Depression always involves a conflict. This conflict overwhelms us so much that we avoid thinking about it. Instead we continue on as if there is no problem at all.
Usually the problem doesn’t go away, more likely, it gets worse. We suspect this. Now we work harder at distraction. Any distressing feelings are automatically buried.
This deadening of feelings creates depression. Low motivation. Anxiety episodes. Lack of appetite. Low mood. Disinterest in life. Feelings of worthlessness. Crying spells. Suicidal thoughts.
The conflict is experienced as overwhelming because we lack confidence in our ability to resolve it.
On either side of the conflict are competing needs. For example, our need to be happy competes with our need to feel safe. Our need for self esteem in one area competes with our need for self-fulfillment in another. Our need to feel loved and valued competes with our need for truth. These competing needs are outlined in the examples below.
Danny has been married for 20 years to Alison. Alison tells him she has not been happy for some time and is thinking about separation. He is devastated. He is not happy in the relationship either but he has put up with it and made it work by getting involved in his own interests.
Danny feels he has invested a lot into the relationship. Together they have accumulated houses and other assets. They have a shared history. They have children. They harbored dreams of growing old together. Both have put a lot of energy and emotion into their marriage.
Danny has two competing needs. He doesn’t want the challenge and change of breaking up because that feels unsafe. His need to feel happy and fulfilled would require taking on this challenge.
It all feels too hard so instead of confronting the conflict and working for a resolution, he ignores it. Consequently he becomes depressed.
Unless Danny confronts the problem, he is likely to drift further into depression.
If Danny sought help, a good psychologist would help Danny explore his conflicted emotions. Then the psychologist would help him develop the confidence and skills to solve the conflict either by reinvigorating the marriage or parting.
Jenny is having an affair. Jenny wants to move on and explore this new relationship with her lover. The lover is willing to leave his unhappy marriage so he and Jenny can be together.
The problem is Jenny doesn’t really approve of affairs. She is shocked that she is having an affair herself. Even though she has been in an unhappy marriage for a long time, she cannot forgive herself for cheating on her husband. At the same time, she loves being with her lover.
She has always wanted to be a good mother. Being a good mother is a major part of her identity. She thinks good mothers keep their families together. She would never want her children to suffer a broken marriage. She worries about how broken marriages affect children.
She has a need to feel fulfilled and happy. This part of her wants her to leave her unhappy marriage and bond with her new love. The part of her that is deeply invested in being a good mother cannot even think about leaving.
She cannot imagine a resolution that satisfies these competing parts so she continues the affair while living with her husband. She is not being honest and yet she values honesty. Her self-esteem plummets. She is getting some needs met by the lover but at a high cost.
Jenny feels anxious and depressed. She struggles to fully articulate the problem. The conflict seems to be staying married or not. But it isn’t. The conflict is an inner one, a conflict of needs: the need to be a good mother, the need to be happy in herself. She believes that seeking her own happiness would make her a bad mother.
Jenny will continue to feel anxious and depressed until she faces her conflict and resolves it.
Seeking help from a skilled psychologist would correct some of her misconceptions and show her how to manage a breakup in a way that will minimize the impact on her husband and their children. With a change in attitude, she could meet all her needs.
Annette was a single woman who invested a lot of her energy into her aging parents.
When her mother died suddenly, she felt completely overwhelmed. Logically, she knew people die but she feared death and loss. To deal with this fear, she always pushed thoughts of death out of her mind. She avoided funerals. She avoided any programs about death. She refused to think about her parents ever dying.
Annette had set herself up perfectly for major depression with anxiety. When her mother died, she was completely unprepared. She refused to accept, on any emotional level, that her mother had died.
Her conflict was simple: the belief mum cannot die versus the fact that she has.
There is only one way to resolve this conflict. Annette has to come to terms with death and fully accept that her mother is gone. She needs to realize that she can cope in a world without her mother.
A good psychologist will gently guide her to that conclusion giving her the time to grieve and face her fears.
The conflict that has caused the depression needs to be surfaced. The feelings of powerlessness also need to be surfaced and explored.
A repressed problem is always more powerful than one surfaced. Avoidance creates anxiety. The problem comes to our mind now and then anyway and when it does, we feel scared. We should feel scared. Ignoring a problem is a declaration of powerlessness. Powerlessness never feels good.
Bringing the problem out into the light with someone who can guide us and help us see new perspectives will always feel better than ignorance.
Conflicts are a part of life. We can choose to ignore them or we can confront them. Even when we cannot imagine a solution, we can seek help to find an answer.
Need help managing your depression? Our team at North Brisbane Psychologists can help. Book an appointment today.