Clearly, a short article like this can never cover every aspect of depression. My intention is to provide you with insights that can give you footholds out of the pit. If you would like any further information or help please write in via the contact page.
HCC Podcast 6: Understanding depression
Shealan is conducting a series of interviews with John to explore the importance of understanding yourself and some of the mental and emotional issues we face. In their sixth podcast John and Shealan discuss the roots of depression, which lies within the Melancholic temperament, and John offers helpful insights into dealing with that depression.
Click here to download the podcast 'Understanding depression'.
Most of us are a combination of extrovert and introvert. There are two main introvert types: the Phlegmatic and the Melancholic. It is the Melancholic that is most prone to depression so we will take a few moments to understand this particular temperament, to find out why it is subject to depression and what we can do about it.
The Melancholic is a wonderfully rich temperament: rich in talent, creativity and sensitivity. It is also incredibly negative: sometimes about others, often about life and especially negative about themselves. And this negative approach to themselves shows itself most particularly in their struggle for self-worth. This issue of self-worth lies at the heart of depression. It is not worth getting out of bed today because my value is so low that I am sure it will make no difference to anyone else whether I do or not. What is the point of getting up if that is what you feel about yourself?
Now, as we have said, most of us are a combination of extrovert and introvert. So we use our extrovert to get ourselves out of bed. Fair enough, but it does not address what we really feel. So we get into the day and we keep ourselves going, driving hard in the extrovert, not allowing ourselves to think or feel too deeply. When the need to keep going is gone we slump back, exhausted with the effort, and we are straight back into the depression.
Now, if the issue of self-worth lies at the heart of depression then we have to look more closely at this subject. We have seen that our temperament can give us a greater tendency to be negative about ourselves but that is not the whole story. We have to look at two other factors: how others responded to us as we grew up and how we respond to others and to life as a whole now.
Unless our parents understood themselves well there is a good chance that they struggled to understand the Melancholic child. Often parents deal with, and relate to, the extrovert part of who we are and have difficulty understanding the introvert. Melancholic children can also make it difficult for parents to get to that inner part as they protect their sensitivity and low self-worth by using their extrovert as a defence. Whilst parents can go out of their way to praise their child that praise often only registers in the extrovert and fails to build up the value of that child at the deepest level.
As that negative view continues to develop then life is viewed from a distorted perspective. Because there is an anticipation of criticism, it is detected even when it is not present! Because you are already rubbishing yourself every mistake is treated as confirmation that you are useless. Every flaw stands out in stark profile. You may have a day in which ten things go brilliantly well and one slightly wrong. You know which one will be going round in your head at the end of the day!
Now the human spirit cannot take that kind of endless devaluing. Something has to give. Ironically, one of the qualities of this temperament is the ability to be self-sacrificing but who feels like giving themselves away when you feel so bad about yourself?
So we turn inwards and go deeper into our negative feelings. We have conversations in our minds as to why we cannot do this or that or as to why someone else is much more capable than we are. And so it goes on. Things that have nothing to do with us we manage to make ‘our fault’.
As we have seen, we can try not to look at what is going on inside us. And we tend to use our extrovert temperament to avoid facing the realities within. There are two extrovert temperaments: the Choleric and Sanguine. If we have the Sanguine temperament we will probably try to meet those deep emotional needs physically; for example using sport, drama, activity, food, drink or even drugs. If we have the Choleric we will get into tangles in our minds as we struggle to create order out of the confusion within.
What can we do about it?
Recognise that the tendency is part of the temperament. Its roots are in the fact that you feel everything keenly but what you feel is unduly negative. The messages that your feelings are sending you about yourself and your situation are not accurate. Now, you may be in a very difficult situation, indeed, you may have made some horrendous mistakes but none of that merits the strong feelings that you have about your value. That is a different subject.
Perhaps you feel you were not heard or understood when you needed to be but that does not affect your value – only what you feel about your value. And that is a vital distinction. Our value is constant. It is not built on how we perform or the way we look. We have value anyway, given by God. And no one can take it from us. The real issue is whether we believe we have that value and live accordingly or whether we believe what our negative emotions are telling us.
I want to drive this point home. Perhaps as a child your older brother or sister was noisier and more demanding and therefore got all the attention and maybe you did get somewhat overlooked because you were so quiet. Now, as an adult, you can choose to believe that things were like that because you have no value or because your parents were not perfect!
Perhaps an unhelpful relative, teacher or former friend said hurtful things to you, and maybe they hurt deeply but you do not have to believe that those things are true. In other words, you have the power to choose what you believe about yourself. Of course, others have a powerful influence over us and affect our view of ourselves but we do not have to remain subject to that influence for the whole of our lives. If others failed to affirm us in our value then that does not stop us from affirming our own value now.
Start to set yourself free now by looking the negative thoughts and feelings straight in the eye and disagreeing with them.
Recognise there is an alternative thought or feeling that you can begin to embrace. Instead of having negative conversations with yourself, put in the positives.
Instead of listing all the reasons why you cannot or should not do this or that, start asking ‘why not’?
Do not use your negativity to play games with your qualities. The people who are the most talented are often the ones who run themselves down the most.
Begin to think positively about who you are, your true value and what you can do.
Catch yourself during the day saying, doing or thinking things that are ‘running yourself down’. Pull these weeds out of your life – they spoil the garden!
Make sure you have some ‘positive’ friends rather than those who will keep you negative.
The old way of feeling about yourself will take time to change. Keep working at it. If you fall back into old patterns do not stay stuck. There may be days when you are peering over the edge into the pit of depression but that is a much better place to be than stuck at the bottom.
For further information on depression and how to help someone who is struggling with depression click here. (Understanding How to Help course notes: Depression).
Andy has written a helpful article, drawing on his personal experiences as someone with the Sanguine Melancholic temperament, of breaking free from established patterns of depressive thoughts and feelings, and offers practical advice and hope to others. Click here to read his article entitled 'Our problems should not surprise us'.