Depression, shame, and the abandonment of self…

Romans 12 12

I was doing some reading tonight about depression. Some would propose it is rooted in abandonment. Abandonment by others, yes that too, but ultimately the abandonment of self.

What causes a person to abandon themselves? Perhaps shame. The idea that not only do we make mistakes, but that we are in fact the embodiment of a mistake. Look back at the story of Adam and Eve…the place where shame entered the human condition. Before eating the fruit Adam and Eve felt no shame but upon eating it they learned that they were naked and felt ashamed. They had done something wrong and now felt the need to hide, not just their mistake, but their entire selves.

Shame always perpetuates the need to hide. We don’t want others to see the bad in us, so we squash it down out of sight. The problem then becomes the more we squash it down the less self aware and self validating we become. Years upon years of abandoning ourselves and ignoring negative emotions or life events leads to an existence that – minus accomplishment and accolades – feels devoid of meaning. We feel abandoned and afraid, completely uncertain of who we are on the inside and absolutely terrified what we might find if we decided to look.

If shame then is at the root of depression, how might we undo the damage? How can we stop abandoning ourselves and start embracing who God designed us to be?

I think the first step is deciding that we will be open to experience all of our emotions. Even the ones that cause us distress and totally freak us out. But how do we do this when we have shut out negative emotions and pain for so long that even the slightest inkling of sadness leads to us feeling overwhelmed and sucked under?

It’s called distress tolerance. We must choose to feel our negative emotions without judging them or being fearful of them. We stop calling them bad and scary, and instead experience them for what they are – indicators of our internal and external states. Indicators that will pass with time and often come in waves. We don’t have to push them away. We can simply feel them, accept them, and observe as they come and go.

In other words, we become re-acquainted with living in our own skin. We become comfortable with our full range of emotions rather than stuffing them down. We decide that less than perfect is okay and that it’s just as normal to sit still with uncomfortable emotions as it is to sit with comfortable ones.

Because it is okay to be sad. It is okay to fail. We are human. We can get comfortable with our discomfort. Invite it in for coffee or tea and get to know it. Learn what it feels and doesn’t feel like. What it likes and doesn’t like. When it comes and when it goes.

Learning to stop abandoning ourselves is a huge step towards freedom from depression. We can be free to feel the full range of emotions God created, not only so we can connect with ourselves, but so we may then more intimately connect with God and others.

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