True Identity and Healing: Depression and the Unexplored Self
The devastating personal impact of depression may well lead us to open up the connection between depression and the unexplored self.
A creative approach to depression, rooted in the insights of /a-midlife-transition, may help us to gain freedom.
While there are those forms of depression which are chronic and physically based, much depression has its roots in our emotional life, and in the experiences which have touched our core selves, conscious and unconscious, remembered and unremembered. Very often, what makes depression so hard to move is those parts of the experience of depression which are locked away within us of which we are unaware.
Depth case studies, in seeking to deal with depression, will take us on a journey to the unexplored self. As we begin to unfold our story, and understand the roots of our depression, we move towards aspects of who we are of which we may have been unaware.
Where is Beauty and Reality?
One of the key roots of depression, as Jung often reminded those who sought his help, is being cut off from the instinctual roots of life. In many ways, shapes and guises, this feeling of being cut off, isolated, kept away from anything real in life, is one of the most often reported characteristics of depression.
This may manifest is in a perceived inability to experience anything as engaging or beautiful. And so, Jung would recommend to those suffering from depression that they re-connect to beauty, in whatever way beauty might speak to them.
Experiencing beauty, however beauty might come to us in its particular uniqueness, can reconnect us to the stream of life. This is an awareness found in many modern forms of therapy, such as Prof. Seligman’s positive psychology, but Jung and his followers put a particular interpretation on it that is quite striking. These /a-midlife-transitions emphasize that we learn something precious about the self through our unique experience of beauty. We are learning about the particular things that make our souls vibrate with life.
In an extreme way, when it is at its worst, and to a lesser but nonetheless potent degree when it is less extreme, depression can bring an atmosphere of unreality to our lives. The depressed individual can feel as if moving through interminable greyness. To move towards what we value brings reality back into our picture, connecting the manifestation of depression and the unexplored self.
Confronting the Depression Head-On
Another important approach is to confront the depression directly, dialoguing or wrestling with it strongly, to get at its fundamental meaning. While not easy, this can be very fruitful. As Jung himself said:
When the darkness grows denser, I would penetrate to its very core and ground, and would not rest until amid the pain a light appeared to me.
We could think of depression as an absence of psychological energy. However, the “missing” energy doesn’t simply vanish. It goes into the unconscious, activating unconscious contents such as fantasies, memories and wishes or yearnings. Yet to restore vitality to the individual, these unconscious materials need to be brought into consciousness and made part of our thinking, feeling and imagining. Again in Jung’s words,
Depression should therefore be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective. This can only be done by… integrating the [psychic contents] so activated into the conscious mind.
He is speaking of the integration of previously unconscious but energetic mental materials into the conscious mind. As Prof. Andrew Samuels reminds us, the process can often take the form of a conversion of a vague feeling into a more precise idea or image, to which the depressed individual can then relate.
This undamming of thoughts, yearnings feelings and emotions is often the place where depression and the unexplored self most strongly come together. Such a process can lead to genuine, deep renewal of the personality, and a potentially powerful release of personal creativity.
Depth case studies regards the evolutionary purpose of much depression — its goal, if you will — as the integration of hitherto unknown aspects of ourselves with the conscious mind.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst