Against empiricist and rationalist prejudices concerning the nature of issues related to “mental health,” this article offers a phenomenological account of identity as developed in a meaningful system with the environment (Umwelt) or world (Welt). Drawing on the work of Merleau-Ponty and Dewey, I argue that behavioral and emotional health and illness must be understood in terms of the plasticity or rigidity, respectively, of the individual's responses in the face of new and threatening environmental demands. However, individual plasticity and rigidity are not given qualities of the individual but are themselves developed in healthy or unhealthy interpersonal environments. I discuss three cases of emotional and behavioral trouble in order to explore the manner in which unhealthy self-environment systems can undermine individuals' powers of adaptability and growth.

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