Depression is just a collection of symptoms. It is not the problem, it is just how a problem is expressed and demonstrated within us. Some psychologists and psychological models will just treat the symptoms of depression, believing if we get rid of the symptoms we will alleviate the depression. In many cases, this works in the short term, but unfortunately resolution is short-lived. In order to create transformative change, what needs to occur is the resolution of the underlying problem which causes the onset of the symptoms that make up depression. It’s from a clear understanding of these first principles that we proceed when approaching depression counselling and treatment at our Malvern and Prahran clinics.
For decades psychoanalysts and even early cognitive behavioural therapists understood depression as “anger turned inwards.” Depression is often defined by chronic self-punishment, self-loathing and a sense of being guilty and ashamed. Depression, guilt and shame create a sense in the sufferer that they deserve no good things and consequently they treat themselves as such and invite others to do so as well. People who are depressed seem to spend their life atoning for a crime they did not commit. They appear to be their own judge, jury and executioner, and have personally given themselves a life sentence. What could possibly cause someone to treat themselves in such a harsh manner? The answer is of course, complex but simply put, when one explores the lives of people who are depressed, it becomes clear there exists a block when it comes to anger. There exists a deep resistance to this emotion, which from a relatively young age is coped with by turning it inwards and sparing the individual that causes them anger, their rage.
When looked upon from this vantage point, you could call depression a “gift of love” – I spare the person I love from my rage, by turning it on myself. Why would a person do this? Well if you grow up with a deeply sensitive or anxious parent, or an intimidating or punitive parent, you can imagine a child’s anger would likely be responded to in a negative manner. In order to cope with the anger due to your caregiver’s behaviour towards you, instead of expressing it outwards, you learn to deal with it inwards. What was – “you are bad” (as in parent) quickly becomes “I am bad.” It does not take much for this to become a habitual way of dealing with your anger, and because our template for most of our life’s relationships are the ones we have with our parents, we carry this template in to all our relationships. We expect others to treat us as we were treated, so when anger comes up with others, we use the same coping mechanisms and turn our anger inwards.
This way of relating to others and ourselves leads to depression, and episodes of more severe depression are often triggered by situations in our lives that provoke anger/rage.
At PsychologyCare in order to treat depression, we help an individual see the costs of their relational style, get their will on board to turn against their internal self- punitive mechanism and build their capacity to tolerate their anger, so they can have feelings outward so they no longer turn them inwards. Once we accomplish this, and anger can be fully felt, then the old coping mechanisms are no longer required and symptoms of depression can recede and the individual can be finally liberated from chronic self-punishment and live a life free from depression.