Posts Tagged ‘depression’

What Is It About Holidays That Tug at Our Abandonment Strings?

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Maybe it’s the smells. A few whiffs of cinnamon, butter cooking, turkeys roasting, chocolate melting, and pine needles and we are brought right back to earlier times — times when we were nestled into our families and their traditions. The holidays are just around the corner and soon we will be inundated by those familiar tastes, smells, sounds and sights that tug at our heartstrings. This helps to enhance the spirit for the folks who are happily tucked in with their mates and families. But for those of us who are alone, the holidays can arouse a sense of longing for deep connection. This can inspire creative change or trigger a kind of seasonal depression.

There are so many people out there who face the holiday season without a special someone to share it with. We may have a family to visit, but may feel emotionally alone. Maybe we are going though a breakup, grieving the death of a loved one, having trouble finding someone to love, or involved in a relationship where we feel a loss of love. We may show up at family gatherings attempting to put the best face on it, but somewhere inside we may feel some isolation, apathy, or disconnection, all the while surrounded by reminders of earlier times when we felt connected to people we loved and belonged to.

People ask me how to cope. Drawing from an old list, I’d like to pose a challenge: Allow your holiday emotions to inspire creative change. Choose Change over Depression. Here’s how:
1) Don’t underestimate these feelings. Embrace them as part of being human and be extra gentle with yourself. Don’t try to push them away. Ignoring them just drives them underground where they drain your energy and mood from within. Instead be prepared for nostalgic feelings. Validate your vulnerability and give yourself extra care. In short, be your own physician: Tend to your own wound caringly.
2) Share your feelings whenever you can with people you trust. In some cases, this may have to be a professional counselor. Sharing helps to soothe the primal abandonment feelings that underlie the depression and also helps you feel less alone.
3) Create new hope in your life. Take initiatives designed to reap some benefits later on. At the very least buy a lottery ticket, but also initiate new undertakings that will help you reach your goals, such as joining a dating service, sending out an application to get a degree, signing up for an exercise program, or rewriting your resume so that later you can take advantage of new job opportunities. You have to really get creative here. And you have to follow through.
4) Create events that you can look forward to in the future such as planning a trip to visit a friend.
5) Reach out to people. Create a connection with new people and reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with. Spend time with someone you love who makes you smile. Talk to people who have been through abandonment and have come out the other side – positively. These connections often times involve taking positive risks. Now is the time to take them!
6) Approach people with the spirit of giving – not with gifts (necessarily) but with your interest and caring for them. Being generous means being in the moment with them, being fully present. Demonstrate an earnest desire to listen to them. Be in empathy with their lives. Make them feel their special importance in your life.
7) Do some community outreach to help others. Now that you’re feeling lonely, you can appreciate how difficult it is for folks who are isolated within hospitals, prisons, shelters, nursing homes, or on the streets. Help them feel a little less lonely by letting them know someone cares. Come bearing gifts or just your company. Lend a helping hand.
8) Nurture yourself. Put a lot of thought in what little things might feel pampering and luxurious to you. Probe yourself by asking, “What do I want?” Watch inspiring movies – go to net flicks or spiritual Visit a new place (that you have not been to before), one that has special holiday spirit or a transporting ambience. Give yourself as many indulgences as you can afford, and remember, self-indulgence is not the same as self-nurturance. We don’t want a credit card debt to have to repay later.
9) Don’t depend solely upon being invited to other people’s parties, plan your own gatherings. Be ready to laugh and enjoy. This is another positive risk that is worth taking!
10) This one is the most important: Recognize the temporary nature of all things. As for your loneliness, remind yourself, “This is only a feeling and this too shall pass.”


What Makes Me Unhappy?

November 1, 2010 1 comment

Contrast. If you feel a negative contrast between what you experienced in the past and what you are experiencing now, you feel the short-fall as “unhappiness,” “loss of energy,” or “depression.”

At first after Paul died, the contrast was nearly unbearable. I had been accustomed to intense connection and constant affection. We spent every spare minute enjoying each other’s closeness – just being together. He had been sick for a year prior and I had always been busy administering to his medical and personal needs, all of which gave my life a sense of purpose, meaning, and focus. It was all about being in love.

Then there was nothing. I sat in the midst of the void at loss for a sense of purpose, feeling lost. The negative contrast crashed down around me and I called it “grief.”

Grief has a lot to do with contrast.

But it’s been a few years now and my frame of reference has changed. I’m no longer comparing today to the days when Paul and I were entwined together. Instead, I am comparing today to the first year following his death. And things have improved enough for me to feel a positive contrast. Hence I don’t perceive myself as unhappy anymore.

Another way of saying this is, you can grow accustomed to something challenging and it takes time.

Contrast is why breakup is so unbearable. You are left with the broken pieces of your heart searching desperately for crazy glue, in painful contrast to the past when you were happily coupled looking forward to your future together.

But sometimes negative contrast is subtle, hard to see. You feel unhappy and don’t realize that you are comparing the quality of your current life to some previous time. You might not be conscious of your frame of reference.

Take Victor. He left his wife because he was feeling hemmed in, bored, and desirous of being with other women. He loved his freedom, but five years later he found himself feeling unhappy and wasn’t sure what the issues were. So he’s changed jobs, changed girlfriends, changed apartments, but he just didn’t feel the get up and go he used to have for life. Since he was fighting depression, he came in for therapy.

What was going on was that his mind was comparing his current life to the old married days when he felt secure and connected, had a sense of future and steady companionship, embedded within extended families, with hustling and bustling of activity. These were the days before he’d begun to grow bored and restless.

Although he chose single life and doesn’t consider his decision to leave his marriage a mistake (whether his reasons are valid or not is immaterial), his mind (working somewhat unconsciously) was busy comparing the quality of his earlier married days to his current reality. He was basically alone, since none of his new relationships resulted in sharing a “total life” together.

Realizing the “contrast” helped him in two ways: It helped him understand where his depression was coming from and it clarified his goals. He has a clearer sense of what ingredients he needs in his life to make him happy, a better sense of direction.

Guilt Loves to Turn the Tables

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

This week the theme of the messages I receive has been GUILT – not FEELING GUILTY, but feeling the brunt of someone else’s DISOWNED GUILT.

An example: According to Sarah, her boyfriend treats her badly. He makes promises, but doesn’t show up. Then he showers her with passion, only to go online and talk with other women. When she catches him, he tells her it’s because she has been cold and angry lately.

Sometimes he invites Sarah over to his place to spend the evening, but when she gets there, he spends the whole time in bed, remains uncommunicative, unaffectionate, and unresponsive. She feels rejected, stops calling him, and keeps away. Then he suddenly declares his love for her, claiming he was just depressed and that things will be different.

She acquiesces and they make passionate love, but then he doesn’t return her phone calls for days.

When she finally gets to talk to about this and confronts him, he blames it on HER. He says she is too demanding, too dependent, and too needy – doesn’t she understand that he gets depressed?! These criticisms and excuses are cliché. I hear the same ones over and over again from so many different people.

Besides all of the other obvious things that may be wrong with this relationship, Sarah suffers from her boyfriend’s guilt – his unwillingness to own his own his behavior– his tendency to blame the victim.

What’s the mechanism he’s using? He treats her badly and wants to get away with it. He doesn’t want to feel guilty over it. But somewhere in his head, a faint voice is telling him that he has behaved badly.

What does he do with this voice? He does everything he can to get rid of it.

The easiest way is to turn the tables. He faults Sarah. He tries to get HER to feel guilty. If he rejects and criticizes her enough, maybe he can even get her to regret her entire existence. He even turns the tables when she tells him how much it hurts, by emphasizing his own pain – his depression –and then accuses her of only thinking about herself.

Taking his guilt and loading it into her makes Sarah to “look bad” which in turn, enables him to rationalize his behavior.

Guilt can be so helpful when it’s acknowledged. It gets us to closely examine our actions so that we can evolve as human beings. Owning our guilt – and sharing our own culpability within our relationships – can lead to a true reckoning. The relationship then serves as a crucible for positive change.

But guilt without
• remorse
• intention to make amends
• the will to change
is guilt that gets buried, rationalized, and displaced in destructive ways – destructive to self and others.

This is Sarah’s boyfriend’s brand of guilt. If she can understand the manipulation he is using, she can stop buying in.

Of course, we all want Sarah to get another boyfriend. But while she’s in this, she can use it as a giant growth experience.

Good Riddance to Separation Anxiety!

October 13, 2010 1 comment

Someone wrote in and asked, “Is separation anxiety related to abandonment?”

“Oh yes,” I resounded. Separation anxiety is the basis for all emotional distress – anxiety, depression, insecurity-in-relationships, fear-of-loss. Abandonment feelings trigger separation anxiety and separation anxiety trigger abandonment feelings.

Let’s say you walk into a restaurant with your friends and you suddenly see your husband sitting at a table with another woman. Your heart starts to pound as if you had just seen as bear! This “panic” is separation anxiety. Or let’s say that you’re alone because you just can’t seem to find someone to love. You’re beginning to give up hope. You feel this constant malaise, an energy-drain, sometimes jittery in the morning, on-edge during the day, maybe even downright unhappy. This “depression” is separation anxiety.

Or maybe there are layoffs at work. You’re worried you’re next. You’ve become very sensitive to any nuance of rejection or criticism from the higher ups. These “paranoid” feelings are separation anxiety.

The antidote: Use these experiences to practice becoming a “separate person.” Once you find the internal switch (an adult switch) that regulates your separation anxiety, you can strengthen your emotional self-reliance. You gain personal power over feeling abandoned, alone, afraid, even under stressful circumstances.

To be human is to feel these things. But to be adult is to accept your humanness while at the same time accepting that you are in fact SEPARATE. The old adage about “coming into the world alone and going out alone” may sound obvious, but it attempts to break our denial and therefore is extremely meaningful. The adage reflects that many adults have made this discovery before us and have made a special point of sharing this wisdom – because they know that we are in denial – that we protest its simple reality. They know the acceptance of our separateness is the basis becoming a true adult.

Separation anxiety is a throwback to childhood when we knew we’d die unless someone nurtured our needs. This life-and-death-fear gets triggered by any perception of abandonment within our adult relationships. But once triggered, this fear challenges us to find the adult switch – the reality switch – the one that reminds us that we can stand on our own two feet. We learn to manage the fear by facing rather than fighting our separateness. Protesting our separateness keeps us in the panic and anxiety. The task is to face the “worst case scenario” (the realization of that we are each emotionally alone) and then to realize that we can take care of ourselves. This acceptance must be made, not begrudgingly, but wholeheartedly.

Once we realize that as adults we are responsible for meeting our own emotional needs and not the person we are obsessing about, we begin to take back control of our lives. Incidentally, this new-found power also dramatically changes the dynamic in our relationship, often turning the tables to our advantage. We lose our neediness and become mysteriously self-sufficient.

An essential point here is that separation anxiety is a form of protest. It is a reaction to not-accepting the existential reality of our separateness. Any threat to our primary relationship makes us anxious the same way little children feel anxious when they can’t find their mommies: the world looms lonely and scary.

The abandonment feelings triggered when our jobs, our lives, or our plans go awry – are just feelings, not facts. The reality is that adults cannot be abandoned, because they are capable of taking care of themselves. The only real abandonment in adulthood is self-abandonment. Believing ourselves to be helplessly dependent upon someone contributes to abandoning ourselves. Self-abandonment occurs when we momentarily forget that we are capable of self-care.

Self-abandonment occurs when we as adults blame ourselves for being left by someone we love, and then we compound it by blaming ourselves for becoming so emotional– for feeling so desperate. All of this leads to self-abandonment. And it is this self abandonment that leads to the loss of self-esteem which is cornerstone of abandonment’s severe depression.

Let’s say that we stay busy, have a million routines, and sustain close relationships with our loved ones. These are not bad things. In fact, they are good things, even though an underlying motive is to stave off separation anxiety. When things are going smoothly there’s no incentive to find that adult switch and learn to practice becoming a separate person. So we can become complacent…and dependent…even on our routines!

Those of us whose separation anxiety has been triggered by loss or disappointment are the lucky ones – because we get to develop emotional self-reliance – and we’re better for it.