How to Heal Depression

Part Three:
Healing the Mind

Exaggerating Is Absolutely the Worst Thing You Can Do, and It Can Kill You If You Don't Completely Stop It-- Right Now!!!

Look at the word exaggerate.

It has too many g's, doesn't it? It only needs one g to get by. That's what we do when we exaggerate: we add extra g's. The g-force, of course, is the weight of gravity. Adding extra g's presses down on us, making us depressed.

Wasn't that first point the dumbest, stupidest, most juvenile and insultingly unprofessional description of how exaggeration worsens depression that you've ever seen?!

And so exaggeration goes. We take an idea or event and mentally blow it out of proportion. The emotions soon follow. Emotions react to what the mind tells them. If we are disappointed and our mental response is, "You're killing me!" the emotions respond as though we are literally being killed. That's a fairly strong emotional reaction.

Don't exaggerate in the other direction, either. If you're disappointed, it's fine. Don't try to kid yourself by thinking, "Oh, it really doesn't matter." If it matters to you, it matters.

Strive for accuracy--a word that has a lot of c's in it. That will keep your mind and emotional responses more appropriate. C what we mean?

I have bad reflexes. I was once run over by a car being pushed by two guys.

Woody Allen

Fifty-eight: Observe Yourself

The next time you're upset, take a step back--mentally--and listen to your thoughts. If you're speaking to someone, hear what you're saying. If you're doing something, observe your actions.

When you objectively stand back and monitor your thoughts, words, and actions, you'll see where a good deal of your negativity is coming from.

Look for shoulds, have-tos, musts.

Look for exaggerations. Look for assumptions you've made. (You've probably heard the old saying: "To assume is to make an ass out of u and me.") Look for judgments.

Then see where all this negative thinking gets you: the negative feelings, the words that don't truly reflect you, the ineffective actions.

Also notice what you're ignoring.

What are the good things going on that you're paying absolutely no attention to? Ignoring positive realities is a form of negative thinking.

Sometimes there's no need to change anything. You may find that simply observing a negative thought or feeling dissolves it.

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.


Fifty-nine: Heal Thyself First

As you learn more about yourself, you will also learn more about others. As you learn more about depression--and especially after the depression begins to lift--you'll probably notice a great many people you think need to be treated for their depression.

One of the cleverest avoidances of treatment is to spend time "healing" others. Heal yourself first.

The first few months of healing your depression is an important time. The more you participate in the treatment, the greater your healing will be. Recognizing negative habits, developing new skills, and learning to enjoy simply being--perhaps for the first time in your life--can be exhilarating and exhausting. Monitor your energy; reserve it for yourself.

Is this being selfish? Sure. Self-ish. You're taking time for yourself. Some might say that depression grows from an impoverished self; an inner being that has not been properly nourished. Nourish yourself. Become your own best gardener.Being There and watch it while thinking about being your own best gardener.>

When you heal more fully, that's the time to reach out to others. You'll be able to help them far more from wholeness.

How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.


No One or No Thing Can Depress You Unless You Allow It

Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.


The buck stops here. More accurately, the blame stops here.

You, and you alone, have the ability to depress yourself. "No one can make you feel inferior," wrote Eleanor Roosevelt, "without your consent."

Short of directly physically harming you, all external events and people depress you because you think negative thoughts about them, not because of what they do.

This is the foundation of personal responsibility: It's not what happens to you, but your inner reaction to what happens to you, that determines whether you feel miserable or marvelous.

Using this ability to respond in a masterful way is response-ability.

This idea, of course, brings on a chorus of, "Yes, but what about . . . ?"

People get so involved in creating outlandish scenarios in which another's actions cause them to feel bad. "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving there is no need to do so," observed Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, "almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

Rather than counter all the "Yes, buts . . ." individually, allow us to simply mention one name: Viktor Frankl, M.D. Dr. Frankl had everything and everyone in his life taken from him in, historically, the most appalling way possible. He is a survivor of the Holocaust. There's no need for detail here.

What's important is the conclusion Dr. Frankl came to. While in the concentration camp, he realized one essential truth: no matter what they put him through, he still had within him the power to choose how he was going to order his inner environment--his thoughts, his feelings, his being.

No matter how much they took from him--which was every person and material thing he had--he still had freedom; the freedom to choose.Man's Search for Meaning.

It's a freedom you have, too. You can't always choose what happens to you, but you can always choose your reaction to it. To react negatively to certain situations is not "just you." You may have bad habits that currently are "on automatic." But old habits can be broken; new habits can be learned.

Becoming more responsible for your actions and feelings may seem like a lot of work. You're right. It is a lot of work.

Freedom usually is.

The last of the human freedoms-- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one's own way.


Sixty-one: "Yes" and "No"

Yes and no are two invaluable words in obtaining and maintaining personal freedom. The secret? Say the one you mean.

Yes and no guard your time. Think of them as the door of your house: the open door is yes, the closed door is no. If you open the door when you really want it closed, and close the door when you really want it open, you will soon find yourself with a house full of what you do not want. This is depressing, indeed. Too often, we say yes or no for the wrong reason. That reason, usually, is fear: we're afraid of a new experience; we're afraid of hurting someone's feelings; we're afraid someone might not like us; we're afraid of what other people might think, and so on.

Yes and no are there to express what you want, what your preferences are, what you are willing to and not willing to do.

Often, we're asked to say yes or no to a future event. How do we know now if we're going to want to do it then? A good indicator: If it were available to do right now, would you do it? Yes or no? When it comes time to do it, you'll be doing it "right now," because "then" has a sneaky way of becoming "now." So, if you don't want to do it now, you probably won't want to do it then.

I only have "yes" men around me. Who needs "no" men?


Sixty-two: It's Okay to Feel--Anything

There are no "bad" feelings. Even "feeling bad" is not a "bad" feeling.

The secret--whether up or down--is to enjoy the ride.

Feel the full range of emotions available to you. People spend large amounts of time and money on movies, TV, videos, novels, and music so that they might feel something.

Those who can make us feel the most, most often, are known as entertainment geniuses. We make them stars--and rich.

Even if we don't respect what they create, we are still aware that it has the power to move us. ("Extraordinary," said Noel Coward, "how potent cheap music is.")

There is such a thing as a healthy sadness--free from the self-pity and suffering of depression.

Be moved by your own life. Feel it in all its fullness and glory.

The point is, we are not rocks. Who wants to be one anyway, impermeable, unchanging, our history already played out.


Sixty-three: Hurt, Resentment, and Guilt

Hurt, resentment, and guilt are closely related. When something is taken away from us, or something we want is not made available to us, we can feel hurt. Hurt is difficult for people to feel and express. So, some people avoid it by turning to anger. If we get angry at someone or something outside ourselves, it's called resentment. If we get angry at ourselves, it's called guilt. Anytime we feel anger--whether it's expressed as guilt or resentment--there's hurt underneath it.

If you catch the hurt early enough, you can move directly back to the caring.

You're never hurt about anything you don't care about. Switch the caring from the disappointing object to another object about which you can "safely" care. (Here, having a love for God, nature, or the universe comes in handy.)

If you don't catch the disappointment soon enough, you're left with hurt, guilt, and/or resentment. Do something with them--preferably something physical, but safe. A few deep breaths, a good stretch, walking, dancing, or singing. Silent screams, or noisy screams--if you can do them without frightening the horses. ("I don't care what they do," said Mrs. Patrick Campbell a century ago, "as long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses.") Cry, write down your negative thoughts and burn the paper. Lie on a bed and kick and scream. Beat a pillow.

If you seem to have a residue of hurt, resentment, or guilt, you might want to schedule a session with your therapist for some emotional "release" work.

Notice that none of our suggestions for releasing negative feelings involves anyone other than you and a professional. We did not suggest, "Go and really tell them off. Then you'll feel better!" That seldom works. In the first place, people don't just stand there, as they do in the movies, and get told off. They tend to interrupt.

(Well, you knew they were rude.) They usually start to tell you off. (The impertinence!) Finally, once they have been told off, they are seldom properly devastated. (How dare they?) And if they act devastated, how do you know they're not doing it just to make you feel guilty? (Those sneaky bastards!) "Peace of mind," wrote J. P. McEvoy, "is better than giving them `a piece of your mind.'"

Communicating your feelings with people you're close to is essential, but communication is not the same as venting, dumping, or telling off. In fact, it's often easier to communicate a negative feeling when you're not feeling it.

Communicate hurt using "I" statements. ("I feel disappointed"; "I'm hurt when you don't call if you're going to be late"; "I'd prefer it if you would....") And be sure to let them know that you only feel hurt because you care.

In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer.


Sixty-four: Forgiving

Forgiving is a word that means just what it says: for giving.

Whom are we for giving to? Those we forgive? Sometimes. Ourselves? Always.

The primary reason to forgive is for your peace of mind, and the quality of all your future relationships. (For more on this, please see two of Harold's earlier books, Making Peace with Yourself and Making Peace with Your Parents.)

Jesus of Nazareth was one of the greatest teachers of forgiveness. In the eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth world into which he came, forgiveness was a radical concept. (Just as it is today.) The word Jesus used for forgiveness meant to untie, to let go.

That's what we do when we forgive: we let go of the imaginary (but painful) control of the way we think things should be, and we untie ourselves from the burden of judging the way they are. Forgiveness is a direct route to freedom, lightening up, and moving on.

Forgiveness is a simple process: you say (aloud or to yourself), "I forgive..." then state the person (perhaps yourself), event, or occurrence you have judged. Then add, "I forgive myself for judging . . ." and state the same person, event, or occurrence. So, not only do you let go of the judgment; you let go of whatever judgment you've made for having judged in the first place.

And then let the matter go. See it dissolve in a pure, white light.

Forgive, forget, and move on with your life.

Here is a mental treatment guaranteed to cure every ill that flesh is heir to: sit for half an hour every night and mentally forgive everyone against whom you have any ill will or antipathy.


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Copyright © 1994-1996 Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D. 
& Peter McWilliams