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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Your Book Title Changed My Life

This is a response to the third comment on my October 23, 2011 post "Your Book Title Changed my  Life"


The name of your book has confirmed a suspicion I've always had about my own. Before, when I was younger, depression was not entirely a choice; it was a defensive reaction. At the time, the negativity came at me from my own parent (I will not say which here) and they refused to let it end until I started sobbing. Loudly. 

I believe as I got older it started becoming something I chose to do, because I thought there was no option (for example I could always let the same parent know that it was just not the time for them to be spewing negativity at me).

These days I've learned to let people know when to leave me alone, as opposed to only crying about it (never learned how to stop the tears from flowing! Any suggestions?). After having worked out most causes of my depression, it now hits the hardest whenever I feel like I've failed to meet a milestone in life, like possibly getting fired, or passing a professional exam. How can I mitigate that and move on with life faster so I can work toward finding another job or finally passing that professional exam?


Dear R.

My training and practice in psychotherapy would first lead me to say that the depression you experienced as a helpless child is being recreated as  a not-helpless adult whenever you are put in a “down “ social situation. Either when you are “put down” in some way  by  somebody else, or when you feel guilty ( which is putting yourself down).

Pop psychology would say that you are replaying the old tapes in your brain that were created as a helpless child and, since you are an adult now, and no longer helpless, the tapes are being erroneously re-played.

The way you stop reacting to present situations habitually, is first of all to recognize the fact intellectually. Next you have to start correcting your mistake when you catch yourself doing it.
So, the next time someone “disses” you and you feel like crying, remember that you are no longer that helpless child. You can come to your own defense. 

The interesting thing is that you did come to your own defense as a child when you told your parent that now was not the time. And you have learned to ask people to stop hasseling you as an adult. However, it seems that, although behaviorally you handle the situation, emotionally you have not progressed to the same extent. You still BELIEVE yourself to be helpless,  and are somehow identifying with the opinion of the person berating you (even yourself when you are feeling guilty).

Identification is a very difficult psychological tenet to understand. I’m going to quote from my book something that might help you understand identification.


But when we are in the throes of it, the power of depression seems so much greater than our own power. How can this be? How can we be done in by our own depression? What is this "dark beast" that we know has to be us, and yet at the same time is trying to devour us? And if it’s just a part of us, why can’t we just turn the damn thing off? 
A wise man once told me, “enlightenment is just a deep understanding that there is no problem.” We think we are not all right because it is the job of the subcortex-driven primal mind to be worried and paranoid, and we, who cannot differentiate ourselves as separate from our agitated primal mind, therefore believe it is we who are worried.
The feeling that we are empty and lifeless and the feeling that nothing matters are temporary feelings occurring to our primal mind. These feelings are not a true representation of our present reality. They are the autonomic fears of the primal mind when its chemistry is skewed by passive thinking and negative thoughts that trigger the fight or flight that dumps an overload of stress chemicals in our brain. The primal mind does not know any better. And we cannot teach it any better. But we can teach ourselves that we are not our primal mind.
The reason we feel so strongly is that we are more closely bonded with the primal mind than with our dearest loved one, even our own child. At her wedding rehearsal my husband spoke of our daughter as “a piece of my heart walking around.” We hurt when our children hurt, we are happy when they are happy, but we can see that they are not us. We can differentiate our body from theirs.
We hurt when our primal mind hurts, we are happy when our primal mind is happy, but we cannot see that our primal mind is not us, that it is simply a part of our brain from which we are functioning at the moment, and we can force ourselves to function from another part of our brain that does not contain depression.
 Depression is a chemical paradigm shift in our energy power source, our primal mind. It is something that happens to us. We are not supposed to be something that happens to it. But if we are not forearmed, that is exactly what occurs. Before we know it, we don’t just have a depression, we become depressed. It’s not like a cold. If we have a cold, we never become colded like we become depressed.
Actually, it is a triple whammy that works to strengthen depression. First the chemical hit itself, which is the result of fearful thinking triggering the fight or flight response and dumping stress chemical in our brain. Then, second, the fact that we unwittingly, through self-talk, keep imaging to ourselves that we “feel terrible,” or “are so depressed” which tends, by repetition to make the thought dominant in the brain, like cement, which means the stress chemicals keep being produced. Then, third, there is a pathological defense mechanism at work here in addition to the biochemical defense mechanism of depression itself. The defense mechanism gone awry is called identification with the aggressor. It was first recognized and named by Sandor Ferenczi7, a close colleague of Sigmund Freud.
Identification with the aggressor works this way: The strongest instinct we have is the instinct for self-preservation. Of course we are able, through freedom of the will, to override this basic instinct with learned values of patriotism and self-sacrifice in acts of heroism. We are also able to override it with the learned values of committing suicide.
Given the exceptions of the learned values of altruism, patriotism, and suicide, when we are overwhelmed by some attack against us, our feeling of complete helplessness will trigger our instinct for self-preservation and our brain logic  initiates thoughts that we “need” and must therefore “protect” any other possible source of power that might “save us;” even if the only available source of power is the offending aggressor. (This is another example of how separated the mind is from present reality. We must remember that the duty of the self is to re-connect the mind with present reality.)
This autonomic defense mechanism of identification acquired the nickname the “Stockholm syndrome” where  prisoners of war identify with their captors, and “the Patty Hearst Syndrome” after the young heiress who was kidnapped in 1974 by a group of terrorists later joined  them and helped them rob a bank.
This is also partly the reason that women who are raped keep it a secret for years, rather than “tell.” Guilt is another reason. In any interaction within a particular culture to which shame ordinarily would be attached, says Ferenczi, there is a certain finite amount of guilt to be assumed. Each of us seems to be cosmically hooked into the unsplittable atom of us all.
Whatever guilt the perpetrator does not assume will be automatically assumed by the victim. Since we must hide our guilt to protect our status, we are further separated from our legitimate fellows. Ferenczi formulated his identification theory after two decades of studying child-abuse victims who protected their predators instead of telling on them. But I think it is not out of line to apply Ferenczi’s theory to the feeling of complete helplessness that we experience during a depressive episode, where we seem to be taken over by a force stronger than our own, even though that force is inside our own body.
So from the first, depression seems to have power over us. And we can immediately proceed to make this worse by identifying with our own depression as the only source of power (reality). Our brain, corrupted by over-whelming emotion with which we identify, and thinking depression is a “safe place” for us as the only source of power, prevents us from considering any other reality than our depression.
For instance, we do not consider we are okay and the depression is a “wrong signal.” We think we are not okay and depression is our only reality..
When we become our own depression by identifying with it, by merging with it, and then trying to escape from it, we end up fighting ourselves. There is really no aggressor; there is only our fighting. We exhaust ourselves, and then, tired and defeated, we attribute overwhelming power to that which has defeated us. Our depression seems mighty and prevailing. But what has defeated us is not our depression; our own fighting has defeated us.
Thus it is that people who are more intelligent usually have the worst time of it since their whole intelligence is in league against them. When people tell us depressed people  to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” it is really no more of an order of difficulty than what we are already doing to ourselves in reverse--pulling ourselves down by our own bootstraps.
Over-identification is the reason, I am convinced, that so many people have not learned to “take care of business” with respect to depression as they are able to do with other systemic pain, like a broken arm or leg. We do not identify with wounds and viruses. We do not let our arms and legs boss us around the way we do our mind. I mean, one wouldn't take to one's bed with a fractured bone and sigh disconsolately, “I'm so terribly broken.”
We seldom ask penetrating questions about or otherwise investigate our depression because it is not easy to be objective about it while we are undergoing it. Mostly it seems like unbearable, unalterable pain. When it's over, we feel lucky to have escaped with our lives; we don't want to call it back for a chat.
But if we really study depression, our own depression, as I have trained myself to do, we find that although it looms wide and high, like an inescapable solitary confinement of hopeless doom, it is also as easily shifted away from as a movie or a TV show As powerful a phenomenon as it is, we can learn very quickly that depression is totally dependent upon our rapt attention to it. If we are depressed, there is one sure thing we know about ourselves; no one is sawing off one of our arms.
So if depression is dependent on our rapt attention to it, how is it that we can become its prisoner against our will? We can’t, if we know how to assert our will. In depression or mania, the fight for precedence is between us and our subcortex-driven primal mind, however, not between us and our neocortex-driven higher mind. We are not so identified with our higher mind. We do not have as much trouble distinguishing ourselves from our principles as we have distinguishing ourselves from our feelings.
Unlike the subcortex, we can more easily separate ourselves out from our neocortex, and our neocortex takes direction quite well. It is a hard-working, intelligent Marian the Librarian. It is the subcortex driven primal-mind guardian, rash Sir Lancelot, whose strategies must be rigorously contended with. Wise, transcendent Merlin, whom we all secretly hope lives in the penthouse of our cranial tower, is never there. He simply visits us when we invite him by our silence.
            But we can only achieve silence if we wait quietly in the library with Marian. If Sir Lancelot gets too noisy, we can get the librarian to show him the door simply by refusing to grant him an audience. He can then conduct his necessary but distracting antics, like the defense mechanisms of fear and depression, down in the subcortical basement, out of earshot, where he belongs, and where it is easier to tune him out.
It is a continuing intrigue. Primal Sir Lancelot, the first mind system to evolve, mistakenly believes that as original “Godfather,” he should be in charge of us. He is absolutely dedicated, and is not going to give way without cunning on our part to limit the over-extension of his dangerous strategies of fear, pain and paranoia, which we can do only by taking action to access the neocortex of the higher-mind.
If, instead of moving to action and accessing the neocortex, we pay attention to depression, we will be doing the converse of successful positive affirmation. Depression is successful negative affirmation. It has been common knowledge for years to anyone familiar with hypnosis that the mind cannot judge whether any particular memory is from an imagined or a real event. 
Recently Henry L. Roediger III of Washington University in St. Louis proved that, given a few bogus details and a little prodding, 25 percent of adults could be convinced they remembered childhood adventures that never happened.8
All of us are susceptible to memory contamination. That’s the reason all those motivation seminars work, the ones that have us mentally visualizing our perfect golf swing or our successful speech. The mind, in retrospect, experiences these imaginings as real practice. Unfortunately, that is also how our own random imaginings and fears work against us. We actually “practice” depression for years and then wonder how we become masters of it.
The reason that the mind cannot tell the difference between a real and an imagined event is that we do not retain memories in any kind of a facsimile storage-and-retrieval software system. Our memory is tentatively held in the always slightly different patterns of the firing of neurons that, once jump-started, are re-created and serially echoed throughout the brain,  somewhat like a living tissue hologram of electrical arcing, “like” continually attracting and sparking “like” by learned association. As neuroscientist  Demasio explains, experience shapes the changing design of these memory circuits. The circuits are not only receptive to first experiences, but are modifiable by continued experiences throughout our entire lifetime.
What this all means, as far as our habitual addiction to depression goes, is that we are eminently capable of establishing new responses and new neural patterns for ourselves and bypassing the depressive ones by insisting upon making willed, rather than autonomic connections between our behavior and our physical and emotional environment. We don’t have to “peel ourselves” like an onion in psychoanalysis to uncover childhood neural response patterns that disturb us; we can simply forge new ones that nourish us, and the old patterns will fade with disuse.

So my answer as to how to stop crying is to retrain your brain to “get” that you are no longer helpless. That you are a good and decent person like everybody else and, as the old poem Desiderata puts it, “You are  a child of the universe, no less than the stars and the trees, you have a right to be here.”

It also helps to have some faith in a higher power, as they say in all the 12 step groups—you can’t do it alone. That whoever or whatever put you here remains as a help to be called upon when you are at a loss as to what to do next or suffering fear. If you are an atheist and deride any kind of faith, you can still help yourself with imaginary thinking. The brain cannot tell the difference between reality or imagining so for atheists I would recommend that they help themselves with a little “magical thinking.” Or, to put it another way as those who follow the law of attraction (a la books like The Secret, or Your Empowering Self) “Bring those things into being that be not as though they are.”

For myself, whenever I feel shaky about moving forward I think of the Founding Fathers starting a new country and their pledge to each other in the Declaration of Independence:  “With firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. 

I just use the first part and say to myself “Okay, here I go, with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence. 

Hope this helps.

If I can answer anymore questions don’t hesitate to ask.

A.B. Curtiss

1 comment:

Trishia said...

Reading the posts on your blog are like a reward to me:) This post in particular is so informative and powerful. I faced a major disappointment today -- but it didn't send me into a depression tail spin. I didn't let my thinking get on a downward spiral....Instead, I came here and gave myself a mental treat!!!