Breaking the Patterns of Depression
By Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D.
When a depressed client comes to see me, it is with the hope that I will be able to say or do something to help. You have a similar hope in reading this book. By now, you are aware of my emphasis on the need to design treatments based on individual needs and differences. Since you are designing your self-help approach with variations of the ideas and methods presented in this book, it's important that you learn about the patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can give rise to depression. With the help of this chapter, you can evaluate your experience by assessing to what degree, if any, you follow a particular pattern that seems to lead to your problems with depression.
The patterns I describe in this chapter represent ways people organize their experience and structure their personal views of "reality." What differs, often dramatically, from person to person and culture to culture is the way in which people view even the most fundamental things in life, like family structure, the role of men and women, work, love, whatever. Many of the patterns we develop bring us happiness, satisfaction, a sense of purpose, and other good things. Some patterns, though, lead us to make bad choices, demonstrate socially inept behavior, and form inadequate responses to life problems.
The goals, then, are to identify the things you don't know how to do that lead to consequences that hurt you, and to learn new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that will help you. You can learn to avoid creating problems (through bad choices or the ineffective handling of situations) and you can learn to manage problems that are not of your own creation (such as getting laid off when the company goes bankrupt or losing someone you love through death).
Let's go again from general to specific, and first consider the forces that shape people's individual patterns.
Socialization and Personal Development
From the moment you were born, and your parents turned to ask the doctor whether you were healthy and what your gender was, society, in a variety of powerful and dramatic ways, began to shape your life. Society has countless expectations for each of us regarding how we are "supposed to" behave as members. Your family is one of many representatives of society, but it is certainly the most prominent external force in shaping your individual experience and, consequently, your personality. The family, and the larger society of which it is only a part, communicate their expectations in a variety of ways, sometimes through clear, direct, and specific instructions about how to behave in a given situation, sometimes more indirectly.
Throughout our lives, we are rewarded for doing some things and are punished for doing others. There are experiences we are encouraged to seek out and those we are taught to avoid. So, too, there are subjects we are told are all right to talk about, and those we are taught not to talk about, and these also play a large role in how we perceive the world around us.
If you think back to the family in which you grew up, and the things you were encouraged to do and think about, the activities that your family did together, and the subjects you were taught to think of as important, you'll discover a lot about the source of your particular view of the world. The things that you were not exposed to, the subjects that were never talked about, and the things that you didn't even know existed until later are all just as powerful (maybe even more powerful) in shaping your perceptions. For example, when I was growing up, my family placed a strong value on taking frequent trips. We would travel all over the country to see different attractions. To this day, I have a strong appreciation of travel; I enjoy going to new places and seeing new things. Friends of mine, however, were not raised with so strong an appreciation of travel. As a result, they don't understand why I seem to always be on the go and why I'm not content to stay home for my vacations, as they do. For me, travel is "normal." For some of my friends, it isn't.
It is a general truth that the things we grow up with we consider to be "normal," and these become unquestioned parts of ourselves. It's often the things we grow up without, however, that can become main issues in our lives. Grow up with love, for example, and you're less likely to crave it or abuse it. Grow up without it, and it can become your life search-sadly, too often not even recognizable when it's right in front of you.
The immediate family is the primary agent of socialization in a child's earliest years. Later, other socialization agents assume increasing levels of importance in the child's world. These sources of experience and feedback are friends, family members outside the immediate nuclear family, the media (especially television), the school and teachers in particular, religious institutions, and other representatives of society the child is exposed to. Each and every one of us is exposed to forces that continuously shape our perceptions, feelings, and ideas. And these forces require each of us to develop ways of thinking and responding, ways that will work for us or against us in our handling of different life situations.
When you have learned patterns that work against you, depression can be a predictable consequence. In saying that, I'm suggesting that the patterns that you learned through your individual and cultural background have helped create the depression that led you to buy this book. In order for you to overcome depression, you will not only need to identify the key patterns that have caused the state of distress you're in, but you'll need to develop patterns that will help you gain good feelings about yourself and your life.
I hope that you are reading between the lines at this point and are aware that I'm saying much of what depression is about is learned. Therefore, not only can depression be unlearned, but you can teach yourself to prevent future serious episodes and to manage more effectively whatever episodes do occur so that they are less hurtful.