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“I kind of gave up at one point”, that’s how she began describing what she referred to as “depression”. She’d experienced the end of several relationships, and was mired in thoughts of those losses.
She developed a preoccupation with “death”. Not uncommon when you focus on death long enough.
Calling what you’re feeling, “depression” is like saying you’re in the ocean. What part of the ocean? “Oh, the wet part”?
It’s possible and imperative to become more specific. The more precise you can be in identifying the root issue, the more specific your remediating action can be.
Simply thinking positive or engaging in enjoyable activities, serve only to distract your mind, if they don’t address the underlying issue.
I have a process of asking strategic questions that help clients become curious of their own experience, more than frightened of it.
My process revealed she wasn’t preoccupied with death, she was preoccupied with loss.
There’s a missing piece to your experience of loss when you focus primarily on pain of the loss. Even when you try to distract yourself with happy thoughts, sad ones invariably intrude. Suddenly you’re sad again.
She felt defeated by the inability to make herself feel happy all the time.
Even when able to experience gratitude, feelings of sadness that surfaced were seen as a failure to be more positive. This is like wanting the sun to never set, and when it does, feeling you’ve been short changed somehow.
I asked if she believed her options are to be happy or sad, but not both? This is indeed what she believed, classic all-or-nothing thinking.
She was intrigued by the idea happiness and sadness could be felt simultaneously. I added a word to her emotional vocabulary, and her demeanor softened. The word is, “bittersweet”. Bittersweet describes the feeling of happy, and sadness occurring together.
This feeling is nurtured by alternating thoughts of longing and gratitude.
One thing that helps foster this opposition to feeling sadness, is the number of people who step in to try and rescue you from sadness.
It can give the impression sadness is bad, and your people-pleasing ways compel you to pretend you’re happy. This, to soothe the person worried about you.
It’s important to acknowledge, and experience both the happy, and sad. They both have something to tell you about where you are, and what you need, right now!
Depression can be driven by a preoccupation with a problem perceived as, unsolvable. Identifying the preoccupation is the laser-focused root we want to find and unwind to help refine your thinking.
Now we can take that laser-focused root, and go after it. I asked her, “So you’ve got one part that is trying to convince you to give up? What does it think you’re gonna get by giving up? How’s that helpful to you?”
What we discovered, is by giving up, she stops taking risks, which eliminates the risk she’ll get attached, and suffer the pain of loss, again.
This insight was a breakthrough for her.
The part telling her adamantly, to quit, just shifted from being a villain to a teacher. That part of her is actually well intended, and wants to protect her from being hurt. But it’s wanting her to take an all or nothing position because it’s coming from a place of survival.
You don’t want to get mostly away from a tiger, right? It’s an all-or-nothing proposition, you want to be hell-and-gone from the tiger.
Now, the part of her that remembers the good times, and the one that focuses on the loss are both trying to help her feel better. But they approach the hurt in different ways.
Suffering, pain and loss are parts of the human experience. A more balanced perspective reminds you, you feel hurt, and you’re going to be okay.
Allowing room for bittersweet, opens you to a more complete experience, where all of it teaches you, and there are no emotional villains. The toughest emotions tell you what you need the most in that moment. When you know what questions to ask.
This was only a part of our conversation. I helped her learn much more in this call. Now, you also know how to begin finding the wisdom, when you feel like giving up.