When clients ask me ‘what is depression’, I explain this as a loss of connection and relationship with the positive aspects of themselves and others due to ongoing stressful and traumatic events. This can result in some affirming elements of their personality closing down and other self-limiting parts being unrestrained. Hence the feeling of coming apart, of not being able to hold things together.
Coping with threats from which there appears to be no way out or an inability to resolve the situation gradually wears us down. Going round and round in circles in our head we try to find a way out, a way of fixing the problem. Our attention is drawn to and sucked down into trying to solve the unsolvable and preparing for the worst outcome.
Maintaining an OK state of being takes energy and effort, it doesn’t just happen by itself. Mental or Cognitive energy directs and brings appropriate focus to thinking and reasoning. Regulation of our feelings and how we experience them requires Emotional energy. Activity and stamina requires the exertion of Physical energy.
When in a positive and motivating environment we thrive and our energies are constantly being replenished. Under prolonged stress and anxiety we decline as we are drawing on more energy than we can muster.
Over time the energy necessary to maintain a healthy OK position is drained. This then results in a change to thinking, physical and emotional perceptions that results in experiencing our self as Not OK. We go our lowest state of being as we are in the position of lowest energy.
Different States of Being
The ‘ego’ is the conscious identity of self that we create; that sense of ‘I’. In the Transactional Analysis model of personality there are three ego states or states of being. These are the Parent, Adult and Child. They are written in capital letters to differentiate them from an actual physical parent, adult or child.
This can be a very powerful model of identity. Why? Because when you learn to recognise what ego state you are operating in from moment to moment then you have the ability to recognise and meet you own needs in a better and healthier way. That includes changing your relationship with your depression.
When employing the Observing Self exercise we can experience ourselves as if standing back from our self and not getting bogged down in the mire of depression. Holding awareness of our self; observing, reason and regulating our emotions we are in our Adult ego state of our personality.
The Adult state of being is that part of our self that operates in the ‘here and now’, enabling us to see what is happening more clearly. It enables us to make better sense of things, apply reasoned judgment and respond appropriately to the current situation.
The two other ego states are our inner Parent that contains our past learnt social responsibilities of Authority and Care. The Parent aspect of authority is described as the Controlling Parent (CP) and the caring part is the Nurturing Parent (NP)
Lastly is the inner Child state that holds the past experiences of Interacting and meeting the wants of others balanced with recognising and meeting our own Desires. Similarly the Child also has two aspects; the Interactions and of the Adaptive Child (AC) and the Desires are the Free Child (FC).
Depression depresses the nurturing aspect of our Nurturing Parent and the optimistic, spontaneous and exploring self of our Free Child. As the Adult attempts to maintain emotional regulation, reasoned thinking and day to day functioning it is slowly warn down.
As the Adult is muted then the negative aspects of the Controlling Parent ie self criticism and recrimination are no longer held in check. Without reassurance the negative aspect of the Adaptive Child such as fear and self-doubt takes over.
The positive aspects of the Controlling Parent ie structure and routine are disrupted as are the positive aspects of self-care ie reassurance and encouragement of the Nurturing Parent.
Balance and Regulation
In this way we can understand how the positive elements of our personality can be overwhelmed whilst the negative aspects elevated. Not being able to utilise our inner Adult state to bring balance and regulation can lead to loss of self-esteem and feelings of being helpless, powerless and loveless.
It is this that leads to depression – a numbing withdrawal. It is the survival reaction of emotional hibernation where we lose connection with our self and the world around us.
The good news is that in many individuals depression can be managed and recovery made. Using the Parent Adult Child model in conjunction with awareness and understanding, new decisions about how we lead our lives can be made that brings about a reversal of depression back to wellbeing.