The Royalty Myth

This week, we dive into one of the most common myths of mental toughness and mental health: the Royalty Myth.

I call it the Royalty Myth because, in common terms, it essentially implies and suggests the notion that either you have mental toughness/health, or you don’t. You’re born with it, or, you never had the trait. Too bad.

Myths develop to explain the missing information in the explanation of a human problem.  So, let’s bust the Royalty Myth by examining how it developed, why it persists and what the facts are.  After all, educating yourself about our mental toughness myths helps you to break them down.  

How It Developed

About 130 years ago, the field of psychology was born.  The understanding of mental health was limited then, and so were the ways of treating it.  Doctors had few solid theories that could explain why various mental issues were arising, which made it difficult to create “treatments” to help.  

So what did professionals do? What did society do?  They created an explanation based on the current knowledge–myths. The myth took the professionals and society off the hook, and created a simple explanation. 

You have it or you don’t.  

The Royalty Myth (I call it that because it makes the same assumption that Kings and Queens did: they had it in their blood while others don’t) broke the categories down like this, complete with stereotypes and positive notions for those who ‘have it’ and negatives for those who ‘don’t have it’ :

If you have mental toughness/health, nothing to worry about and nothing to do. No further action to take. Go out and live life. You deserve great things. You have been blessed by God and you are one of the lucky ones. 

If you don’t, look out. We don’t know why you are this way. You might be possessed by demons. Forever damaged.  You might have a complex about your mom, or your dad. Or you may just be a “bad” person. You lack character. 

Why It Persists

This myth still persists because it simplifies things. It gives us permission to not take responsibility and engage in self-defeating things. 

“It’s not my fault.”

Whether you are a great performer or a low one, the Royalty Myth provides an all or nothing guide to life.

The “Treatment”

The treatment? It started with the approach of, “lock em way in an asylum” — that’s what happened to Hobey Baker’s mom — or they wanted to give patients a lobotomy to disconnect their thinking brain, or mostly remove it so they can overthink. It may have worked to stop overthinking, but it also created large negative side effects and was terribly inhumane. 

Nowadays remedies might include the idea of, “just give’em a happy pill. It’ll be all good and you won’t have to make any changes.”

Unfortunately, it takes more than that. 

The Facts

Framing mental health in a toughness/weakness terms perpetuates the common myth. The reality is, mental fitness or mental health ranges from functional resilience and the ability to cope to rigid inflexibility and inability to cope.  

The treatment of mental health has advanced and taken huge leaps along the way. In the last 20 years, we have learned more about the brain than the previous 100 years. We are in our third generation of approaches to mental health, and because of advances in technology, most current approaches are backed by research and are evidence based. 

Our ability to increase resilience has advanced, though, unfortunately, there are many cultural forces that are contributing to a lack of resilience which makes it more difficult to treat.  Regardless, we all have responsibility to take care of our selves in productive and effective ways.  Simple things like getting enough a sleep, eating well, drinking plenty of water and avoiding habits that numb us out and kick the can down the road.

What You Can Do

Be mindful of your language around mental health–toward yourself and others.  Avoid using terms like “crazy” or “psycho.” It doesn’t help you or the person you are talking about but instead makes it difficult to problem solve and find a way to make change.  

In this Ted Talk linked below, Guy Winch talks about practicing emotional first aid.