Depression, Self-Esteem, Trauma, Loneliness, Dreams,
"It is the willing endurance of the oppositions within oneself, the acceptance of one's shadow... which brings transformation"
The contributing factors to depression are as vast and varied as the individuals who experience it. Whether it is persistent and severe or infrequent and mild, depression is a psychological state that holds many within its grasp. Depression can open us to seeing some difficult truths, and can blind us from seeing others. Navigating depression with another human being, rather than alone, is crucial.
Depression is an emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and physical condition. Its causes remain unknown, as does its cure. What is known is that it is a perennial human issue which confronts the person experiencing it with significant challenges. I tend to work with depression not by rushing to eliminate it, but by approaching it as a teacher. It is by courageously facing one's depression, with the companionship of a caring presence, rather than running from it that one can pass through it and participate in life more fully again.
Our internal and external sources of praise and criticism form complex networks of motivations and self-evaluations. It is a difficult task for many to locate and feel the realistic, innate sources of self-esteem that constitute who you are, buoy your spirits, and provide you with energy for your work and relationships. Self-esteem issues are common and important components of psychotherapy for many.
It is common to feel that you are not living up to the ideals and expectations that you should be. Images of perfection are present in many areas of life including work, money, beauty, athleticism, intelligence, creativity, morality, and more. While these idealized versions of ourselves can provide genuine motivation, they can also persecute us for our shortcomings, leaving us judgmental of ourselves and others, frozen in indecision, or driven into frenzied activities. Therapy can help to address these issues by seeking to understand what important relational needs are beneath these ideals, such as basic acknowledgment and acceptance.
Trauma refers to a state of overwhelming emotional intensity. Trauma can come from a single, acute event, or from repeated, more subtle occurrences. The effects of trauma vary from person to person, but in general our minds and bodies attempt to defend us from experiencing the overwhelming feelings in the future. These defenses can manifest in psychological and physical numbing, resulting in a reduced ability to experience one's feelings, emotions, bodily sensations, and clear thinking. One's defensive system can also result in hyper-vigilance, a state in which one is consistently anxious and looking for signs of danger. This can include elevated base levels of heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
A depth psychological approach to trauma acknowledges the possibility that a vital part of one's personality can be hidden or forgotten by trauma. The defenses that result from trauma may function effectively by keeping overwhelming emotions at bay, but in the process our ability to feel truly alive may also be dampened. It is possible to work through trauma in a therapeutic relationship and to regain a more vital sense of oneself.
Although not a formal condition or symptom, loneliness is a significant and common experience. It is by definition distressing, as opposed to solitude or aloneness. For some loneliness comes and goes, for others it is a perpetual state of being. Regardless of duration or intensity, addressing one's loneliness can be a shameful proposition. We often feel too embarrassed to acknowledge our loneliness, as though it exposes some defect in our personalities or indicates a failure in our ability to form social, familial, and intimate relationships.
I work with loneliness by acknowledging both its pain and its meaning. Loneliness can be a sign that one is in need of contact with oneself. You may feel as though you are stranded, stuck in your own mind and body, wanting but unable to feel at peace with yourself or to make genuine contact with another human being. This state of mind requires a creative and receptive attitude to be worked upon in therapy. If loneliness persists, it probably has something to tell us that we have not yet learned how to hear. Loneliness forces us back upon ourselves, and when we face the difficult truths about ourselves that it shows us, there is often unexpected vitality, depth, and authenticity to be discovered as well.
Dreams are rich, image-laden psychological phenomena. While they are ultimately mysterious no matter how thoroughly they are analyzed, they offer themselves to us nightly as opportunities to learn from their wisdom. I work with dreams not to extract information or to glean advice on how to live daily life, but to challenge myself to stay as true to the dream images as possible. It is very tempting to literalize a dream image, to say for example "The tiger in my dreams means I need to be more aggressive, or spend more time alone, etc". The dream is complete in itself, and we will practice bending our waking minds to the dream's language.
In therapy we may analyze a dream to a certain extent by picking it up and looking at it as closely as possible, exploring feelings, thoughts, and associations. Working with dreams is a means to building a relationship with your own psyche in order to form a more integrated conscious attitude, or ego. It is a therapeutic mode of making contact with the unconscious, which helps to liberate energy being used to defensively manage unconscious activity. In therapy we will attempt to keep the dream alive, to engage it on its own level and learn to appreciate dreams for the natural phenomena that they are.
Individuation refers to the process of continually becoming oneself. It is a life-long, symbolic process through which one actively lives out one's unique personality. It provides an orientation for the challenges of life, one which sees suffering not as meaningless, but as cyclical initiations into the mystery of being. If it is to be genuine, individuation has to be completely unique for each of us. It is also a metaphorical process of confronting and embracing the finite context of our individual lives that is defined by our deaths. As creatures who are capable of reflecting upon our own mortality, we are healthier and more understanding of our limited existence when we form symbolic and meaningful relationships to the great unknown that awaits us. Individuation can foster an attitude in which life is enriched and made more meaningful by our deaths.