on a task or topic in an observant manner, letting it reveal to you what it is, not reacting with your mind’s conditioning, your personal opinions or your second-hand beliefs.
By this measure, countless people are training themselves way too deliberately to weaken their psychological immunity. In order to fit in, people conform to social norms, fall in line with a certain political angle and devote endless hours to distractions that require nothing but passive participation. None of these, however, improves the psychological immunity everyone can find through expanded awareness.
How to improve your psychological immunity
For psychological immunity, we need a meditative mind, which is, in simple terms, feeling completely awake. Besides deep peace and quiet, the meditative mind has a quality that constantly attracts our notice: bliss. If self-awareness was like a blank sheet of paper, no one would seek it except as, perhaps, an escape from life’s vicissitudes. But bliss is by definition charming, enjoyable and captivating.
When you find yourself deeply affected by music, art, a loving gesture, compassion, sympathy, the innocence of children, or the beauty in nature, you are in a state of meditative mind. Such moments are actually quite effortless and natural, and we would experience them as more than mere glimpses of bliss if we had not conditioned ourselves to jump at the bidding of the active mind.
When you cultivate the meditative mind, there is always present a sense of inner contentment and a subtle sensation of bliss. In such a state you are continually aware, not quick to react and remaining centred, even while confronting external demands, pressures and obstacles. And importantly, you are less susceptible to emotional toxicity in any form, whether it’s coming from other people or your own bad memories or past wounds.
Today most people’s power of attention is measured in mere seconds because they are constantly bombarded with stressful and chaotic stimuli, overstimulated, a state neuroscience refers to as “sympathetic nervous system overload.” This state of existence, sadly, has reached epidemic proportions.
The cure is to go beyond the captivation of the conditioned mind and its ceaseless demands. The mind naturally sustains long periods of attention by being awake-in-itself. That is the basis of Dharana in yoga practice, concentration aiming at a one-pointed mind. Attention is the foundation for deeper meditation. Truth (Satya) also emerges as a quality of the meditative mind; it is not a point of view but a state of awareness, an ability to see things as they are, from which springs non-judgment, compassion and grace.
Yoga teaches that your own inner self is greater than the entire world and does not rely on any external approval to rest content in its own nature. Yoga teaches the steps to take on this path of waking up. Do not compare yourself with anyone. Do not seek anything from the outside to fulfil yourself. Contact your inner being, which looks on the human world and all its turbulence like a passing wave on the infinite sea.
Whether this message inspires you spiritually or not, at the core of our present troubles is the need to find consolation and a refuge from turmoil. Nothing is more practical than psychological immunity, which everyone needs and should know about for wellness to be truly complete and enduring.