Phil's wife left him suddenly. Feeling like both his feet are firmly planted in mid-air, he continues to work, unproductively, withdraws from family and friends; and alternates between feeling rage and hopelessness.
Ben thinks he doesn't get enough recognition from his manager at work, compared with co-workers. These feelings of powerlessness and resentment become amplified the longer and more diligently he works. Lacking self-esteem, he spends inordinate amounts of time planning and weighing the decision to talk with his manager...someday.
Jackie is frequently home alone on weekends, crying, anxious, confused, lethargic after a fight with her boyfriend. She hates his constant criticism but feels threatened at the thought of leaving him and being alone. She believes she cannot be happy without him.
Today, millions of Americans exhibit behaviors and feelings which have come to be called, "depression." In practice, clinical depression is often defined by its symptoms, which include: Lethargy, frequent crying, indecisiveness, decreased productivity, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, low self-esteem, negative self-statements, and loss of appetite or over-eating, to name a few. Depressed people are often considered pessimists, expecting the worst from life, magnifying failures and minimizing successes. Traditionally, several factors are said to con- tribute to depression including: Personality characteristics, chemical imbalances, age, gender, socio-economic status, genetic factors, and learned responses to stressors. However a factor often overlooked in depressed individuals-- essential to making a change-- is their belief about the future. Beliefs are fairly durable, internally-generated ideas we develop from stored experiences (pictures, sounds, feelings) that mobilize us to behave in different ways.
Beliefs compel people to do good and bad things. We act "in accordance with our beliefs", and not "against our will." Yet, we are not born with beliefs. They are acquired and, therefore, can change. To be sure, we believed things as children that would now be considered foolish or inappropriate; and there are things we now believe that would never have occurred to us back then. Some of those beliefs concern bad feelings about what will or will not happen. How many times have you heard people say things like, "I'm so depressed. My wife left me and I can't imagine anyone ever making me happy again." Or, "(sigh) I just can't bring myself to ask for a promotion, even though I know I deserve it." And, "I'm such a loser, who would want to go out with me?"
How about those individuals who feel bad because they believe someone else's presence is required to feel good? "When my husband goes out with his friends after work, instead of coming home, I become so anxious, I tell myself the worst, I'm in tears, I can't eat. By the time he comes home, I'm so upset that I can't even talk to him, and all he can say is, 'what's the matter?'" This is an interesting scenario-- a prototype with many variations. Essentially, it is quite common among depressed people. If someone whom you believe should make you feel good is not available, you will feel bad and not be able to feel good. Every time you make an image of the person, you connect with that depressed feeling. Then when he (or she) arrives, the sight of that individual triggers the bad feeling. You decide that since he was not around to make you feel better, he will now have to feel bad, too! Then whenever that person goes away, you can project ahead, feeling bad that he is not available and that when he is, you will not be able to control making him feel bad; and therefore, you must really be unworthy, unlovable...
Generally, the way in which people manifest depression in the present is a function of their beliefs about what will or will not happen some time in the future. A variety of internal events-- pictures, sounds, feelings-- become strongly asso- ciated with pain, so that every time those experiences are generated, "depression" happens! Soon, like any learned behaviors, these experiences become contextualized. That is, they occur out of awareness, automatically. Depression then becomes pervasive; an out-of-control, helplessness and hope- lessness. The future is dim, as there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But wait! Since beliefs are learned, what would happen if depressed people were to change those beliefs which become associated with pain? And how could they do that? Believe that some powerful suggestions are forthcoming, next week.