The simplest, basic definition of depression is that it’s a pressure in our body that is holding against feelings. When this holding, pressing down feeling weighs heavy in our body, it forms the emotional mood we call depression. Low moods depress our thoughts, behavior, and sense of well being; which stems from holding emotion in the body.
All emotions need a healthy outlet. Expressing excitement or joy isn’t a problem for most of us; it just bubbles right up. Unfortunately, releasing emotions such as anger or grief usually isn’t as easy. If we are unable to release these feelings through some form of expression, they become stuck and held in our body. For many people, this feeling of depression took root in childhood. If it was considered bad or not okay to express anger or grief in your family when you were growing up, these emotions end up being held back, in a tension pattern in your body. Over the years, if not dealt with, they accumulate and become stuck – leading to a chronic state of tension and depression.
So is depression a learned behavior or is it hereditary? This question is similar to another with no clear answer: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If the way to act was told or modeled for you (as in “that’s not what we do”), it could well have been the established behavior norm in your family for generations. As children dependent on the adults in our lives for sustenance, we conform out of necessity. To paraphrase the late great pioneer in family therapy, Virginia Satir, “You have learned what you have learned very well. It has helped you survive.”
But the real question is whether the way you were taught to handle your emotions, passed down through your family, is still the appropriate guideline for you today. What were proper rules to live by in your grandparents’ lifetime likely do not fully apply to you or future generations anymore.
Regardless of how we came by them, depressive symptoms can be overwhelming, both emotionally and physically. Emotional symptoms include lack of energy, no motivation, and a feeling of meaningfulness. Physical symptoms range from achiness, fatigue, restlessness, body tension, and too much or lack of an appetite.
Getting to the root of the problem usually requires uncovering layers of buried, neglected feelings. Identifying and releasing the underlying source(s) of pain and numbness, so that healing and wholeness can resurface, is essential to recovery. As mentioned above, the answer to our emotional expression usually lies somewhere in childhood. But don’t blame your parents – what they learned and taught you was likely beneficial to them or your ancestors at one time. (Back to the emotional DNA/hereditary, chicken/egg question!) What’s important now is to break this old behavior pattern which no longer serves, or deserves to be passed on yet again. When using defenses developed 20 or 50 years ago, it freezes us in the past, and we lose touch with our current reality. When we’re out of touch, we are unaware of other possibilities, other choices.
While past generations had to focus on basic physical survival at the sacrifice of emotional well-being, we have the luxury of time and resources to deal with our emotional life, and can seek a higher purpose beyond mere survival.
If you need assistance working through your emotions, please do not hesitate to seek the services of a qualified counselor. While it’s necessary to recognize a depressive emotional pattern before it can be corrected, it may be difficult for the untrained eye to detect.
If you feel that you or someone you love could benefit from professional guidance, we at Dr. Dori Gatter and Associates, “Body Centered Psychotherapy” offer our expertise to help make your life, and the lives of your loved ones, as happy and healthy as possible by living with awareness.