THE COUNSELOR'S CORNER: Depression and solution

By Fred Cavaiani

The death of Robin Williams saddened us. Then to discover that it was a suicide jolted us into wondering what depression is all about. Everyone gets depressed at some time in their life. Yet not everyone chooses to kill themselves. Why do wonderful people make such a final decision about ending their lives and leave the rest of us behind wondering, questioning and feeling so much pain and such helplessness?

Depression comes from the Latin word 'depressus' which means to 'press down.' Depression is a 'pressing down' of painful feelings that need to be experienced. Each of us has emotional pockets inside of ourselves that we had to push away in our childhood. We have never passed through those pockets of feelings. The more painful the childhood may have been, the deeper are those emotional states that we need to feel and pass through. The principle of 'you can't heal what you can't feel' is very accurate. We can only heal by feeling our pain. However, we live in a culture where feeling emotional pain and physical pain seems to be a taboo. There is an almost cultural expectation that we should not have emotional pain and above all not feel it. This is a fallacy. We need to experience pain so we can experience joy. All the feelings are connected. When I embrace my emotional pain I give myself the capacity to feel joy. I am no longer blocking my ability to experience life by pushing down my pain. No one falls apart from feeling too much emotional pain. We fall apart or even commit suicide by running away from the pain that we need to experience.

We can be very compassionate toward a person so deep in emotional pain that they choose the ultimate solution-suicide. But it is not a solution. It is a decision of great avoidance. The decision to avoid the pain we need to feel happens to all of us. We can intellectualize away our painful feelings by staying in our heads and avoiding our hearts. We can immerse ourselves in drugs and alcohol and then become so addicted that we now have another attachment that will never let us embrace our pain. Even in sobriety, a person can avoid pain by avoiding talking about feelings or avoiding associating with other people who talk about feelings.

No one falls apart by feeling too much emotional pain. We fall apart from running away from emotional pain. Suicide is a desperate decision to permanently run away from what we need to experience. Each day of our lives our buttons of 'unfinished business' will be pushed. Life will keep pushing these buttons of unresolved conflicts which attempt to surface so we can feel them and begin to heal. It can be a word someone says, a love experience we might have, a painful encounter with something or someone. Whatever it is, it will set off these painful feelings that we have buried. When we avoid these feelings through 'pressing them down' we become depressed. All of our energy is used to keep things down. As a result we have little energy to enjoy anything. If we laugh in any way or find ourselves happy we are off guard and those feelings will surface. Those feelings need to be experienced so we can find happiness. In the midst of the pain we will discover peace and joy because we will not be using all our psychological and spiritual resources to avoid what we must feel. The pain of depressing down our feelings is that we are left with no resources because we have no resources to use. We are blocked from letting ourselves feel and darkness simply overtakes us. The pain of avoidance is worse than the pain of experiencing what we absolutely need to experience. In the embrace of our emotional pain many people discover a deeper relationship with God, Higher Power, and a more open and loving relationship with their own personal selves.

One of the biggest difficulties in a fast paced, noise driven, and technologically advanced culture is that there is little time for silence and listening to what is going on inside of us. Tears and intense feelings seem to be unpopular and appear as a weakness. The opposite is true. Tears and intense experience of our feelings and sharing them with others are really moments of strength and depth.

The greatest psychological and spiritual teachers have been consistent in teaching the principles of embracing our pain. But it is a difficult lesson to comprehend. Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Erik Erikson and the great psychologists are in harmony with Jesus Christ, Buddha, Confucius, and the great teachers of most religions on the principle of embracing our pain. It will always lead to resurrection.

I will never forget the experience I had over thirty five years ago. I was in my fourth year of psycho-analysis. Those were the years when you went to analysis four or five times a week if you wanted to be a good therapist. It was traditional psychoanalysis. I was in the analysts' office lying on the couch and found myself sobbing over grieving about my father who had died a few years before. I fought the tears not wanting the analyst to see me cry. It was the sobbing where your stomach touched your backbone in pain. I just let it go. I remember the analysts' words "that must have hurt." As I left his office so much in pain, I began to discover something in myself. I had always thought of myself as superficial and a light weight in life. It was a false idea I had probably received from childhood. But then I realized that if I could experience that much pain, I must not be superficial. That thought left me forever. There was an amazing strength that came to me that has never left me. I said to myself, "I am not going to avoid experiencing my feelings anymore."

Years later, I began to take at least an hour each day for meditation and contemplation. The peace I have found from doing this and the feelings that would seem to get released after the meditation and contemplation has freed me from ever having to worry about what might surface inside of me. They are only feelings that need to be embraced and accepted. They do not have to dominate or control me because in embracing them, they are no longer in control. In avoiding them, I lose control of my whole life and life becomes dark and dreary. In this gentle embrace of what surfaces and this gentle embrace of silence and meditation, freedom and peace are experienced on a profound level. The meaning of embracing cross (pain, struggles, feelings, hurt,) leads to resurrection. This Resurrection seems to be an experience of a God greater than me, a feeling of hope, a love and compassion toward all, and a lack of being afraid of what I have experienced in my past life and will experience in my present life.

Everything becomes meaningful when I stop avoiding what I need to feel. I can look at life, religion, people, places and things with a free and hopeful attitude. There is not a God who condemns but only a God who loves and lifts us up. People are to be loved. Judging and condemning others is useless and puts me into a prison of my own making. I have discovered over the years what are the addictions and attachments in my life that control me. What a freedom to realize this. In surrendering to embracing my feelings I have discovered much freedom and peace and hopefully some wisdom along the way. Thank God for the lesson learned in embracing my feelings and for embracing silence. I think whoever God may be; this God has embraced me in my accepting and embracing my pain and my silence. It is never what happens to me that is the problem. It is what I do with what happens to me and how well I embrace it. In this embrace a profound experience and meaning of life, love, God and relationships can be joyfully experienced.

The solution to depression is a total embrace.

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Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage & family therapist and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and Henry Ford Medical Center. Fred serves on the Oakland County Senior Advisory Council. He conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeastern Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 248-362-3340. His e-mail address is: Fredcavi@yahoo.com and his website is fredthecounselor.com.

Published: Tue, Aug 19, 2014

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