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Understanding Your Depression

There are many articles on the EQI site which talk about depression, but until now I haven't started to organize them into categories like "Understanding Your Depression". This is the first attempt at that.- S. Hein

Depression Starts in Childhood - S. Hein

Controlling, Neglectful Parents


John Bradshaw

Allice Miller

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Depression Starts in Childhood

Consider this scenario.

You are born into the world with no view of yourself. You don't know yet what your potential is, what you could be good at or what you might not be so good at later in life. You don't know what qualities you might possess to make you a valuable member of a community, in other words, someone that others would want to be part of their group. You don't know what you can offer them and you don't know what just your own needs are. You are driven by basic, instinctive feelings such as hunger.

You are totally dependent on those around you. Your life literally depends on them because you are too young to feed yourself. You depend on others for your physical needs such as food and shelter. If you are left out in the cold, you will die. For all of these reasons, you have a natural fear of abandonment.

When you are hungry, you try to communicate this feeling by crying. Sometimes others respond and feed you, but sometimes they don't. You feel frustrated and instinctively feel afraid of dying of starvation, so you cry louder. Then someone hits you. It hurts. Or they shout at you. Or they shake you. You begin to fear the same person who sometimes feed you. You feel insecure about whether they will feed you or hit you the next time you are hungry.

When you feel afraid of being abandoned, you also cry. Sometimes you are hit, sometimes you are told to stop crying, or that you have nothing to cry about. Sometimes someone yells at you. Sometimes you are left alone, to cry alone till you are completely drained of energy.

This pattern continues until you can speak.

Then you start to tell the people around you what you want and need, what you like and don't like. You start to learn that no one cares much, or not at all. You learn that being honest about your real feelings and needs is dangerous, and it is better to remain quiet, or to lie. By the time you are a teenager you find yourself in the following situation:

- You can't talk about your true feelings with anyone.

- You are regularly invalidated.

- You are not getting the emotional support you need.

- You have emotional needs, just like you have physical needs, but your emotional needs are not being met. Maybe you are not even aware of your own emotional needs, yet you feel something is missing.

- You feel something is missing, but you can't explain it well. Others tell you that you have no reason to be complaining.

- You start to feel drained. Discouraged. People try to tell you that you should feel differently, that you should act differently.

- You become more aware that no one cares how you really feel. They might say that they do, but you can feel that they don't. Not on the important things.

Because you have no one to talk to about all of this, you feel more and more alone. More and more isolated. You start to withdraw from others but by doing this you are treated with disapproval and rejection. This creates a snowballing effect. The more you withdraw, the more you feel rejected and disapproved of, so the more you avoid people. Then the more alone you feel.

Or you begin to act more and more fake and false. You know that you are just acting in the way that others want you to, but you don't actually feel the things you say and do. This splits you in two and creates a canyon of emptyness inside your soul.

Eventually this emptyness acts like a vacuum and sucks you in. You fall deeper and deeper into what seems to be a black hole with no way out.

- You begin to feel trapped. This creates more insecurity. Your thoughts begin to work against you. The more you think about things, the worse you feel.

- You don't see any way for things to get better. You feel powerless. You feel discouraged, then with time, hopeless. You can't even fake things anymore.

Now, even more than before, no one wants to be around you. Before they valued you for things you did not value yourself. Maybe they valued your grades or keeping your room clean, or being polite and obedient. But these things were not really important to you so you didn't feel authentically valued. You felt worthless and undeserving even when you were being rewarded for doing things which were desired or expected of you.

You can't keep acting falsely, so you quickly see that you receive more disapproval and rejection. So you feel more worthless, unwanted and undeserving than before.

When you try to figure out what you need and how to satisfy your needs, you are told you are selfish. You probably have already been told you were selfish many times before when you simply were trying to satisfy your natural, instinctive needs. This has left you confused and unsure about whether there is something deeply "wrong" with you.

Being called selfish, along with other negative labels creates your view of yourself. As a baby, you had no self-concept. But now you do. And you hate it. You hate yourself.

Now you are officially called "chronically depressed."


So that, in our view, is how depression develops. You didn't receive what you needed up to this point in your life. Little by little things start to add up. Or maybe it is better to say, they start to chip away at your essence until you feel hollow, empty inside.

Here are some related articles.

- Teenagers and Abuse

A teenager who was depressed and suicidal explains how teenagers can not easily leave abusive situations. This helps us see how they learn to feel powerless and trapped, which adds to their depression.

- Why Couples Counseling in Abusive Relationships Doesn’t Work

The author makes a strong case that if you are in an abusive relationship, counseling for the abusive person won't help. It says you need to get out of the relationship. But if you think back to when you were a teen, getting out was not an option . So you were literally trapped in an abusive relationship for many years. These years are often called the "formative" years, in other words, things like your self-concept is being formed.

As we just saw, if you grew up in an emotionally or physically neglectful or abusive home (or sexually abusive, which would always include emotional neglect or abuse), then your self-concept will be formed to be quite negative.

When you are a child or teen you are much less powerful than your parents, so it is easy for them to abuse their power. It is also logical that you would learn to feel powerless.

If this author is correct that there is no point in trying to get couples counseling with an abusive partner who is at least willing to begin the counseling, then it is even more true that there is no point trying to change an abusive parent.