Letter to a Depressed Client

Non-ordinary Advice for When Positive Thinking Isn’t Working

I suspect that the fact that I have not heard back from you since our last session means that you are still quite depressed. I know that is a painful place to be.

Your best chance for pulling out of this, I think, is to watch your thoughts.

Like many other people, you developed habits of thinking and feeling when you were young. These undoubtedly helped you survive abusive situations, but now these unconscious habits tend to define who you are and limit you from getting the happiness and fulfillment you want. Sometimes you even defend these critical self-judgments as true and offer evidence to prove it. Greater understanding of all this doesn’t help much. What we need is to find ways to help you quit doing this to yourself.

My suggestion is to pay attention to what you are saying to yourself. For example, if you catch yourself saying I’ll never find anyone to love me, take a moment to notice the sensations created in your body…probably discomfort of some sort. See if you can notice that the voice is not the same as who you are. Be vigilant about this. Try to notice each time it happens. At first, it will seem constant, but if you watch closely, I think you’ll notice that it sometimes lessens or quits when you are busy or asleep.

Stop assuming that this mean voice has any righteous authority. It isn’t God talking, nor the devil. It’s not your parents either, though they may have once said similar things to you. It is just old conditioning left over from a rough childhood. It’s just neurons firing in old, well-worn pathways. It is no more significant to who you really are than when your leg jerks as your doctor hits it with a little rubber hammer. It’s just the way the nervous system is wired. If you quit assuming the voice is “right” about you, then its negative influence over your life will decrease.

Here’s a great technique I learned from spiritual teacher, Gangaji. When the critical inner voice says something, answer it like this, “Ok, you’re probably right, I’ll never find anyone to love me. So what! “So what” confounds the mean voice. It is accustomed to you arguing or trembling in surrender to its mighty judgment. It is used to easily convincing you of your total unworthiness as a human being. It doesn’t know what to do with “so what”. Make “so what” your regular response each time you hear that voice say anything critical or mean to yourself. When the voice says, “nobody is going to want to hire me with my job history”, answer “ok, nobody is going to want to hire me with my job history. So what!” That’ll take the wind out of its sails.

Now remember that little bit of distance which opened up when you started noticing that the critical voice was not the same as who you are? But who are you? Ask yourself that seriously. Say to yourself, “Who am I? Who is experiencing this depression? To whom do these thoughts come? To me, yes. But who am I?” Quietly ponder that.

At first, the mind will want to answer with all of the usual roles in life, or with the qualities you have identified with. “I am a good guy, a beautiful woman, a lousy artist, a depressed person.” But if you look carefully, you’ll see that any description you can think of for yourself is merely a shell around who you really are. The mind knows it can’t answer this question, so it soon falls quiet. That’s a good thing, because that also slows or stops the critical voice.

Even with no answer available to this question, if you try asking it repeatedly and quietly listening for an answer, you may find that the distance between you and the critical voice opens up a little further and you may see clearly that you are not that mean voice. Nor are you the voice of your parents and their problems. Nor are you the voice of your boss, or of your culture, or of those who have not loved you the way you longed to be loved. These things do not need to be “figured out” and really cannot be understood. See if you can just feel the truth to which I am pointing. (Those readers curious to explore this question further are invited to click here.)

I know it can seem difficult to be kinder to yourself. When I was in grade school once, my Dad spoke harshly to me the words, “no wonder you don’t have any friends.” To this day I can’t remember anything about what was happening or why he said that, but this zinger went into me like an arrow to my heart. I remember thinking, “I didn’t know that I don’t have any friends, but he must be right and he says that it is my fault.” This affected my ability to make and keep friends for decades to come. Years later I did the healing work to realize he had been speaking from his own pain and that it didn’t mean anything about me. So I quit giving authority to that judgmental voice of his inside my head and my friendships began to flourish.

This is the sort of inner healing work I am encouraging you to do. “Encourage” is from the French word “Coeur” for heart and means to give heart to another, or to inspire with hope. I am well aware that this work of recovering from abuse and depression takes great courage and heart, as well as vigilance and paying attention. It is difficult, yes, but not as difficult as the continued suffering you experience when you believe in the obsolete, judgmental voices inside you. Good luck!

Your comments, questions, and stories are welcome below. I will respond.

Do you have private questions about the body-mind connection or about recovering from trauma, loss, or abuse? Click here to leave me a private message.

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Paul Chubbuck is a practicing psychotherapist in Fort Collins, CO, using Somatic Experiencing® to help people release trauma, abuse, and loss. He may be reached at 970-493-2958 or through his website at www.releasingthepast.com.

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