Depression, Anxiety and Anger
These are often closely linked, and are underneath about the struggle to come to terms with unbearable feelings. Depression is retreat, a closing down that comes from a feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s a sort of ‘giving up’ and withdrawal from life. Anxiety is often agitation from the fear of being overwhelmed, it disturbs our sleep and leaves us tense, reactive and exhausted. Anger is often a defence against hurt. All are about the sub-conscious process of keeping out of our awareness what we can’t bear to face.
As a generalisation, introverts tend to towards depression, extroverts towards anxiety. Often both are present, but the underlying processes are the same. Whether you are stuck in continuous, or cyclical depression, anxiety or anger, it is possible to find a way through.
How come we are like this?
We are like we are for good reasons! The innate wisdom of our subconscious has made the best job it could out of the circumstances we found ourselves in. Its first rule is the survival of the self and this is what we have done, survived the best way we could. No matter how ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ we feel, it is simply not true, we are just human beings coping in the best we can.
When we did not have the resources to cope with life’s difficulties, our subconscious wisdom pushed those overwhelming experiences, (pain, hurt, fear, distress, anger, lack of support or too much support, etc.) into a split off ‘holding area’ within us. This is the definition of ‘trauma’ in its widest sense (as in both large and multiple small corrosive events), it’s how we protect ourselves from being overwhelmed.
To make sense of this often meant blaming ourselves for the experience of being punished, criticised, hurt, afraid, attacked, neglected, abandoned, etc. Especially as children, blaming ourselves was more survivable than the terror of it being ‘non-sense’. The result is a deeply ingrained feeling that we are bad. This is amazingly common.
Keeping all those powerful feelings out of awareness requires a lot of us, it diminishes what’s left for living our lives and has many other compensatory consequences for how we live. Part of this process is around how we had to split some of the connections between our head, heart and body in order to de-sensitise ourselves. So now we don’t really know what we feel, our thinking is confused and our bodies are ignored and full of tension, or lethargy. Another part is how we are condemned to live constantly defending ourselves. This is all largely an un-aware process where we try to prevent the unbearable pain of those ‘hidden wounds’ from being prodded. Whenever we feel under threat of this, we go into “fight, flight or freeze” mode, with all the consequences that flow from them.
We were not aware of all this happening, it was instinctive survival, and we have to maintain this structure of ourselves until we can bring new awareness, self-knowledge and understanding to it all.
The consequence of having to maintain our avoidance of these buried un-faced ‘emergencies’ from ourselves, and certainly from the world, is our deep insecurity, our doubt about our validity and worth with its sense of being bad or unacceptable. All this causes a constant inner conflict of struggling to keep the awareness of it all at bay and of trying to defending ourselves from having our ‘buttons’ pressed.
This also explains our self-destructiveness, if we feel we are ‘bad’ we are not really worth caring about, we deserve to be punished. Unsurprisingly we lack self-confidence and self-esteem. It also explains our shame. Being ‘bad’ we learned to be ashamed of ourselves and this made us even more vulnerable to our sense of inadequacy being compounded by all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ dumped on us by our parents, educators and society at large.
Despite our best efforts at defense, we inevitably find that our ‘buttons’ do get pressed, which then causes us whole sets of difficult reactions. These buttons have labels such as criticism, insult, anger, neglect, being ignored, loss, etc. From our over-reaction to these events we know that there is more going on than we know about. The fact that we then go into our ‘victim mode’ only confirms this.
Again, generalising, introverts blame and attack themselves, feeling terrible about themselves they shut down and withdraw. Extroverts blame and attack the other or the world. They also feel terrible about themselves but tend to go into anxiety and/or anger, rather than withdrawal.
These ‘buttons’ are directly ‘wired’ into our original ‘trauma’, which we have not yet been able to face, and which still feels unbearable. As above, this is why we react so strongly and with so much inner turmoil, with our “fight, flight or freeze” reactions. All sorts of substance misuse, addictions and compulsions are part of our efforts to deal with and avoid the pain inherent in all this.
So what to do?
The first step is about wanting to change, this is about the start of taking responsibility for ourselves and involves simply seeing and acknowledging something of the truth of how we are and wanting it to be different. The next step is to see and understand more, through developing your self-awareness.
This is where therapy comes in, as it’s hard to do this without help. Therapy provides a non-judgemental space where we can start to understand that we are not ‘mad’ or ‘bad’, that there is logic and reason behind every aspect of the way we are. We can then start to see how our experience relates, or not, to the processes I have described here. This can give a glimpse that change is possible, we are not fixed and maybe we don’t need to remain imprisoned in the almost mechanically repetitive nightmare our lives can become.
Then there is the need to build some self-support by bringing into awareness more of our actual current experience. This comes from starting to re-connect our heart, head and body. By looking in detail at what we are feeling and how it affects our thoughts and body. By looking at our thinking and how it affects our feelings and body. And very importantly by sensing our body, by feeling our tensions or lack of energy, and our breath. This is about looking at how we are right now in this present moment. Our here and now always contains the whole structure of ourselves, it is always there to be seen, but it does take a lot of practice to see it.
With new awareness we can start to understand the structure of ourselves, we can start to connect how we are now to, how we came to be the way we are, our conditioning. This enables us to increasingly forgive ourselves, we are not to blame for how we are. This needs to be taken in very deeply.
We are though still responsible for ourselves and it is tough turning away from blaming, be it ourselves, others or the world, towards taking responsibility for our feelings, thoughts and bodies. Towards increasingly facing the reality of how we are, but this does take time!
The aim is to live ever close to the present moment. Again we have to work indirectly, by resolving all those defensive ‘emergency’ reactions that demand all our attention. Our subconscious wisdom, which includes our ‘conscience’ (our ability to know what’s true and what’s not), is always working hard to support us by trying to make the best meaning possible with the knowledge and understanding it has. Improving this is our work.
This clearing of the past leaves us ever freer to live in the present, to live a more spontaneous, enjoyable, satisfying and meaningful life, where every difficulty is an opportunity to develop our ability to ‘be’ more.
Process of change
We change through our participation and commitment to this process of awareness, integration and growth. We surely know by now that our head alone deciding that we will live differently just does not work. Through integrating new awareness into self-knowledge and understanding we slowly notice that change has occurred. And yet, at some point we need to summon all our resources, especially those that come from knowing ourselves better, and make a choice to face the victim aspect of ourselves. We need to commit ourselves, right down to the depth, to try our hardest. If / when we fail, we need to quickly forgive ourselves and get back to connecting with our choice. Remembering that this is a fight for your life, it is a fight for your very soul.