What Exactly Is Depression?
Simply stated, depression is self-repression. It is the self-rejection of parts of one's total psychological self, resulting in their repression and in self-alienation. Repression means putting down, subduing, preventing natural expression or development, or forcing unacceptable ideas, impulses, etc., into the unconscious. Depression is psycho-physiological repression, meaning that it affects both mind and body.
Generally, people have knowledge of or experience with other kinds of repression, such as political, economic, religious, social, and so on. This involves stronger, more influential individuals dominating and imposing their will upon weaker or underprivileged citizenry with the intent of controlling them for personal gain. In such an arrangement the more powerful are the winners at the expense of the remainder. Likewise, within the realm of the human mind, the stronger side of one's nature controls the weaker side and can demand strict obedience to its will, threatening rejection and punishment for noncompliance. In the extreme case this can lead to repression of those aspects of self that refuse to agree with the predominant viewpoint. When this occurs, depression is inevitable.
Self-rejection usually occurs because certain, significant others in a person's life are either unwilling or unable to accept someone as he* is. Instead, they require that he meet their stringent expectations for thought, emotion, and behavior. Their great intolerance for individual expression coupled with a highly controlling nature compels them to reject anyone who does not agree with them. Now, the unfortunate individual who happens to be under their influence will be issued an implied ultimatum, reject yourself or be rejected! If he believes that he is dependent on these people in some way and cannot resist them without penalty, he will feel pressured to conform to their standards, even to the point of abandoning his own, which he intuitively knows are better. He will in fact go so far as to reject those parts of himself that they reject in order not to aggravate them, fearing their wrath.
The more dependent he is on them the more conforming he will be to their ways, usually to his own detriment because they are not really concerned with what is best for him but what is advantageous for them. However, oddly, he will in time come to see that binding conformity as something necessary and right, for it preserves harmony in his relationships with those who seem to have the power to affect his life profoundly. Also, he mistakenly assumes that he will someday be rewarded for being good—that is, obedient to their commandments. However it is not meant to be, because the people who hold sway over his life are not interested in rewarding him—only controlling him. Furthermore, they may be envious of him and for that reason alone wish him ill. Nonetheless, he will delude himself into believing that it is best to follow their lead, imagining them to be better individuals than he and doubting himself. He will essentially judge himself as the significant others judge him. In other words, if they typecast him as bad—usually because he is different from them or fails to meet their arbitrary criteria—he will in turn condemn himself. Now, the more he rejects himself the more self-alienated he becomes and thus further out of touch with his true feelings, thoughts, and desires. This results in his feeling more helpless and hopeless concerning his situation and reinforces his dependency on those who care the least about him. The depressive cycle continues and symptoms worsen.
Conformity, born out of a strong need to be accepted by others and a fear of being rejected by them, is at the root of depression. The very same conformity that families and societies encourage can have harmful consequences if important human influences in someone's life are mainly negative. This happens to be true more than most people are willing to admit. Perhaps this why there are a variety of social problems that seem to increase as the years pass and to be unsolvable despite valiant efforts to deal with them. Depression is but one such problem for a sizable segment of the population. Rather than lovingly accept children as they are and encourage them to develop their own unique personalities and potentialities, families and societies headed by dictatorial, arrogant, self-serving individuals thoughtlessly teach them to reject themselves and others for being different. Hatred is more in vogue than love; and then everyone wonders why crime is on the rise, why wars are commonplace, and why people treat one another so badly. Amazingly, all of this happens under the guise of goodness, as defined by those in authority.
Depression is only one of a number of manifestations of self-rejection, which in time can easily turn into self-hate. The person who is most susceptible to depression is someone who tends to blame himself, for real or imaginary faults, more than other people. He is more likely to believe and trust others more than himself. In fact, he may be gullible and easily manipulable by those who seek to take advantage of him. Pleasing other people, especially authority figures, is high on his agenda. Conformity by default is preferred by him over individualism, since he has a strong desire to fit in and be accepted by others. His self-esteem is based primarily on the esteem of other people; therefore, it constantly changes like the weather, depending on how he thinks others perceive him. In other words, he is a fairly typical person. The thing, however, that makes him different from others is that the social environment upon which he is so dependent for support and understanding is mostly harsh and unforgiving. Over time, punishment exceeds reward in the context of his experiences with others; and he increasingly turns against himself. He believes that rejection by other people forces him to reject himself as the only way to get any acceptance at all, which is always marginal at best and never reliable. His yearning for acceptance is never fulfilled, though, because those who dominate his life are envious and controlling individuals, who care little about him and insist on being right—as they see it—instead of doing what is right. They prefer to cause him pain and suffering rather than to help him in his need; they choose to curse him rather than to bless him.
In summary, depression is repression of one part of the psychological self by another part. The stronger side rejects and represses the weaker side in order to conform to the expectations of others. It is not something that is anticipated or desired in the beginning. Actually, it is the heartfelt wish of every person to be accepted for who he really is, a special human being. However, social forces militate against him from the outset. If people who are closest to him also oppose his uniqueness, he is left feeling betrayed, abandoned, unloved, and anxious. This sets the stage for progressive self-rejection as a safety net against their complete rejection of him. There may also be a fear of some dire consequences for disobeying their will. The stronger part of the total self sympathizes with them and demands that the weaker part do the same. Eventually, the parts of self that are unacceptable to the significant others are labeled as bad and attempts are made to eliminate those parts from consciousness. The goal is to streamline the personality so that it fully meets externally mandated guidelines. It is expected that by repressing the undesirable parts of self, one will become a good person at last and will finally be rewarded by those who are thought to have power of life and death. Ultimately, what must be thoroughly understood is that depression is something that one does to oneself! It is the selected solution to an intense, agonizing conflict between self and influential others. Hence, in order to overcome depression, one must take responsibility for it—instead of seeing oneself merely as a victim of circumstances. It is one's chosen collaboration with the enemy outside of oneself that has made him an enemy of himself. Now, he must firmly decide to become his own best friend and take back control of his own life.
Depression is a mental prison into which the individual, nonconforming, bad self is cast by the socially conforming, good self after being judged guilty of transgressing the laws of external authority. It is both a punishment for past wrongs and a restraint against committing future ones. The depressed person is simultaneously his own prisoner and jailer, his own victim and victimizer, the oppressed and the oppressor. He alone holds the key that can free him permanently. However, he must realize that he has the power to act in his own behalf and care enough about himself to use it.
* Wherever the word, he, is used in the text, the word, she, can be substituted.
Copyright © 2007 Mind Renewal Self-Help