Coping With Depression:
A Patient's Guide To Conquering Depression
Extract from Chapter
In order to learn any
new skills that will help overcome and prevent depression,
it's essential to start with emotions. Depressives fear
feelings. There are many self-defeating habits that depressives
have developed to help them not feel certain things. Unless
they understand first that these emotions are not to be
feared, they won't be able to change.
Most people, depressed
or not, have some fear of feelings. Many experts think
that "anxiety"-the fear of being torn apart,
consumed by our emotions-is the underlying problem in
most human situations. And one of the central truths is
that there is really nothing to fear. It is our fear itself,
and the habits we develop to control or avoid it, that
leads to most of our suffering. If we stop running, and
turn around and face the demons, they usually turn out
to be no threat at all.
People with depression
have a special talent for stuffing feelings. They can
pretend to themselves and the world that they don't feel
normal emotions. They are very good at the defenses of
repression, isolation, and intellectualization. They raise
self-denial and self-sacrifice to the point where the
self seems to disappear.
People with depression
hardly let themselves feel any emotion at all. Instead
of the normal fluctuations of happiness, sadness, disappointment,
joy, desire, and anger that most people cycle through
many times a day, depressed people don't have these feelings.
However, even though they aren't aware of the emotions,
they still get to feel guilty about them. When the meek,
depressed wife of a bullying husband doesn't consciously
feel angry at his ill treatment, she will still feel guilty
about her rage without even experiencing it. If a person's
drinking interferes with their ability to work, even though
they are in denial about their drinking, they can still
feel guilty. This is one of the great secrets of depression.
The depressive is full of guilt about feelings, desires,
and impulses that he doesn't even know that he has. The
first step in overcoming the guilt is to become aware
of the feelings.
How do you go about
recapturing the ability to experience emotions? First
of all, it's necessary to understand that emotions are
innate, instinctual responses that are with us from infancy
on. When the baby is feeling warm, comfortable, and secure,
she experiences an emotion we can call contentment or
happiness. When she experiences something that pleases
her, like a new puppy, she experiences joy or delight.
When something startles her, she feels fear. When she's
deprived of something she wants, she feels anger. Left
alone for too long, she feels the beginnings of sadness.
The capacity to experience these emotions is hard-wired
into the human nervous system. If someone steps on your
toe, you feel pain. If someone steps on your psychological
toes-for example, by being rude-you feel anger. If you
don't experience these emotions, it's because you are
spending psychic energy to keep them out of awareness.
This psychic energy could be better spent on other things.
Emotions in themselves
are absolutely value-free. They are reflexes, like salivating
when hungry or withdrawing your hand from a hot iron.
But how we express emotions carries important social and
individual values. We have the ability to control how
we express emotions, but we get in trouble if we try to
control how we experience them. If a man gets angry and
beats his wife, that is both condemned socially and destructive
psychologically. But if he tells her why he's angry and
then tries to work things out, or if he blows off steam
by exercise, or throws himself into his work those activities
are both socially approved and psychologically productive.
The point is that although we have control over how we
express emotions, we've been taught that we shouldn't
even feel some feelings-an almost impossible task.
It takes a great deal
of practice for the depressed person to learn how not
to experience emotions, but we get very good at it. Women
get especially good at not feeling anger and men get good
at not feeling sadness. All of us stop experiencing much
joy or happiness. It seems as if when you lose the ability
to feel painful feelings you also lose the ability to
feel positive ones. We go through life numbed.