The Indivisible Self:
An Evidence-Based Model of Wellness
The Indivisible Self, an evidence-based model of wellness, provides an alternative perspective for viewing wellness across the lifespan, incorporating 17 separate wellness dimensions, five factors, and one higher order Wellness Factor (see Figure 2; Myers & Sweeney, 2003; Sweeney & Myers, 2003).
The components of the IS-WEL model are measured with the 73-item Five Factor Wellness Inventory (5F-Wel; Mindgarden.com). The 5F-Wel was developed through structural equation modeling. The scales are factor derived and hence should be reported using capital letters. The Manual (Myers & Sweeney, 2005) includes extensive psychometric information on the scales.
The Higher Order Wellness Factor
An examination of the items measuring wellness was necessary to explain the higher order factor. The strong loadings of disparate concepts and items on a single factor was confusing. Adlerian theory provided a unifying theme for explaining these results. Adler proposed that the self was indivisible, and that purposiveness was central to understanding human behavior. This philosophy provided a structure for making sense of studies in which wellness emerged both as a higher order and seemingly indivisible factor and as a factor comprised of identifiable sub-components as originally hypothesized (Myers et al., 2000; Sweeney & Witmer, 1991).
Five Second-Order Factors
Five second-order factors were identified through exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses using the original 17 scales of the WEL (Hattie et al., in press). Adlerian theory was again used as a foundation for examining and making sense of the five factors, which were eventually named the Creative Self, Coping Self, Social Self, Essential Self, and Physical Self. These were seen as the factors comprising the self, or the indivisible self.
Adler spoke of the creative self as the combination of attributes that each of us forms to make a unique place among others in our social interactions (Adler, 1954; Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956). There are five components to this factor: thinking, emotions, control, positive humor, and work. As research and clinical experience suggest, what one thinks affects the emotions as well as the body. Likewise, one’s emotional experiences tend to influence one’s cognitive responses to similar experiences. Control is a matter of perceived capacity to influence events in one’s life. Positive expectations influence emotions, behavior, and anticipated outcomes, and positive humor is known to have a pervasive influence on physical as well as mental functioning. Enriching one’s ability to think clearly, perceive accurately, and respond appropriately can decrease stress and enhance the humor response that medical research has shown affects the immune system positively. Likewise, work is an essential element in human experience that can enhance or exacerbate one’s capacity to live life fully.
There are four third order factors in the Coping Self: realistic beliefs, stress management, self-worth, and leisure. Irrational beliefs are the source of many of an individual’s frustrations and disappointments with life. Even those who hold to such fictive notions as “I need others to like or love me” can cope successfully with life’s requirements if they learn to manage the inevitable stress that they will experience. Likewise, self-worth can be enhanced through effective coping with life’s challenges. As self-efficacy is experienced through success experiences, self-worth increases as well. Finally, leisure is essential to this concept of wellness. Learning to become totally absorbed in an activity where time stands still helps one not only cope with but transcend others of life’s requirements (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Leisure opens pathways to growth in both creative and spiritual dimensions. The Coping Self, then, is composed of elements that regulate our responses to life events and provide a means for transcending their negative affects.
The Social Self includes two components: friendship and love. Friendship and love can be conceived of as existing on a continuum and, as a consequence, are not clearly distinguishable in practice. Sexual intimacy is sometimes thought to be a distinction between love and friendship but no such distinction seems appropriate as physical attraction and true love can sometimes (or often) have little in common. What is clear, however, is that friendships and intimate relationships do enhance the quality and length of one’s life. Isolation, alienation, and separation from others generally are associated with all manner of poor health conditions and greater susceptibility to premature death, while social support remains in multiple studies as the strongest identified predictor of positive mental health over the lifespan. The mainstay of this support is family, with healthier families providing the most positive sources of individual wellness. Importantly, healthy families can be either biological or families of choice.
The Essential Self is comprised of four components: spirituality, self- care, gender identity, and cultural identity. Spirituality, not religiosity, has positive benefits for longevity and quality of life, and was viewed by Adler as central to holism and wellness (Mansager, 2000). It incorporates one’s existential sense of meaning, purpose, and hopefulness toward life. Both gender and cultural identity are conceptualized as filters through which life experiences are seen and as influences upon how others are experienced in response to ourselves. Both affect our essential meaning-making processes in relation to life, self, and others. Self-care includes proactive efforts to live long and live well. Conversely, carelessness, avoidance of health promoting habits, and general disregard of one’s well being are potentially signs of despair, hopelessness, and alienation from life’s opportunities, reflected in loss of a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
The Physical Self factor includes two components, exercise and nutrition. These are widely promoted and, unfortunately often over-emphasized to the exclusion of other components of holistic well-being reported here that also are important. The research evidence is compelling with regard to the importance of exercise and nutrition especially with changes over the life span. Not surprisingly, preliminary data suggest that “survivors,” i.e., individuals who live longest, attend to both exercise and diet/nutrition.
The importance of context, or systems, in understanding human behavior, has been well established. A complete understanding of the individual cannot be made without incorporating a concern for environmental factors, which always can operate for better or for worse in relation to individual wellness. Thus, the Indivisible Self is both affected by and has an effect on the surrounding world. In Figure 2, four contexts are presented. Local contexts include interactions with and the central influences of those systems in which we live most often – our families, neighborhoods, and communities. Institutional contexts – education, religion, government, business and industry, and the media –affect our lives in both direct and indirect ways. Global contexts, including politics, culture, global events, and the environment, are made more salient and personal through the influence of the media. The final context, chronometrical, reflects the recognition that we change over time in important ways. Wellness involves the acute and chronic effects of lifestyle behaviors and choices throughout an individual’s lifespan (Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2001).
Importantly, each of the components of the IS-WEL model interacts with all others to contribute to holistic functioning. Similarly, the contextual factors each have an influence or impact on the individual, and the individual affects his or her context. These interactions may be for better or for worse, individually and collectively.