I’ve been learning a lot listening to interviews with Dr. Gabor Maté. He often asks a simple question: What does the word DEPRESSION mean? To push down. He talks about how depression stems from the pushing down, the suppression of feelings. The inability to express emotions. Or the fear of expression. The sense of not feeling safe to express emotions. He talks about how humans are social creatures and we rely on our social network for feelings of safety and comfort. When we are young, we look to our caregivers for those feelings of safety and contentment. Before the age of 2 our brains are wiring in a way that reflects the kind of care we receive. Our attachment to others in adulthood is influenced by the first few years of our lives. He discuss the affects of “time out” when kids are “acting out” because there is a REASON behind the “acting out” and most of the time the child is looking for connection, not to be sent off alone to “deal” with emotions or “think” about their “mistakes”. They are looking to the adults on how to emote in safe and healthy ways. “Acting out” is because they do not yet have the words to articulate their feelings, so they “act”. And what if the adult is arguing back, calling names, yelling or shutting down? Then this is the message the child will receive, that these are ways to cope with big feelings. And the cycle continues.
This resonates with me a lot. I have never understood why we send children off to be alone, to stew over how much they hate the person who sent them away. Children need connection. HUMANS NEED CONNECTION. And we have severely damaged our abilities to connect over decades and decades of “cry it out” and “self soothing” and telling kids to “stop crying”. (In other words- PUSH DOWN AND SUPPRESS YOUR FEELINGS) Some of you may even be rolling your eyes at that, but look around. Maté mentions how we are so quick to say “oh, it’s just human nature” when we are discussing jealousy, contempt or revenge, but you never hear someone say “that’s human nature” in response to empathy, expressing joy and kindness, which are still HUMAN NATURE.
Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh says “If our parents didn’t love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like? … The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money, houses, and land, but they may not be happy people. If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all.”
For me, the process of therapy involves learning how to trust feelings of happiness. It’s all about trust. Trusting my self so that I can also trust others. Loving my self so that I can also love others. Learning how to rewire my old coping that I developed very young with healthier more loving ways of being. Being a very sensitive person, it’s easy to get swallowed up by all the darkness, the meanness, the suffering.
I think that going through this "recovery" process (re-discovering my SELF) that it shines an EVEN bigger light on all of the suffering. In witnessing how one has been coping with suppressing emotions, you see how others are doing the same all around you. One of the habits I am trying to break is to constantly say to myself, or to end a long conversation with “I don’t know”….because in fact I DO know, I am just now learning how to listen.
Thich Nhat Hanh also says “When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness. Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”
I think the search for understanding is what keeps me going. So I suppose, if I am listening to Nhat Hanh, then I am also searching for love. I search by spending hours on a painting, or getting sucked into a memoir. Listening to the wisdom of those who have come before me and those that are on a similar search. Challenging myself to draw when I have told myself I cannot, or giving my full attention to my child. What keeps you going? A search for truth? A search for Joy? When the world can feel so crushing, what sustains you?
In the recent and wonderful interview between Marianne Williamson and Dr. Gabor Maté, Marianne asks Gabor, Do you have hope? He responds “I’m not interested in hope. I don’t know what’s going to happen. What I do know is that I’m here now and you’re here now. And the question is what possibility is present in this very second? For you and I and everybody else who is listening, whoever they are. She, He, They. Whoever they are. What possibility exists in the present moment? For them, for all of us, to bend the future in a humane and loving direction?”