Suicidal Ideation by Hannah Orion - HTML preview
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This booklet might induce hurt feelings but as they say “No Pain - No Gain”. Just as athletes train their physical bodies, pushing them and discovering through the pain of exercise and exertion the limits of their abilities and how they can obtain the best results and performance by it. We too need to understand our own mental and emotional limits. We need to know ourselves and we need to have a sense of identity. We need to develop our own selfesteem and how to respond to other people in a way that draws the best advantages to ourselves.
Our ability to interact with others i.e. our behaviour is largely determined by what we learn from others. This education and process of learning begins at birth and continues throughout our lives. In this way LIFE can be seen as a journey. How comfortable that journey is and how much we enjoy it depends upon how well prepared we are to undertake it. This preparation is comprised of many things, some of which are inherited factors but most of our behaviours and coping mechanisms are learned.
This booklet will explore some of these factors; how they are learned and who taught them to us during our formative years. This teaching forms our preparation for the journey of our LIVES. From the moment a child is born certain milestones are expected of it, both physical and mental All of these milestones such as teething, talking, crawling and walking are given a general time-frame in which to be completed. What we are as adults, how well we function, how well we handle stress or grief even how successful we are, can be said to be the result of our mastery during these milestone stages of our early development. Our ability to achieve these milestones however does not merely depend on our ability to learn them but also on the expertise of those who teach them to us.
We have many teachers; Parents and significant others, relatives; Brothers, Sisters, Uncles, Aunts & Grandparents; Non-Relatives; Baby-sitters, preschool & school teachers, friends, neighbours, strangers. Non-People; pets, insects and animals, TV, movies, cartoons, and events the list goes on. In fact the experience of life itself is our teacher. If we experience traumatic circumstances during the years of our early development our mastery of the expected milestones may be impaired. The result of such impairment creates a behavioural handicap for us and in response to such a handicap we often develop a coping mechanism or defence mechanism to compensate.
Erik Erikson the behavioural scientist listed various stages of normal development and postulated their outcomes and effects on adult life. He poses four basic ego strengths as the necessary components of a healthy childhood: HOPE, WILLPOWER, PURPOSE and COMPETENCE.
HOPE is the product of the infant's coming to feel a greater sense of trust than of mistrust in his caretakers.
WILLPOWER results from the struggle of the infant to separate from the Mother's bond and gain a greater sense of autonomy than of shame and doubt.
PURPOSE accrues when the pre-schooler's sense of initiative is stronger than his sense of guilt.
COMPETENCE is achieved when the school aged child develops a greater sense of industry than of inferiority.
If we successfully navigate all these childhood stages we begin to cultivate our own healthy attitude and responses to life's situations but if our learning during one of these stages is impeded, then the responses we develop to compensate for it will affect our personality and attitudes, possibly for the rest of our life. Our journey under such circumstances therefore will not be as comfortable as we would like.
Our PERSONALITY is created by ourselves during the course of our childhood in response to meeting the criteria of these developmental stages. If we have a poor personality or a personality defect or no personality at all, we cannot blame any other person for it but ourselves, it is the result of how we adapted to the stresses of life and how we continue to adapt to this stress.
Any crisis during any of the early stages of development whether it be due to poor tuition, ill health, traumatic situations or any other cause, will affect our responses, not only to the situation but to LIFE in general. Our personality will also bear the imprint of the hardship.
We learn to cope with things from an early age and the coping skills we learn as children (if they are successful then) stay with us for the rest of our lives. They become rigid and non-adaptive if they are born out of a fearful situation or crisis and so our personality is formed bearing such scars.
From the time we are born we want our own way. As infants we want to be fed when we are hungry, changed when we are dirty and cuddled when we are feeling alone. We want things done our way but we don't always get what we want and so we must learn how to cope when things don't go to our plans.
It is important to realize that infants attempt to train their parents as vigorously as the parents attempt to train the infants. The child who throws a tantrum in order to get its own way is exerting its will on the parents. If it wins and the parents give in to this naughty behaviour the child will almost certainly try the same tactic again at some future date. The child has learned a coping behaviour in order to get its own way and the child's personality will include tantrum throwing as one of its aspects.
Such aspects stay with us as we grow into adults. We might mask it or disguise it somewhat in order to hide our darker nature from others but it remains there beneath the surface only now as adults we call it by a different name and instead of admitting that we are throwing a tantrum we simply say that we've “got the sh*ts!”.
This is the way that we sometimes behave when things don't go the way we like.
When there are traumatic circumstances during our early childhood we respond by developing specialized coping skills. Nobody gave us these coping skills we developed our own abilities and techniques to deal with the world around us. So we should not blame others for the way that we are as adults. Passing the buck is only another poor coping skill which prevents us from accepting responsibility for our own actions and decisions and hence prevents us from maturing.
If the eruptive behaviour of tantrum throwing carries over into adult life, it is seen as unacceptable. Aggressive behaviour is a personality dysfunction.
Of course not all ways of coping involve “acting out” behaviours such as aggression. There are many other forms of maladaptive behaviour, e.g. depression, compulsion, addictions and obsessions to name a few that form an innate shadow of our personality and attitudes. These behaviours were all learned and employed when we were children in response to a world we had little or no control over.
As a child this maladaptive behaviour gave us some form of power, comfort or control and therefore we allowed it to continue to grow into a behavioural technique to deal with the world around us.
As adults however these techniques often fail us because other people's expectations of us as adults, is different from their expectations of us as children. Therefore we may be at a loss to know how to deal with adult situations. We may feel rejected by others or feel that we don't 'fit in' with our peers or even feel 'used' by people.
How can we find out if we have a wounded personality?
What can we do if we feel our personality has been affected by a disruption during an earlier stage of development?
As mentioned earlier Erik Erikson the behavioural scientist demonstrated various stages of normal development and postulated their outcomes and effects on adult life. He posed four basic ego strengths as the necessary components of a healthy childhood: HOPE, WILLPOWER, PURPOSE and COMPETENCE.
HOPE is the product of the infant's coming to feel a greater sense of trust than of mistrust in his caretakers.
WILLPOWER results from the struggle of the infant to separate from the Mother's bond and gain a greater sense of autonomy than of shame and doubt.
PURPOSE accrues when the pre-schooler's sense of initiative is stronger than his sense of guilt.
COMPETENCE is achieved when the school aged child develops a greater sense of industry than of inferiority.
Outlined below is a brief description of these developmental stages.
INFANT TO 9 MONTHS
TRUST vs. MISTRUST
1. Oral needs are of primary importance.
2. Adequate mothering necessary to meet infant's needs.
3. Acquisition of HOPE.
Above we mentioned that the developing child adopts coping mechanisms in order to deal with the world around them but what exactly are coping mechanisms?
Coping mechanisms are sometimes known as defence mechanisms because they are behaviour patterns employed by a person in response to situations which may be threatening or stressful. They are particularly potent behaviours because the child discovers them by itself and being self-taught they become very fixed within the child's personality. Age also has an influence in the type of defences a person develops. A new born infant can do very little but cry if it is under stress. It may be hungry or wet or cold or tired or in pain or might just want to be picked up and cuddled but its only communication skill is vocal.
Nevertheless a pattern of behaviour can be established even at this very early age depending on whether the child trains the parent or the parent trains the child. By crying the child can tell the parent that something is wrong or not to its liking it is then up to the parent to guess what is wrong and fix it. Under normal circumstances this process works fine but what happens to the child if the parents are not caring? What if the parents are addicts or perhaps irresponsible and leave the child alone for long periods of time. What if there are no regular parents but a long stream of strangers. What if the child is abused or suffers some other traumatic occasion?
The infant stage of development (Birth to 9 months) where Trust (or Mistrust) is established is perhaps the most crucial of all stages. The child is most vulnerable at this age and consequently most dependent. This is a time of bonding, of having total trust in its caretakers that its needs will be met. The child HAS NO CHOICE but to receive whatever physical care (good or bad) and emotional care (love or abuse) that its caretakers give it. Even if the child dislikes the care there is little it can do about it but remember it in the form of an emotional imprint. This imprint carries over into the next stage of development and thus influences the entire future of the child's development.
In a healthy relationship the child will develop trust in its caretakers and consequently in the world also but under traumatic conditions this confidence does not develop as it should. If the infant is unable to bond with the parent then it may develop a fear of being separated from its mother (separation anxiety) and the child learns anxiety and feels this emotional grief not understanding what it is or why it feels it. Such grief at this early age cannot be expressed until the child is older and by then its cause has been lost and only the fear and anger remain to manifest itself in the form of personality dependencies. The anger may be expressed as tantrums or outbursts of aggression or even as episodes of sadness and withdrawal.
The infant stage of development is also oral in nature. That is as Freud; the father of psychiatry suggested the most powerful need the child has is oral in nature i.e. to be fed. The most powerful form of expression is also oral. i.e. vocal, crying. If this aspect of the child's development is threatened then the child moves on to the next stage of development with feelings of being unfulfilled orally. Such deep set unfulfilled needs can manifest itself in adulthood as a need or desire to find alternative satisfaction through oral addictions e.g. smoking, drinking alcohol, eating or talking type behaviours or disorders. This dependent type personality also affects the way we bond with other humans. A dependent personality is always craving for a mother figure for the reassurance that it never received in the crib. Their relationships with partners are always based on their own needs rather than true respect for the other individual. They frequently harbour magical belief systems about their partners for instance they may believe that they could not possibly live without their chosen partner and therefore often contemplate suicide when a relationship ends rather than accepting the end of the relationship in the confidence that life continues and they will no doubt find another partner.
TODDLER STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT
9 MONTHS TO 3 YEARS
AUTONOMY vs. SHAME AND DOUBT
1/ Anal needs are of primary importance.
2/ Acquisition of WILL.
If we have achieved our infancy milestones satisfactorily we then head into our next test which is known as the separation stage. From age 9 months to three years we develop skills that give us more freedom i.e. we learn to crawl and to walk; we learn new communication skills with special emphasis on the "NO" word (the first word in the English language). This new freedom also brings with it decision making but toddler decisions are all based on what the toddler wants NOW! Toddlers have no concept of consequence. They are ruled entirely by their immediate needs, desires and emotions.
We have all heard of the "Terrible Two's" as being the age where children begin to exert their own powers of independence; to be defiant and even disobedient. During this period the child is testing the limits of the parents disciplining actions and hence learning the limits of its own power and influence. This is necessary. Without opposing the parent's authority and protectiveness, the child cannot establish its own sense of identity and separateness.
Nevertheless discipline, (not abuse) at this stage is very important both for the parent to maintain situational control and for the child to discover acceptable behavioural limits.
At this age children begin to learn to 'act' like their parents e.g. if parents swear then the child will learn swear words; if the parents fight and argue then the child will learn to fight and argue as a means of resolving conflict or of getting its own way (Monkey see; Monkey do).
Children are our biggest admirers and most ardent imitators during these impressionistic months.
To the toddler, Father is Godlike and Mother is everything else. Children of this age have no concept of what cruelty is and are therefore in the unenviable position of having to accept whatever treatment is dished out to them. They are totally dictated to by the will (and whim) of the parents or caretakers.
It is not surprising therefore; that toddlers begin to explore their world and consequently attempt to win some form of independence for themselves. Even so, they still require love and protection and their caretakers or parents are the ones who supply it.
The toddler years are a period of intense learning and mastery of milestones.
Some of the physical milestones of this age include:
A/ Learning to walk.
B/ Learning to take solid foods.
C/ Learning to talk.
D/ Learning to control elimination of body wastes (Potty training).
E/ Learning sex differences and sexual modesty.
F/ Achieving physiological stability.
G/ Forming simple concepts of social and physical reality.
Mixed into all this brainwork is PAIN! Real pain and fears never before experienced; from cutting teeth (physical pain) to controlling the bowels (the emotional pain of potty training) the world is both amazing and frightening to the toddler. It is a time when the toddler needs the MOST patience and understanding, soothing and reassuring from the parents that it can get but if the parents are experiencing hardships of their own (of which the child is oblivious) they will have too many distractions to remind themselves of their child's emotional needs. The hardships and demands of existence become the parent’s main concerns.
Again the child has to develop coping skills in order to deal with the stresses of the world which is imposed on it. Simple situations to the parents can become a real source of trauma to the child. A bee sting, the growling dog next door or being left in the car (deserted) while Mum ducks into the bank, can be a terrifying experience to a toddler. Much worse if the toddler is left in the car-park of the Casino or is left for cold, hungry hours if the parents are alcoholic and unconscious to the child's needs or more horrible are inconsistent or sadistic, and frequently physically abuse the child. There are other situations even more terrible to contemplate for example that of loving parents who are suddenly snatched away through a car accident.
The child experiences all manner of shock and hardship which are usually invisible to the parents even in the most average of families. Nevertheless the child must find some way to cope and to carry on because suicide is not an option to a toddler who has no concept of finality or of death or of anything outside the realm of its own existence.
The acquisition of WILL, (the "terrible two's") becomes therefore a survival skill and the rapid learning curve of the toddler necessary to ward off the threats looming in the future.
Now although the child has little or no control over the world around it there remains the formation and direction of its own will. A child does dictate its own will on the parents. It has learned from the cradle that screaming and tantrum throwing or defiance can change a situation in its favour. If the parents are loving but passive (or naive) and allow the child to demand things at this stage of development then the child will turn to rely on this technique in order to get its own way in the future, even as an adult!
This can be just as harmful to the child's adult life as it is perplexing to the parents who see their gorgeous child grow up to become an impatient, intolerant, arrogant and demanding adult full of resentment!
The right balance of discipline and relaxation of rules is very difficult for any parent to achieve and a lesson people usually fail to appreciate until they become parents themselves. Unfortunately too many children, adolescents and young adults BLAME their parents for the awful lives they choose to lead. They say things like "We used to be belted as kids" or that "So-and-so was too miserable to buy us a bike for our 5th birthday". The same people fail to recognize that they themselves were probably naughty and deserved to be chastised or that So-and-so was probably too poor to purchase a bike but had bought necessary clothes or shoes instead. These people also fail to recognize the amount of self-sacrifice their parents had done over the years in order to bring them up in a safe and healthy environment so that they could become adults themselves.
I AM; I WANT is the motto of an over-indulged child. Such a person is one who is often sad or depressed because they do not derive pleasure from life. They expect to be entertained and they search vigorously for mood enhancers. As adults they might turn to alcohol or illicit drugs to brighten their existence and although they decide to be hedonistic they justify it by blaming their parents for making them so unhappy.
It's a cruel world and not fair to the parents. It is doubly bitter to parents who doted after their children lovingly only to watch them grow into such hateful and begrudging adults.
The lesson here is that we should not BLAME our parents or others for the poor skills "we got away with" as children. They were our skills, we developed them; we employed them as children and continue to employ them as adults (even though they are inadequate).
We must assume responsibility for our own decisions. If we drink alcohol we must pay the consequences of that choice. We will never mature as adults unless we assume accountability for our own personality. Somewhere along the way we have to take control over our ego and put an end to its arrogance and dictatorship. We have to grow up if we want to be content with the world around us and ourselves.
We do this first by forgiving our parents for their blunders and to realize that like everyone else, they are not perfect but are just people like us (and just as fragile). After we do this, then we can forgive ourselves for being so childishly arrogant to have blamed them in the first place.
3 YEARS TO 6 YEARS
INITIATIVE vs. SHAME AND DOUBT
1. Genital needs are of primary importance
2. Family relationships contribute to early sense of responsibility and conscience.
3. Acquisition of PURPOSE.
There is no definite age that dictates when children should complete their milestones. One child cannot be compared to another because each will achieve their objectives in their own good time. There are however influences which can slow the process up for a child. If a child is handicapped in some way it needs to deal with that handicap before it can advance onto the next level of development.
If the child has had a normal development up until this pre-school age it will be well equipped to meet the challenge of the school ahead providing no trauma meets it here. At this age children are learning to relate emotionally with their parents, siblings and others. They also have the task of distinguishing morally right and wrong and developing a conscience. With their peers they will be developing physical skills necessary for ordinary games and building wholesome attitudes towards themselves and others. It is a period of critical social interaction and identity establishment.
This age and this foundation of learning establish the child's prowess at social interaction for the rest of its life. If a shy child cannot overcome its shyness at this age it will carry the burden of isolation for many years to come. Such a child might devise ways to compensate for its agoraphobia. It might invent an invisible friend for company and populate its play area with all manner of imaginary and magical companions to take the place of normal interactions.
Pre-scholars are very magical; testing reality at every opportunity in order to separate fantasy from reality. The normal child will learn to establish trust in the dependability of reality but the handicapped (those who take comfort in their magical and imaginary world) may do so because their own reality might be too difficult to deal with. They learn to cope in a 'false' world and to “pretend to be normal” in the real world. Even though they “act straight” in public within themselves they may be feeling hollow and empty. They are without their own identity. Such a child will grow into an adult who will be very well rehearsed at “behaving” like a normal person but will not “feel” like a whole person within themselves.
Preschool children have had to come a long way down the developmental road to reach this juncture. In the first stage (birth) the child was made to feel welcome in the world and they learned to trust the world enough to get their needs met. In the next stage they developed willpower and internalized discipline adequately enough to be able to trust themselves and to feel confident. Now they come to the stage of developing the power of envisioning who they are and how they “fit in” and imagining how they want to live their life.
To know yourself is to have an identity which involves sexuality; beliefs about yourself and also fantasies. Preschool children ask so many “Why” questions because there is so much to figure out. Some of us still haven't figured out who or what we are.
The job of figuring out who you are is immensely difficult therefore children use magic to explain many concepts that defy them. We mention magic here because it plays such an important role to the developing child. It is a learning tool they use with all the dexterity of a magicians wand, explaining anything and everything. In normal growth this is a healthy device but if the child is unable to master this stage of development then their magical beliefs may become so entrenched that it forms a basis for their adult life where they are referred to as delusions. There is a danger in this of course and it can be so devastating that a whole chapter is devoted to “magical beliefs” alone. Such a person might grow up with a confusion of beliefs ranging from eccentric religious beliefs; superstitions; obsessive rituals; even (and more importantly) bizarre beliefs about themselves and how they should behave in public.
We have already said that any trauma during any stage of development can impair a person’s growth. The child is forced to devise a way of coping with all handicaps so that it can function as a real person.
These coping mechanisms or behaviour patterns will persist even long after the trauma or handicap has disappeared. The problem with this is that the coping mechanism itself becomes a handicap. Therefore it must be realized that we are our own worst enemies. We develop our own ways to cope and we cannot blame other people or events if these mechanisms fail us as adults.
As children we lacked the insight and expertise to realize the dangers or consequences of our behaviour but as adults we are expected to behave in a socially acceptable manner. In order for this to take place we need to develop a sense of conscience during this preschool and early school aged development stage.
The ability to discern right from wrong and consequence from action is imperative for the adult person. This stage therefore is crucial and any handicap here will leave indelible stains on our personality.
6 YEARS TO 10 YEARS
INDUSTRY vs. INFERIORITY
1/ Active period of socialization for child as he/she moves from family into society.
2/ Acquisition of COMPETENCE.
This period of growth is a continuation of the preschool stage but is more involved. Some of the skills attributed to this stage can be listed.
A/ Learning physical skills appropriate for ordinary games.
B/ Building wholesome attitudes toward oneself as a growing organism.
C/ Learning to get along with age mates.
D/ Learning an appropriate sex role.
E/ Developing fundamental skills in reading writing and arithmetic.
F/ Developing concepts necessary for everyday living.
G/ Developing conscience, morality and social values.
H/ Developing attitudes toward social groups and institutions.
Beginning school is like beginning a new life. The child leaves the family system and enters a new stage of socialization and skill building. Apart from cognitive education (the 3 R's) one has to learn social skills and how to “get on” with others. It is a time of making new friendships and evaluating the personalities of others. In this way we can reinforce our own value as a person.
Children who feel that they are not as popular as others will devise ways of competing in order to win friends or else they might withdraw and isolate themselves and formulate coping skills to comfort and reassure themselves. It is easy to see what is happening to them as they shape their own personality to “fit in” or to be “accepted” by others. This process is also known to be the first institutionalisation of the individual into its relevant societal needs.
Some children cope by “showing off” others by becoming “indispensable” to their friends in order to reinforce in themselves a feeling of worth. Some people are over-generous and others are total “do-gooders”. These stereotypes exist even though largely denied. People fall into behavioural groups for reasons of safety and comfort.
What were you like in primary school? Did you establish a coping behaviour pattern as a basis of your personality? Were you able to “out-grow” the childish behaviours or did you rely on them so deeply that you have incorporated them into an intrinsic part of your inner self? Are you 100% happy with all aspects of your own personality? Are you happy with your inner self?
People (adults) have a multi-faceted personality. It is made up of many idiosyncrasies and separate qualities.
It has been discovered through studies that people who constantly try to prove themselves and who are always trying to please others often develop deep depression as they become older. This is because the one thing that they are searching for (i.e. a feeling of self-worth), can never be established through this behaviour. A person who is constantly trying to impress others by either being overly generous or through active favours is constantly putting themselves in a subordinate relationship with other people. This means that by the nature of their own behaviour they do not perceive themselves as being equal but as subservient.
This situation is doomed to fail from the onset. The person who adopts such behaviour will inevitably end up RESENTING the other people, who incidentally, do not respond to generous gestures with the expected love and adoration. A common catch cry becomes - "I did so much for them and they kick me in the teeth!" Have you ever said something similar?
Resentment builds in such people until some small crisis triggers an explosive reaction. Then all the work they had painstakingly put into the relationship is sunk. They suffer rejection, disappointment, anger, loss of self-esteem and depression as a result and they don't understand why.
This is only one example of the many facets of personality which are formulated during our school years. This booklet cannot possibly give examples of all the individual ways that our personality is shaped by the skills we ourselves employed as children. Its purpose is only to show that we do indeed employ these techniques and skills (usually as a reaction to a life situation) and that this has been and will continue to be a CHANGING PROCESS. People think that they can't change but the truth is that we are constantly changing in little ways all the time.
There is no age when a person's personality is complete. Personality is simply measured as you are NOW! Not as you were as a child or what you might be like in the future. To say “I cannot change!” is to deny this truth and hence to cast up another unhelpful wall preventing healing.
We can change and are changing all the time. We even make conscious decisions about how we change the way we are. How many people do you know that turn to mood enhancers e.g. alcohol or marijuana or other illicit drugs or glue sniffing or even legal drugs, to change the way they “feel” about themselves? If the person employs such behaviour often enough it soon becomes an integral part of their personality.
Remember any habit learned can be unlearned!
Tantrum throwing (acting out) is a habit also just as many compulsions are. Constant sadness or melancholy can also become a habit that we have taught ourselves to employ in order to receive secondary gains. But playing the sick role only returns sympathy not love.
Some people form the habit of nagging; others of complaining. Some Mothers are like that and Fathers say she isn’t happy unless she is complaining. Some people become exaggerators; spinning yarns that you would not believe; others tell jokes pretending to be the life of the party but inside are void. All these habits are formed by a need to impress others in order to be liked. People like to fit-in with the crowd.
Children who don't fit-in grow up to be adults who don't fit-in. Children who are lonely grow into lonely adults unless they can learn new skills to correct their interactions.
Now this is what it is all about; CHANGE and controlling the way we change in order to be beneficial to our enjoyment and contentment of life.
SUICIDE AS AN OPTION
Many people contemplate suicide as an option because they have not enjoyed their past. But a lot of the horror of their past is frequently attributed to poor coping skills and poor decisions made by themselves along the way and which they continue to repeat. They have cultivated the habit of making poor decisions culminating in a wish for suicide to bring this all to an end. This of course is the poorest option of all because it is so final. There is no return from death and cutting the future short only serves to deprive the person; their relatives; their children and friends from any future life experiences and memories both good and bad yet to be experienced. The future can be changed and the past does not have to be relived every day.
These people don't really want to kill themselves! What they really want to kill is their terrible past or at least the habit of making bad decisions. Often they feel a need to punish themselves for having led such a poor existence. Attempts at suicide invariably fail, the person's life continues with the same pattern of one bad experience after another. They see this situation as being hopeless and their only desire is for an escape from it. Little do they realize that here they are setting up yet another habit, that of hating life!
In order to enjoy life, a person needs to feel good about them-selves. As we have seen self-esteem is central to personality and is established through a series of development stages beginning at birth.
No one will respect us however if we don’t first respect ourselves. We can’t respect ourselves unless we have gained confidence during an earlier stage of development. In order to feel confident we need a clearly defined sense of morals and standards by which to live (these also established during childhood). In order to hold a strict set of standards we need discipline; natural, behavioural discipline, which also has its roots in our early childhood. As adults we need to continue this discipline on ourselves on our behaviour as well as on the behaviour of others toward us.
Discipline is very important just as important in strengthening personality as it is in training soldiers or in the martial arts!
If we lower our standards we undermine our own self-esteem. This can lead to disappointment in our inner-selves.
So we come to the knowledge that in order to grow up we need to discipline our own behaviour. The only way we can discipline our own behaviour is to have a clearly defined set of morals and standards to live by. We cannot become a disciple to a standard of morals until we know what they are.
Have you ever formulated your own standards? Do you have a clear impression of how you want to be perceived by others? Why not write out a list of standards of behaviour that you would be PROUD to live by and that others must not violate. While you are at it, why not write a list explaining how such standards can improve your self- esteem.
Santa Claus is going to bring us presents if we are good! The Easter Bunny will leave us eggs and the Tooth Fairy buys from us old useless teeth that have fallen from our gums!
We have all been victims of magical beliefs at some time during our development. In fact thinking that “our development” just took place when we were children is a magical belief itself. Development is taking place all the time. We are never too old to learn.
WHAT ARE MAGICAL BELIEFS?
Simply put magic is an idea or belief that certain words; gestures or behaviours can change reality. An example of this is when parents or persons tell children that their behaviour is directly responsible for someone else's feelings. e.g. “Don't do that you'll make your mother upset!” or “Are you satisfied now, you've made your father angry!” Reinforcing that the child’s action causes behaviour in others is common but can have disastrous consequences. This is teaching the child magical beliefs!
Some more examples:
* If I have money, I'll be OK
* If my lover leaves me, I'll die.
* A piece of paper (a degree, certificate or qualification) will make me smart.
* If I try hard the world will reward me.
* Waiting or being patient will bring about wonderful results.
As stated earlier; magic is a tool employed by the child to explain concepts too abstract or complex to understand. Children are concrete thinkers, that is, they take things (and believe them) in a literal way. By its very nature this is inflexible. There is no room for abstract thought. Everything is cause and effect or Black and White.
Most people outgrow these limitations as they develop and expand their horizons but a wounded personality may have found safety or security in holding onto the coping mechanism of “Cause and Effect”.
* I love her so much, I could never love another.
* I'm poor and uneducated; I'll never amount to anything.
* If she doesn't love me, I might as well kill myself.
* If I please people, they'll like me.
* I am like I am because I was abused as a child.
The wounded personality often displays this type of magical belief coping skill. It is perhaps the most easily identified symptom of immaturity!
What's that? IMMATURE!
Yes! It is after all a child's coping behaviour. If we fail to leave it in our childhood and choose to drag it with us into our adult life, it will be there declaring itself at the forefront of our behaviour. Our behaviour will reflect this "cause and effect" concrete or inflexible attitude and try to justify it with magical beliefs.
We hold magical beliefs about all sorts of things ranging from religious notions to politics. There are superstitions and taboos beyond counting in our society. Our whole life is dominated by such things, so why is it bad to have magical beliefs?
Firstly; the type of "magical beliefs" which we are concerned with here are those which impede our social progress. They are only a problem to us if they are harmful or if they stunt our growth by making us inflexible, intolerant, angry or hurtful. Believe me they do all these things and much worse.
Magical beliefs are nearly always an attempt to justify bad behaviour.
* I am what I am because I was abused as a child.
This is merely a smoke screen to shift the responsibility of an action to someone or something else.
* I wouldn't drink alcohol if she didn't nag at me.
Magical beliefs are only excuses and poor ones at that! A responsible adult does not need to make excuses for behaviour. Mature adults realize that they make their own decisions about life. The wounded personality does not like to accept responsibility and therefore tries to blame others. The wounded personality has not realized this yet and might say things (and believe them) like;
* She made me hit her
* He made me do it.
* The cops always pick on me.
Do you notice an element of paranoia in these statements? Paranoia exists because magical beliefs have their foundation in fear. The wounded personality fears a situation so much that it converts it into a concrete or literal eventuality.
* “I can't live without her” is converted into a suicide attempt if the relationship breaks down because of the fear the sufferer has of not being able to find another lover. Magical beliefs are always false. They are always wrong. They have no basis in truth or fact yet those who hold them believe them seriously because such people are concrete thinkers afraid that their imagined nightmare might become a reality. They are afraid in many ways. They fear an imagined outcome. They fear being left alone. They are afraid to take responsibility for their own actions. They are afraid to grow up. They are also very often afraid of themselves and they often make other people afraid of them also. They have lived their entire lives with such fear. Sometimes they can have so many fears that they no longer know what they are afraid of.
This constant state of anxiety breeds insecurity with every relationship they become involved in. They constantly have to “TEST” their relationships in order to “PROVE” to themselves the integrity of their partners and friends. The price of this of course, is a loss of trust. Suspicion and paranoia creep into the relationship to add its chaos to the situation. Claims of infidelity are frequent when the relationship finally crumbles. All this happens because of “magical beliefs”.
Magical beliefs are nothing more than delusions! Lies which we tell ourselves and then convince ourselves are true. We have all done it at one time or another and the reasons are just as varied as the delusions themselves. Nevertheless, they all have a common theme which turns out to be a coping mechanism to overcome or allay some fear we may have repressed.
If we fear one thing we may compensate for this by over-evaluating another. For example, if we fear loneliness we may put extra importance on (or over-evaluate) a partner. “If she leaves me, I'll die” or “I can't live without her”. The person in this situation is not really "in love" with his partner but is DEPENDENT on his partner to allay his fear of being alone. (This is caused by separation anxiety as a child).
Men are notorious for such a dependency. Such men don't really need a wife but a mother. They naively interpret their feelings as those of "love" whereas their partners might see themselves as being mere “possessions”.
Magical beliefs can be formulated about anything and because of their concreteness they can be used as a tool to discovering our inner fears. We can find out our deepest and most secret fears by writing out any magical beliefs we might hold and looking to see what they are compensating for. For instance; a person may believe that they are not smart enough to go to University and may give a number of reasons to justify that belief but when you look through it you might discover that the person is secretly afraid of failing (or sometimes of succeeding). Logically if they don't start they can't fail!
Do you hold any magical beliefs?
This is a tough question for anybody to ask themselves. It requires an honest answer but it also means that we have to see ourselves as others see us. How difficult this is!
Our magical beliefs were formulated to protect us from situations which instilled fear in us. In other words; we avoid situations which hurt us. We don't like to be hurt so therefore we compensate with this form of protection. If our EGO's weren't so fragile we would not need this type of protection but they are fragile and our feelings are very easily hurt. As we mature we get hurt many times by many things and this toughens us up against the blows of the world. We need this pain to realize that we won't die from it but have the ability to overcome it. This is a sign of maturity.
Whenever the EGO is hurt we learn a lesson of some description. The mature adult can accept this situation and learn from it but an immature person converts this pain into anger and usually strikes out. They respond spontaneously being fired up by emotion rather than taking control and disciplining their own egos and thinking before they act.
Every single person on earth has some form of personality dysfunction. We are all individuals and are all different. This difference is what makes us unique and we cherish our uniqueness. A problem only develops when our interactions with others causes conflict and pain. Therefore we need to behave within a socially acceptable set of guidelines. We need to have enough sameness as others to be readily acceptable in their company and enough difference from them to be a unique person in our own right.
Self-esteem comes to us through a gate which we call pride. If we do things and achieve things that make us proud of ourselves then our self-esteem will be enhanced. We can protect our pride by formulating and holding onto a set of moral and social standards. Yet if we are too proud we may overprotect our egos, which also hinder maturity by becoming arrogant.
To be mature is to finally grow up and to act like an adult. Adults have the power to CHOOSE how to act. A person is labelled by their behaviour. If one acts like a scallywag one can expect to be called a scallywag; act like a thief and be labelled a thief; act like a drunk and people will think you are drunk; act in an inconsiderate way and people will respond with resentment. Choose therefore to act in the manner which will return the most benefit to you i.e. in a positive way.
This booklet acknowledges the struggle of development which people undergo in the journey from birth to adulthood sometimes under great duress but it will not and does not intend to justify bad behaviour by shifting blame to an earlier stage of development.
Now-behaviour is not the result of an event from the past. The way a person behaves NOW is the direct result of a choice that person makes NOW! Acknowledgment is made and empathy is given to all the variables and handicaps a person has suffered during the course of their life. To know about developmental milestones certainly assists us in understanding HOW we came to be what we are but it does not excuse it! There is no excuse for bad or unacceptable behaviour because it is a choice! At some stage we decided to act the way we act and to behave the way we behave. It is the persons own choice how they behave NOW!
Admittedly, fear, anger, pain or a host of other factors may influence our behaviour but it still does not excuse bad behaviour such as acting out. If a person knows what is and what is not socially acceptable, they then have a choice.
So why choose bad behaviour? Why give in to anger? Mostly this is because of habit. We begin testing limits (naughtiness) as a prescholar and some people just don't stop “getting away with it”. Some people are so frustrated and angry that they boil over spontaneously. They have not yet learned the skills of control or the assertiveness they need to defuse situations.
The price of bad behaviour is very high. It costs the person selfesteem, poor relationships, fewer friends and less business opportunities.
Mature adults usually discover that good behaviour is a far better option which opens many doors of opportunity bringing in many rewards.
Good behaviour makes a person feel good about them-selves. As a result there is a healthy increase in pride and confidence. This is often the difference between success and failure.
Any loss can cause us to experience GRIEF. The loss of a partner or loved one, the loss of a limb or body part, the loss of cherished plans or something hoped for, the loss of our youth or the loss of a job, the loss of prestige or of pets or of children or the ability to have children. When we suffer a loss we feel grief.
It is said that grief is nature’s way of distancing us from the pain of the loss in order that we can readjust our lives and carry on living. Shock and feelings of numbness and disbelief are natures anaesthetic preparing us for the readjustments to come.
Under normal circumstances, the person who has suffered a loss will move progressively through several stages. The Kübler-Ross model commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief was first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.
* Depression and/or Guilt
Each stage requires time to allow the sufferer to come to terms with the loss. These stages are completed in any order and not necessarily as they are listed above.
A normal healthy grieving process is the progression from one stage to another eventually finishing with Acceptance of the loss. Sufferers will complete the cycle in their own way at their own pace and hence survive the loss.
An unhealthy grief process however, is where the sufferer gets caught-up in one of these stages and fails to move on through the cycle to the final acceptance. In other words an unhealthy grief is when a sufferer fails to accept the reality of the loss.
Some people think they have accepted the loss but might remain burdened by a stage of the process due to other factors such as guilt or the inability to fully comprehend or understand the loss.
Children who suffer loss through death of parents, loved ones or even pets, for example, may not understand what death is. They may be too young to appreciate the finality of death. They may interpret the loss simply as “Spot (the doggy) has gone away” therefore they remain hopeful of Spot's return and thus never complete all the stages of the grief process. They may become "locked in" to Anger or Depression with feelings of betrayal.
Children internalize things as well. “I was bad so God took Mummy away!” In doing so they set up a real handicap for themselves. Such a child will remain in or continually repeat the experience of that stage of the grieving process for a long time.
This is as true for adults as for children. The loss does not need to be by death either.
We humans put all sorts of values on all sorts of things. A matchbox carried by Great-Grandfather through the First World War could have enormous sentimental value the loss of which would certainly cause grief. Yet the loss of any other matchbox may mean nothing to us.
Some people grieve for what they never had. A child might wish for a particular toy at Christmas, if it does not appear, they might perceive this as a loss and hence grieve for it. Others grieve for things they can't have e.g. an unrealistic ambition; such as flying in a space craft to the moon. It may sound silly but many people set themselves up to grieve over some preposterous notions.
People do this to themselves in many ways and central to their grief is what they believe! A person's beliefs will affect the way they grieve.
A healthy belief system will enable the natural grief process to be experienced until the final acceptance stage is reached and life can be resumed. Some belief systems however do not allow this to take place. For instance a person might believe that they (or someone else) is responsible for the loss and as a result may remain in the “Anger” stage of grief for a long time.
What we choose to believe is a very peculiar notion. Beliefs can change at the drop of a hat or become so fixed and rigid that we are unable to change our viewpoint. What we believe about ourselves is therefore very important. For any healing to take place whether it be physical or emotional in nature some belief (or willingness to be healed) is necessary. The opposite is true also; a belief that no healing will or can take place will actually retard the healing process. This psycho-somatic link between what we believe about ourselves and the physical world around us becomes extremely important as we will soon discover.
What does the grieving process and our belief systems have to do with personality development? Simply this; if we believe that we have suffered a loss of any kind; be it a death or separation or some form of deprivation of lifestyle; or of respect or of friends, of pets or opportunity; anything at all, we will grieve over that perceived loss. Our belief system can either assist us in healing or it can perpetrate the grief depending only on what we believe of ourselves.
What opinion do you have of yourself? Does what you believe about yourself perpetrate some aspect of the grief process? Are you caught up in recurring bouts of any of the following?
Is there some event in your past which continues to stir these emotions?
Are you constantly blaming someone for some event that happened long ago?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions then you have unresolved grief. No healing (to your personality) can take place until you address these issues.
So how can we "Heal" such things, especially if they stem from our childhood? The answer is simple and yet very difficult. We must change WHAT WE BELIEVE about the event and about ourselves. The best way to do this is to FORGIVE it!
Ugh! People hate this notion but there is no escaping it. To be truly healed requires that they forgive not only the offender but themselves!
Unfortunately people find it easier to hate and to lay blame because it distracts public focus from their own faults. However hatred keeps us in grief and prolongs our own pain and suffering. It is by choice that people hate and those who hate others very often hate themselves as well.
To suggest that forgiveness is crucial to healing does not mean that one should forget an offense or violation nor an offender. It is well worth remembering who an offender is in order to protect yourself and/or loved ones from any future abuse. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Neither does it mean excusing the offense. It has been said earlier, there is no excuse for bad behaviour and to excuse bad behaviour is to undermine one’s own moral and cultural standards.
Forgiveness is a method we employ to alienate us from hatred, vengeance and the need to "punish" someone for an offense, yet without denying the existence of the offense or excusing the offenders bad behaviour. It is simply the act of removing from us the role of "executor of punishment".
Those who are unable to forgive remain riveted to the need to punish someone else but usually end up punishing only themselves. Their anger becomes hatred and this hatred colours their entire world, changing their very personalities with dark and devious obsessions. Those who live this role long enough will inevitably ruin their own life yet all the time will blame this new ruin on the old offender. They become their own offender and perpetrator of their hate, constantly turned inwards, they create their own punishment.
On the surface, in everyday activities, they may seem like normal average people because they successfully repress this hatred. But get them off guard or lower their inhibitions and watch the monster from within rise to the surface. This often happens as a result of drinking alcohol. How many people do you know who are the nicest folk in the world until they start drinking alcohol? The alcohol lowers their control over repressed fears and hate which then boils to the surface.
This Jekyll and Hyde character could overcome their problem if they would only forgive those who they believe have hurt them. All they have to do is change what they believe.
Chances are that their belief system has blown out of proportion the severity of the original offense. People do that! They dramatize and over-emphasize the severity of an offense in order to justify their role as victim! Aren't we naughty people? We play all sorts of roles, and act in many different ways. We ourselves are offenders!
It helps (to forgive) if we think of ourselves not as humans but merely as animals, behaving as animals behave, ignorantly stumbling through life trying to do the best we can with what we've got. No one is perfect. Our parents were just like us. No-one told them how to be parents either. They had to discover it just as we do. They made mistakes just as we do and they probably made excuses for bad behaviour just as we do. This cycle must be broken.
We can stop blaming them and others for the way we are. They may have made our decisions for us when we were children but they do not make decisions for us as adults. We make our own decisions to behave the way we behave.
We can forgive their blunders and begin to accept their weaknesses as well as their strengths in an unconditional love. We can also forgive ourselves and realize that we too have faults as does everybody.
We can improve our self-esteem and hence our life by setting a standard of behaviour for ourselves to live by.
Finally, we can have a purpose for life which gives our lives meaning. It comes down to a simple choice, either to act in a civilized way and reap the benefits of positive social interaction or to behave inappropriately within society, and pay the price of condemnation and rejection.
THE NEXT STEP
The next step we must think about is to attempt to identify more specific areas of your personality which is letting you down and do something about it. You know yourself better than anyone; better than any spouse; better than any doctor or priest or psychiatrist for that matter, after all, you have to live with yourself.
You may be able to hide certain emotions and thoughts from others but you can never hide them from yourself. Since the whole purpose of this booklet has been directed towards improving your personality you should now think about how and where any improvements could be addressed.
Why not look at your various development stages to see if you met some particular trauma during one or more of them. Some questions you might like to ask yourself might include:
Where was I born?
What conditions did my family live under at the time?
Was I an only child during my development years?
Were my parents happy or unhappy at the time?
Were they separated or was one of them missing to me?
Was there a death within the family at this time?
Did I suffer any major health traumas?
Was I separated from my parents e.g. Hospitalized?
Under what conditions did I begin school?
Prior to school did I meet other children my age?
Was I overindulged as a child?
Was any adult family member an addict e.g. alcohol?
Was I neglected in any way?
Was I often placed in the hands of baby-sitters?
Was I abused in any way?
Now although we ask these questions it must be stressed that we are not looking for excuses or justification for any bad habits that we have adopted during our development. We only want to know the facts! Knowing what conditions and stresses we had to deal with demonstrate to us just how creative we were as children in order to cope with them. It also might show up long lost causes of grief that we have repressed but are continuing to grieve over as explained earlier.
This is all ammunition that we can use in order to change ourselves and the world around us. We must discover the childish coping behaviours which we are currently using and replace them with the new improved adult version!
It’s our time to conquer the world! It’s our time to take control and to be assertive in order to improve our enjoyment of life.
HOW DO WE CHANGE OUR BRAINS AND OUR FEELINGS?
All of the above has spoken of early childhood and developmental stages we all experience and as Erik Erikson pointed out goes some distance to understanding how we developed as adults. The grieving process as outlined by Kübler-Ross also gives us insight into how to deal with grief. This is good to know but people have feelings that are sometimes so overwhelming that knowledge itself is unimportant.
If you Google DEPRESSION you will learn that 15% of the population of western cultures suffer depression. Depression itself falls into many categories. This book; whilst it is primarily about depression will not go into scientific explanations that one might find in text books on psychiatry for example. Instead it will outline what real people experience as a result of depression and who contemplate suicide or self-euthanasia as a means of escape from chronic sadness; melancholy fear and depression.
Science is learning stuff everyday but the human mind is so complex that it will take a long time (more than our lifetimes) for science to truly know what happens to the mind suffering from depression. Nevertheless there are things that we do know and observations that we have made that can demonstrate how and why depression happens; why it is so painful and why it is so hard to resolve. It is the hope of this book that understanding such things might not only alleviate some of the pain of depression but also assist the family and friends of the depressed person to understand what is happening to them.
Since the dawn of time humans have observed repetition in nature. Day follows night; the moon goes through stages; the seasons repeat and so on. We learn by repetition; “A is like an apple A says A” or maths “1X1 is 1, 1X2 is 2, 1X3 is 3” etc. To learn a musical instrument its repetition, repetition, repetition! Everything we do is repetition. We have three meals a day, we work five days a week and so on. We have a birthday every year. Our brain is wired to observe repetition. We look for repetition in nature and we use repetition in order to learn anything and everything. When we have a problem our brains repeat the sequence of events over and over in order to find the solution. This is depression in a nutshell.
A depressed person relives the depression over and over and over until it drives them batty. Any depressed person will tell you that although they don’t like the feeling of sadness or melancholy that accompanies depression they are powerless to stop thinking depressive thoughts even the idea of suicide haunts them continuously.
The brain works by repetition. It solves problems through repeatedly examining all possible scenarios. It twists and turns problems this way and that in search of an answer. The reason it does this is the result of how we remember things.
LEARNING AND MEMORY
The body has five senses; Touch; Sight; Smell; Hearing and Taste. Everything we learn and memorize is experienced through one or more of these senses. They work through electro-chemical responses to the world around us. For example if we look at something an image falls on the retina in our eyes and sends an electric current to our brain which stimulates nerve cells to produce chemicals and neurotransmitters in order to pass the message along to other cells. As a response to this (sight) an electro-chemical recipe is created which produces a pattern that is either recognised from similar experiences earlier in life or a new recipe of an electro-chemical nature is created. This pattern which is made up of a concoction of chemicals and electric voltages imprints itself on brain cells firstly in a place where short term memories are held but depending on its repetition; impact; importance or any other reason may be stored in long term memory.
Now here is the important bit. When a memory is recalled the recipe that was used to store it is remade. The same chemical concoction and electrical stimulation is recreated within the brain and as a result of this the memory returns. There is a side effect to this as well. When the same concoction of electro-chemical stimulus is reproduced the brain sends signals to the endocrine system to secrete the same hormones; adrenalin; serotonin; endorphins and many other chemicals that induce and recreate the feelings that accompany the memory. We not only remember things but we remember feelings excited by those memories.
Feelings and emotions are a by-product of memory and of the electrochemical stimulation of the brain. All knowledge; all experiences everything that our five senses have stimulated the brain with throughout our lives, is all memory. The brain can remember everything to do with all of the senses and a thing as simple as a thought can trigger memories of sounds; tastes; sights etc. A thought can reproduce the exact recipe needed to recall memory and with it all the accompanying sensations; feelings, emotions and moods such as nostalgia stirred up by the secretions of the endocrine system. Memories aren’t just recalled they are rebuilt. No memory is exactly how you first remembered them. They are rebuilt from a recipe of electro-chemical components which cause the brain and endocrine system to reproduce secretions and endorphins that also trigger feelings and moods. Because of this; tiny (and sometimes huge) variances occur when memories are recalled. It is well known that memories are not always reliable. Certain knowledge is of course remembered well for example the twelve times table learned as a child among other things that pure repetition has fixed into memory. Such memories are said by psychologists to be “grounded”. A grounded memory is one where a third element is introduced at the time of learning to assist recall of the new knowledge. For example tugging on ones earlobe might make it easier to remember a certain fact or making a rhyme of initial letters might help recall a list of objects.
THE POWER OF THOUGHT
Science does not know what a thought is or where it comes from but we do know how powerful thoughts are. Apart from the obvious benefits of communication which sets humans apart from other life forms on earth; thought controls everything about us (obviously). A thought throws into process the entire workings of the brain which also causes other systems and organs of the body to produce their own respective secretions. There is a term called PSYCHSOMATIC which basically refers to a condition involving both mind and body. It is said that a condition of the mind can affect the very physical nature of the body simply by process of thought. This is easily demonstrated for example to some people just the thought of going on a boat will make them feel seasick; or the sight of sputum will make many people actually feel nauseated or the thought of something nice to eat will create salivary glands flowing. Thoughts; feelings, moods and bodily functions are all intertwined and there is no escaping their influence. So a thought (or memory) conjures the recipe that stimulates the brain and endocrine system to begin secretions which in turn produce feelings, emotions and moods. It’s that simple. If you think happy thoughts the brain will produce a substance referred to as endorphins. Wikipedia on the internet describes endorphins as “Endorphins ("endogenous morphine") are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters. They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise, excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and orgasm, and they resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being”
Happy thoughts produce the feel good chemicals known as endorphins. Normally there are enough endorphins saturating the brain to keep the average human content but a drop in the levels will produce less happiness or even sadness. While it is appreciated and specifically pointed out that there is not one chemical for happiness and one for sadness and that the complexity of the brain should not be generalised or over-simplified as has been done in this booklet the purpose of this writing is to show that feelings and moods are a product of brain activity and a storm of chemicals and neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, and norepinephrine; dopamine and acetylcholine as well as serotonin to name a few. The complexity of how these all work is beside the point. What we are saying here is that the psychosomatic process of thought; produces secretions and secretions produce feelings, emotions and moods and moods reinforce thoughts.
Add this loop to the human minds natural attraction for repetition and you have a situation whereby a perceived problem produces thoughts that stimulate melancholy feelings that are ruminated upon in a repeating pattern that amplifies itself into a storm of depression.
Sadness and depression create a self-repeating loop of thought which stimulates secretions that produce more feelings of sadness and depression which reinforce the thoughts that began it. This is the spiral of depression from which it is extremely difficult to escape.
People trapped in this spiral after weeks or months of it begin to look for a way out and of course the first solution that comes to mind (sometimes the only solution that comes to mind) is self-euthanasia or suicide.
This trap of depression is not very well understood by the general public or by people who have never felt depressed themselves. They might pass comments like “snap out of it man!” or “pull your socks up and get on with it!” They fail to understand that depression is not something one can “shake off”. Meaning well with all the good intentions in the world they might point to the obvious things in life and compare them in an attempt to make the depressed person see things differently. They often say things like “look at all the great things you’ve got; a good wife, great kids, a lovely home, a good job, what have you got to be depressed about?”
Depression has nothing to do with material possessions or chattels; neither has it any bearing on who loves us or who we love. Depression is caused by a chemical soup in the brain and whilst it is true that aggravating thoughts and worries can exacerbate the depressed state simply pointing out loved ones or chattels can in no way alleviate the mood of doom and gloom. The depressed person knows that loved ones love them. They know about all their chattels and goods. They already know that they should shake it off and get on with life. The fact is that they are unable to. Everything in the world loses its worth; meaning and value in the face of chronic depression. The depressed mood is caused by a physiological state of the body and there are very many sources and causes for this condition just as there are many different types of depression. Any person suffering depression should seek appropriate medical treatment as soon as possible.
It is beyond the scope of this book to offer treatment advice for depression. This book is not about treatment. The aim of this book is simply to demonstrate the psychological influences of early childhood on our developing personality and the psychosomatic relationship that exists between thought and physical symptoms. Its desire is to lift the stigma related to mental disorders and depression in particular.
It just so happens that our society generally does not see depression as a physical illness. It is not a wound that bleeds or a broken leg that needs a splint. It is a vexation of the spirit and because of its invisible nature it is usually ignored and not discussed. Suicide is also a taboo subject that one dare not mention. However euthanasia for terminal cancer might be considered in a completely different light. This demonstrates that the pain and mental anguish of the depressed person is given little credence. The pain is not visible. Chronic mental suffering is torture that is not recognised. Being haunted by thoughts; concerns; worries and paranoia not only make it difficult to concentrate on life at hand but must be dealt with entirely alone. Any and should I say all advice (although well meaning) given to the depressed person is accepted as further insult telling the depressed person what they already know themselves. Such advice is received silently resented as the depressed person does not have the energy or interest to return argument. Such advice only serves to reinforce the negative feelings already experienced by the depressed person because they undermine the depressed person’s already wounded self-esteem.
Such advice reiterates the notion that the person themselves are responsible for feeling depressed. However the person with depression knows that it is beyond their control; they know that they are not to blame; they know that they don’t want to feel the way they do and they are unable to “shake it off”.
Depression is a lonely sickness. Nobody but the depressed knows the feeling they experience. Nobody knows the thoughts that haunt them. Who can recognise if the depressed person is stuck on the grief roundabout and can’t get off? Every piece of advice that is said to a depressed person is like a blunt arrow striking at their heart. They hear it, but the depression stubbornly remains in spite of every effort to defeat it. It’s going to take a mighty effort on everybody’s part to lift the doom of depression. It will require professional help from Physicians, Psychiatrists, and Psychologists and sometimes even social workers and nurses in a formal setting with modern techniques and medications to address all the issues that create depression.
When a person is in low spirits and melancholic; sad and depressed, life loses its meaning; value and worth. As stated above possessions and chattels are seen as worthless items. All that is recalled from life’s experiences are only negative memoirs. Self-worth and selfidentity are devalued. Accomplishments of previous life events amount to nothing in the face of the end of the world.
People don’t wake up one morning and decide that they are going to be depressed today! Depression is a feeling, emotion or mood that is a symptom of physiological changes in the mind and body. It is not just the mind which is involved because the endocrine system which includes organs such as the Hypothalamus; Pituitary Gland; Thyroid Gland; Parathyroid Glands; Adrenal Glands; Pineal Body; Reproductive Glands; and Pancreas all devote their own contributions to the way we feel. So having established that depression is the result of physiological changes there yet remains one more influence to discuss.
We humans have SPIRIT. We are animated by the spirit within us. We laugh and play when in high spirits and walk around as if the world is on our shoulders when our spirits are low. Depression is a vexation of spirit. Without spirit we feel an empty void within us. Now this is beyond the realm of physiology. This involves the mind not the brain. This is a product of what we believe and things we trust. Ideas; knowledge; invention; imagination all are aspects of the mind. While thought is the process the brain utilises to make the physiology function. The mind and its entire prowess endow us with spirit and a belief system which includes such things as trust. The childhood developmental stages discussed above outlines the establishment of societal rules that govern our behaviour in general but the mind interprets the world and all the information provided by the five senses in its own way being influenced entirely by what it believes to be true and trustworthy. Our spirit therefore is either high or low depending on what we believe.
Now we come to the most difficult content of all – BELIEF SYSTEMS.
I am reminded of the big three D’s. These are DRUGS; DEMENTIA; and DELUSION. All these affect logic and the way people reason.
DRUGS like alcohol (legal) and illicit ones such as heroin and other opiates; even medications can and do affect the way the brain works and as a result affect the process of logic and reason. You can’t argue with a drunkard because his emotions are heightened and his logic and reason are disrupted.
DEMENTIA has many causes but mostly it is because of organic changes in the brain itself that disrupts normal neurotransmitter pathways. This has the effect of disturbing normal thought processes; memories; logic and reason.
DELUSION is a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence according to Wikipedia. A delusion is a thought that is believed to be true regardless of evidence to the contrary or what anyone can say against it. There are two identified types of delusion the first is called a primary delusion.
PRIMARY DELUSION; this is a delusion that a person invents themselves and believes to be true. It may be an idea for an invention for example a perpetual motion machine or it might take a more paranoid form like a conspiracy theory. Often primary delusions involving just one person focus on the notion of infidelity or other suspicions. In depression paranoia feeds all manner of delusions about how the person is perceived by the world at large creating mountains out of mole hills.
SECONDARY DELUSION; a secondary delusion is a delusion or belief that is taught to others. The person with the primary delusion might gather to themselves disciples and teach their views to those that follow. We are sadly reminded of the horrible Jonestown massacre of 1978 as an example of both primary and secondary delusions.
We are what we believe. If we believe we are happy then we must be happy if we believe we are sad then by all means we are sad. Belief is a strange condition indeed. It is not something that is easy to change and in the case of delusion (a firmly fixed belief) it is nearly impossible to move. Depression forms its own delusion and fixed ideas (usually negative ones) about the value of living. It is the delusion that life is not worth living that gives rise to suicidal ideation. It is the belief that things can’t be improved upon that reinforces depression. It is the belief of self-worthlessness that devalues the individual. There are many beliefs that depressed people formulate that promote self-harm. These are all delusions. These false beliefs are difficult to say the least; to remove.
These delusions arise from personal baggage of hurt or wounded egos or trauma from early developmental stages as mentioned above or responses to situations or experiences of life that we employ as coping mechanisms that eventually fail us. We form opinions and ideas about the world and how others should act toward us and when these opinions are confronted by unexpected outcomes we get hurt feelings which we then internalise and nurture until it manifests as disappointment; sadness or depression.
A belief or delusion is extremely difficult to change and simply correcting such a person is only seen as criticism which itself reinforces the delusion. Any verbal challenge will be met with an angry response because you cannot challenge a person’s belief system and have them take it kindly.
What needs to be established is trust not competition. Again it is stressed to seek professional help in situations like this. Criticism is the very worst thing to lay on somebody who is already compromised and vulnerable. Depression is sensitive to criticism and such is usually taken on board silently but with disastrous consequences.
Sure we are walking on eggshells and must wear kid gloves when dealing with emotional trauma that we don’t exacerbate the situation. But isn’t this true for drunkards as well? I know from experience that past prisoners of war with dementia relive their harrowing encounter from the past. This can be likened to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and reactive depression is very similar in presentation. This is just pointing out that the mind interprets things as dangers to injury and this is especially true for those already sensitive to hurt and pain. A person will do anything to protect their belief system deluded or not as evidence just look at the world’s history of political and religious wars all fought because of a belief system of one kind or another.
So how do we deal with immovable beliefs? Delusions cannot be shifted or destroyed through attack or by presenting evidence. Evidence is simply not believed or seen as part of the conspiracy. The best thing to do with delusional ideas is to avoid raising them to mind. Ignore them. Don’t attack them and certainly don’t belittle the person holding them by scoffing at their beliefs. Just don’t raise the issue at all. Instead of trying to destroy their old belief system try instead to build a whole new one to replace the old ideas gradually.
This is achieved through education. By appealing to the person’s sense of self and intelligence one can reinforce worth and value. Point out skills and use their skills to reveal other attributes of significance. Become involved in creating material objects that emphasise the person’s worth for example put together a curriculum vitae, a document stating all the skills of the person. Educate them about how personality is developed and about coping skills that are useful in life. Reinforce the fact that they can still contribute to society in a valued way.
In order to gain their trust you must agree to listen to their point of view without judgment.
You must not disparage or belittle their notion of suicide. Treat it seriously because they also treat it seriously. Admit that self-euthanasia is an option because they also know that suicide is an option and that they are considering just that.
However you should point out to them and get them to agree that suicide is final. There is no return or change of heart after the act. Point out also that we only have one life and that life is full of highs as well as lows. Point out that not only does the suicidal person lose their life but that their parents lose a son/daughter or that wife loses a husband or that children lose father/grandfather. Everybody loses because of suicide. All this should be obvious. Describe that we cannot tell what lies ahead in the future and that the person might be the very person that changes the history of the world. The earth’s history is full of examples of ordinary people whom have bought about great and marvellous changes for the benefit of humanity. Who is to say that this person is not also one such hero? The future is unknown but what is known as a matter of fact is that they will not be depressed forever. Next week they might feel completely different because the chemical soup in their head has changed by then. Get them to agree to a contract either verbal or written, that they will not act rashly while they are feeling the worst but instead will agree to wait say three days and then rethink their actions of suicide. An agreement like this calls into play their sincerity and often saves a life.
Such counselling should be done with expert help (not this book). It can’t be stressed enough that professional help should be sought for treatment of depression.
This booklet is not a text book. It does not pretend to be an authority on anything at all. It glosses over well-established literature to do with Psychology; Psychiatry; Biochemistry plus other disciplines and probably steps on the toes of many professional and well respected people. Apologies for doing this are hereby given. The goal of this booklet is simply to help lift the stigma of mental disorders with depression in particular. It hopes to achieve this in simple terms in plain English without long and complicated explanations.
Humans are complex animals. Growth and development; learning and memory; belief systems and perception of the world around us; all conspire to overwhelm us sometimes. It often helps if we can learn what is happening to us at the time. But when we are sick or hurting we are not in the mood to learn anything at all so any education needs to be succinct and brief as well as easily understood.
The most important thing we can learn and must hear from other lips is that we are valued and loved. To know that the world needs us is of the utmost importance
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