On Depression and Anxiety

Part two: Loss of Power and Depression

Alice Neel. Gus Hall

A woman comes to see me. She comes because of high anxiety that is threatening her daily existence. No longer able to make even the simplest choice, e.g. what to make for supper, her anxiety about her own anxiety is now putting a stop to any attempts to live a ‘normal’ life. I have previously written that anxiety and depression are twins. Here we see the connection clearly: The father was physically and verbally abusive.

An unstable man, who could not be predicted. Unpredictability in a parent causes high levels of anxiety in children. It results in a set point of hypervigilance. Such a child is always on the lookout for telltale signs of a potential threat. Children of alcoholic parents have this same hypervigilance. Going home from school, they are already tense.

What is it that they will find? Or when a parent comes home from work: How will it be today? Such children often go into fawning, to appease the other. Natural reactions go underground, perceived to be too dangerous an option. In time they may no longer ‘know’ what their natural reactions in a situation would be. Such a child grows up compromising their own needs, and when faced with adversity, will either overcompensate in favour of the other, or at times ‘lose it’, and react like the feared parent.

Depression is inevitable in such cases. The connections to their own natural reactions and a positive form of assertiveness have to be learned anew.

In my blog on suicide, I wrote about the successful man who came to see me because he was gay and could not come out. A man who was loved and revered, both by his family and his colleagues, so it was not as if he could rebel against negativity. Coming out would mean such hurt to his wife and children as well as his parents, that he could not do it. His family was deeply religious and believed that homosexuality was against God’s will, his wife was a good woman who loved him dearly. His children looked up to him, he was his parents’ pride and joy. The impossibility of it all led to deep despair. Here we have a person who had to deny a deep longing in himself.  Depression always has this component.

Depression at heart, I believe, is the dampening down of early spontaneity, whether through cultural or familial factors, especially with regards to our liveliness, our power, our identity, and our natural drive for exploration. The loss of spontaneity of being and of power to affect our own lives is a substantial loss. If the inherent human responses to threat are flight, fight, freeze, and submission, depression has them all. Siblings, peers and romantic partners play a scandalously underestimated role. They can prevent us from being ‘ourselves’ as much as parents can do. Siblings can block your natural path, even before you take your first steps out into this world.

Being respectful of your deepest longings will loosen the grip of your greatest despair.

  • Peers can deny connection, or demand such a high price of falsification, that it mocks your very being.  
  • Romantic partners can stifle your very being by insisting on a way of life and a ‘truth’ that is inherently against your natural inclination.
  • The dampening down of spontaneity, whether through cultural or familial factors, is the precursor of the shutdown of spontaneity that marks depression. 
  • A compromised lifestyle, where you tend to settle for second and third best, cannot be soothed by denial.
  • Becoming proactive in line with your deepest desires, even in the smallest of things, are the stepping stones out of despair.

Read PART ONE here

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