While it is a fact that some people struggle with the psychiatric disorder of clinical depression, it is also true that many others actually have a choice in their moods.
That may surprise, or even anger, many of you. You may imagine that you have absolutely no control over how you feel, and don’t want to be blamed for your state of mind.
For those of you so struck, consider this a good-news, bad-news message. The good news is that you actually have the power to shift your thoughts and mood from negative to positive.
The bad news is that it will turn your world inside out as your identity and relationships will be forever changed.
But, thankfully, there’s more good news. Ultimately, after a difficult transition, your world will be a more pleasant one to live in.
I recently had a caller who came on the air primed to paint her own portrait for me in just a few phrases: molested as a child, alcoholic stepfather, and a number of surgeries on her ankles. She listed all these with a halting voice, and choked back tears.
“Do you think,” she asked me, “that all or some of these could be the reason I’m depressed?”
Without answering, I asked her if she was married.
“Yes, to a wonderful and patient man.”
I followed with a question about children.
“Yes, “she replied. “Two wonderful, beautiful children.”
I asked her if she could walk.
“Yes, I’m lucky in that. Although the constant pain of these surgeries has been awful.”
My next questions were, “Did your house blow away in a hurricane? Do you have cancer? Are any of your children suffering a fatal illness?
And so on.
The answers to all of these questions was, “No.”
“Oh,” I said.
She then went on to tell me that she hadn’t told her husband about the sex play with her older sister until just about the time the surgeries were over. I thought that was very interesting.
“I wonder what you wanted to get from him at the time you told him.”
She didn’t answer.
“Was his sympathy for the ankle surgeries wearing off? Were you wanting sympathy?”
“Yes,” she said quietly.
For this caller, keeping the bag of bad memories and experiences around her neck was her way of ensuring sympathy, caretaking, and her version of love. It was as though her historical pains were small treats to keep people around her and caring for her.
Clearly, she didn’t believe she could get that caring without maintaining the pain.
I often ask people in similar situations to think of the horrible memory and let the feeling wash over them. You can feel their agitation. I follow that up by suggesting that they now slip into visualizing something current that is wonderful, warm, safe, loving, fun.
You can feel their elevated mood. I have them go back and forth several times to reassure themselves that they indeed do have the power to create any mood at any moment.
The problem then becomes one of giving up the perks of feeling bad: the attention, concern, support, caring, and forgiveness for not being responsible.
This is definitely the part of the transition that is the most difficult. Telling somebody that people will love them for who they are doesn’t work because they don’t think they are worth love. However, telling somebody that people will love them for the love they give does work -- but only when they are able to come out of their own fears and open their hearts to the needs and feelings of others.
I wrote Bad Childhood, Good Life to help people make this admittedly difficult transition. It is usually more powerful to work with intimates while making these healthy changes, as your change requires them to change too.
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