Experiencing True Sadness and Using Anger Work to Overcome Depression

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Do you find yourself suffering from depression? Usually depression results from some sort of trauma that has not been fully addressed. There are only two emotions that can help you overcome it. One is sadness and the other is anger. Sadness and Anger heal; depression does not.   Sadness can be a very effective vehicle for healing. The only problem with sadness is that it is such a short leap from there to depression. Depression can keep a person stuck in the same place for years without any progress. Unfortunately, many people find the difference between sadness and depression obscure at best, and they often vacillate between the two. I encourage you to be very careful of depression because this is a thought disorder and it has an addictive quality. Depression actually prevents a person from getting better and can be a defense against real feelings.   True sadness is when you reflect on the negative event, cry, and grieve over what happened. Afterward you feel a little bit better. Each time you feel sadness, you are one step closer to being well. Real sadness heals. Depression, on the other hand, is when you get into a downward spiral of negative thinking. It is wallowing in feelings of hopelessness. Depression only hurts and destroys. After an episode of depression you do not feel any better. It does not cleanse you. In fact you are likely to feel worse because of decisions you made while you were depressed.   It usually starts by dwelling on the event, but soon goes beyond sadness about what happened and begins to color your attitude in a broader sense. Depression is characterized by negative self-talk including guilt-laden and hopeless messages. For example you may tell yourself X happened because ?I?m so stupid? or keep repeating inside your head, ?It?s all my fault.? Whether it is or not, that is not going to heal you.You may even start assigning significance to the event beyond the appropriate scope. For example telling yourself ?I will never be happy again? or ?I don?t deserve to be happy? because of the failure of a particular relationship or effort to reach a goal. Or maybe your self-talk takes a less personal tone such as ??The world sucks!? ?People are cruel!? ?You can?t trust anyone!? ?Life is meaningless? or ?I want to die!??   An example of healthier self-talk would be: ?Oh! this hurts so badly! I really messed up. I hate it when I mess up.? Then try to do some ?Anger Work.? Beneath depression lies anger, so if you can get in touch with that feeling, you will more likely heal. Positive self-talk can sound like this: ?I am going to make really sure this doesn?t happen again because I don?t like the way this feels.? If your pain is caused by something out of your control, then you can tell yourself, ?This too shall pass, and I will survive somehow, and someday things will look better again.? In the mean time do Anger Work to keep from falling into depression.   Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate the difference between sadness and depression.An example of healing sadness: When I was younger, I purchased a beautiful Himalayan kitten from a man who was advertising them in the local newspaper. Because the owner did not have any registration papers, he was inexpensive and I was thankful. I named my kitten Tibet and we quickly fell in love. The first night when he came home he had so many fleas that I had to give him three baths in order to kill them. Tibet was so traumatized that he spent the whole night sleeping on my neck to feel safe. I had a major exam coming up the next day and could not sleep a wink!   We became great buddies and spent immeasurable amounts of time together studying. Tibet would always sit on my book or papers as I worked. For two years he was a member of my family. He and I even had a special song: we would dance to it ever time we heard it on the radio.   Then one day I came home and Tibet was walking very strangely. It was clear that he was not feeling well. I rushed him to the vet, but he died that evening from feline leukemia. He had contracted the disease before he ever came home with me. I was both very sad and very angry. I thought about Tibet often during the day, and whenever our song came on the radio, I cried during the entire song. Slowly, I began to heal. Because of my intense love for Tibet, two years passed before I was finished grieving and could think of him without crying. I never forgot Tibet, but I did heal.  An example of depression: A patient of mine named Kim had lost her six month old baby, Kyle, to S.I.D.S. It had been four years since Kyle died and Kim could not get over the loss because she blamed herself. She kept telling herself that if she had only checked on Kyle instead of talking on the phone with her friend, he wouldn?t have died. Kim thought that the rest of her life would be filled with nothing but misery because of Kyle's death.   Her feelings of guilt drove her to depression and she saw no means of healing. Instead of being sad and grieving over the death of Kyle, she blamed herself over and over for his death. She had developed the habit of calling herself ?murderer? and ?killer? every time she made even a small mistake, like forgetting to water the plants. This anger turned inward left her depressed. She was punishing herself with abusive self-talk, and was beginning to entertain thoughts of suicide. She was caught in a vicious cycle of depression that was driving her further and further away from life and from her husband. That is when her husband intervened and brought Kim to my office. When Kim came to me, I helped her realize that her self-hatred was only fueling her depression and in no way healing her from her loss. Together we decided that her self-hatred and verbal abuse, which she was often not even aware of because the self-talk had become so automatic, needed to stop. She agreed to feel angry at God for taking her baby and stop blaming herself. She did Anger Work over her loss. She also visited Kyle?s grave and talked to him about how much she missed him. This, of course, brought tears of sadness, which helped Kim feel better, unlike her depression, which had only made her feel worse. Slowly Kim healed from the loss of Kyle and was able to forgive herself and God for his death. Now Kim and her husband have two more children and she is happy. She still thinks of Kyle from time to time, as I encouraged her to do after she finished therapy, but her depression is gone and her sadness only lasts while she is thinking of Kyle.  I repeat that I recommend Anger Work over sadness, for the bulk of your healing work. Certain situations like Kim?s lend themselves more to sadness than others. In these circumstances, part of the healing process is letting the tears flow. However, if the sadness starts to become overwhelming, it is time to get angry again. Anger work empowers you to stay out of depression.
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