This is a continuum in a series of posts on Living With Depression. In Pt.1 I talked about the experience of depression, what depression is, where or how it begins. This post will focus on the fundamental activity or posture to begin to reintroducing the movement of life back into ourselves and continuing to develop one’s sense-of-self that is lacking. This movement and sense of life are found in our feelings and sensations within the body.
To begin, let’s delve into some vital questions that initiate the process of turning towards ourselves:
How do I personally contribute to my life?
What don't/do I like about myself?
Am I ready to be affected by another?
Do I feel or sense something in my body in sitting with these questions?
What Does “Turning Towards” Mean?
Within depression, our primary activity of regaining our sense of life, movement, and self is found in turning towards our experience of things - and concurrently ourselves. Turning towards is an act of active readiness to engage in closeness, to be vulnerable, touched, and moved by a thing, person, or event. An aspect of self-transcendence and the feeling that we are ready to be touched and moved by ourselves and by others.
As selfish as this may sound, it's not.
Coming back to the example of the sunny January day in the Pacific Northwest of Seattle in Pt. 1, it is not the sun itself that we like, but the feeling that we get from turning towards and taking up relationship with our experience of the sun.
Remember, this could be anything; the smile of someone passing us on the street, an interaction or task at work, a pair of nice shoes, an aesthetically pleasing dimension of someone, a flower found blooming between cracks in the pavement.
It’s not just the pleasurable things, it’s also the hard ones too. Challenges are a part of life as well. It is the same in a relationship with ourselves – as we build connections with ourselves we eventually experience pleasure from turning towards ourselves as we do from turning towards the sun. This sense of pleasure or that which re-engages the lost inner motion of life that's prevalent in depression comes back when we turn towards and take up relationship with our senses in the question of “What do I experience when … “
What do I experience:
As I’m laying in bed with my partner and I kiss them on the shoulder?
After I finish a work-out with my friends?
When I leave my work at the end of my work week?
During a quarterly work evaluation?
When someone is expressing their anger with me?
When I receive news of the death of a friend or family member?
A huge side point here which I’ve found so fascinating in my work and life, is that most people can't even describe what it’s like to kiss someone. I’m not suggesting to go and take some notes in the moment, but it’s an invitation to engage your senses in the moment. Begin to bring texture and a sense of lively, detailed, and palpable aesthetics to your memory. That's sensuousness that’ll really move yourself and another.
What is it within us that is beckoning our attention to turn towards? What is necessary to take up, turn towards, and take up relationship with ourselves? The short answer: willingness and capacity to introduce a measure of vulnerability in relationships – the ability to give and allow ourselves to be touched by another human being or thing in our life. The ingredients of closeness, time, and relationships intensify the movement and our sense of aliveness in life.
Turning Against the Self and Depression
The process of turning against the self is associated with depression. It is the process by which one develops the inner critic that further develops negative attitudes about the self, particularly about how one feels – not only that one experiences negative feelings, but one also develops a powerful negative evaluation of these feelings.
For example, as one lays in bed, unmotivated to get up and feeling sadness and a sense of loss over something in life. They feel shame for not getting up and moving and thus begin to judge the feeling. When they themselves are the very thing they need to turn towards to begin to move forward. This is what the psychoanalytic community talks about within the depression that it’s an act of violence against the self.
In other words, not only do you feel bad: you perceive yourself to be bad because of these feelings and, as a consequence, you turn against yourself. As one turns against the self, they experience more and more negative emotions, which leads to more frustration from the inner critic and one falls into a cycle of self-loathing, guilt, shame and disturbance.
Depression is a response to the painful experience of the loss of the self. The more we distance or avoid these feeling of loss and sadness, as we lay in bed, the more we begin to cultivate a depression.
Do I feel like my inner experience and feelings have been acknowledged?
In my upbringing was I allowed to have my feelings and experience of things?
How to do we begin to reverse this cycle of turning against ourselves and our emotional experiences?
The Importance of Social Interactions
Our ability to turn towards others, or the world, will mimic our capacity to turn towards ourselves. And our ability to turn towards ourselves will mirror our self-awareness and the amount we've been turned towards. Which is why the nurturing environment early in life is so vitally important to cultivate our sense of self. This is one of the cornerstones in psychotherapy where we receive the experience of turning towards by the therapist.
How much was I turned towards in life?
Who do I currently have in my life that helps me turn towards?
I’ve sat across from clients and looked them in the eye with compassion and care that can be felt in the room as they’ve shared something painful, and in checking in with them after the moment to see how it was for them, for me to be there with them, they’ve said, “it absolutely terrifies me to look you in the eye in that moment.” It’s so hard to receive an experience of turning towards when we’re interacting with those extremely painful parts of ourselves. Carl Rogers called it “unconditional positive regard” – the basic acceptance and support of another being.
This is why the question of "What are you feeling?" and identifying your feelings with another person is so important.
In relationships, others might acknowledge our implicit or explicit emotions within our interactions and stories. Interactions help locate ourselves and the forming of the "I", or self that is so lacking. These interactions get the wheel or motion going.
For the individual struggling with depression, getting the wheel turning could be as simple as going for a walk. When our flow of life is diminished, we have to meet ourselves and the other where they are, without pressure. Think of it as undamming a river: you don't just take the dam down all at once.
When I look back in my life - what feelings dominate within me in the issue of relationship?”
To turn towards the other human being, we need to open up to the being of another and be accessible to one another – to be emotionally connected and recognize another in their own being. As an athlete recovers from an injury, he doesn't pick back up where he left off, he starts over. “This is where I am, and I feel sad that I’m not where I was, but this is me.” Part of recovering from depression is not just allowing the feelings, but also accepting them and what ones new reality is. The reality is that you’re not where you once were, and there is grief there. Grief is another critical piece of this process that we’ll get to later on. When we grieve we come to terms with what is.
The Results: Momentum and Renewed Life
The more I stand in an established relationship and have internalized good relationship, the easier it is to experience the results of turning towards. Likewise, the more I feel alone, the harder it is to take up a relationship. Relationships offer protection in which attention and framework are established. They offer a bridge to others and a common horizon of understanding. In a zest for life, there is an openness for myself. The relationship for self is established.
This is a deep and microscopic view of this relationship and how they make us feel alive and accepted, but coming back to the sun, it is an-other. I allow myself to be touched by another, and also draw closer to myself. Same as noticing a flower coming out of the pavement, or the smile of someone walking by us, a pair of nice shoes, an aspect of our job or relationships, or an attractive physical attribute of another – in turning towards the sun, or any of these other things, we feel something. That is us. "I" am feeling that”.
As I read this, I, feel _______?
What’s my story of sharing myself with others?
What is it that I’ve been touched by today?
On a personal note, what I can say is that through a little bit of practicing this on a daily basis, in addition to the body work that I’ll talk about next month, it can get to the point to where life is absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring. Life will never ever be boring again. We go about life being touched by so many things. We begin to experience life as a roaring river full of power, beauty, and inspiration. It’s amazing.
All material is my own personal adaptation and conceptualization of my training in Existential Analysis. Because this was such a big topic within to tackle with so much vital information I’ve had to cut it into two posts.
The next post will be coming out the first week of March and will primarily focus on the role and importance of our body in this fundamental activity of turning towards within depression.