Childhood trauma, especially if this involved the experience of being abandoned and rejected (either literally, emotionally or both) can make us especially prone to developing serious forms of depression in our adult lives.
To make matters worse still, if we were emotionally uncared for as children, too, it very often follows that we have, through no fault of our own, failed to develop the abilities of ‘self-soothing’ and ‘self-nurturing’ which could have potentially ameliorated our depressive condition; this fact obviously intensifies the psychological pain our depression inflicts upon us and increases its tenacity and longevity.
As we are impotent to soothe ourselves emotionally, we may have found unhealthy ways of reducing (however temporarily and, ultimately, self-destructively and self- defeatingly) our suffering by excessively making use of alcohol and/or drugs.
Because we were emotionally uncared for as children, we have failed to absorb or learn ways of caring for ourselves as adults – indeed, we are bereft of a self-compassionate inner voice.
In a sense, just as we were emotionally abandoned as children, we have learned only, as adults, how to ’emotionally abandon ourselves’, whereas, of course, what we needed to learn was the precise opposite of this.
Without emotional support as children, our depressive state is very likely to have made us feel frightened (we were in need of emotional rescue but there were no rescuers) and ashamed (Why can’t I be a normal kid? There’s something badly wrong with me and everybody knows it.)
Now, as adults, when we are depressed, we are likely to re-experience these feelings of fear and shame. Again, we feel ashamed of being depressed and fearful about how it isolates us from others; such feelings will be exacerbated if the culture in which we find ourselves immersed, or a subset of it with which we interact, regard depression as a sign of weakness (which it most certainly is not – indeed, coping with depression calls for great bravery).
Due to the dynamics of our society, men are likely to feel more ashamed of being depressed than are women.
How Feelings of Depression can Serve an Important Purpose.
But we need not be ashamed of our depression. Indeed, mild to moderate depression can serve a very useful purpose and therefore be considered both functional and adaptive (as opposed to dysfunctional and non-adaptive).
Examples of ‘Helpful’ Depression:
Our depression may spur us, for example, into examining our lives more closely in order to attempt to ascertain why we feel unfulfilled, empty etc. It may be that:
- we are in a poor relationship.
- we do not find meaning in our work.
- our values are distorted (e.g. attributing greater importance to materialistic gain than to fulfilling human relationships).
- we need to slow down, rest and reduce the number of mental burdens we impose upon ourselves.
So we see that some degree of depression can serve a valuable purpose and is a natural by-product of our evolution and we need not be ashamed of it. If we find we ARE ashamed of it, it is useful for us to realise that we are doing no other than to add an extra and utterly unnecessary layer to our already considerable mental anguish. In effect, we become depressed about the fact that we are depressed, a kind of, if you will, meta-depression.
So it is frequently not the actual feelings of depression (i.e. how it affects our emotional and somatic experience) but, far more often, it is the automatic negative thinking that invariably goes with them, such as :
- I am unlovable
- I am a complete and utter failure
- Everyone hates me
- Such thinking serves only to intensify our feelings of shame.
We need, if we can, to reduce our tendency to get caught up in such thinking (generally cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective way of combating negative thinking), but to, instead, accept, even focus, on how our depression makes us viscerally feel. Counter-intuitively, this can actually REDUCE the negative impact depression has on our emotional state.
An effective technique that helps us to focus on and accept, non-judgmentally, our immediate feelings and experience as opposed to getting caught in thinking and analysis is called mindfulness.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).