Depression is a Symptom Not a Cause – An Empathic Response

Psychologically-based depression (sometimes referred to as ‘classic depression’, ‘clinical depression’ or ‘major depressive order’ (MDD)) is not an illness but the symptomatic expression of unhealed historical and psychological trauma and psycho-spiritual imbalance.

This general form of depression is essentially a symptom of unexpressed, suppressed and repressed sadness and anger.

When someone shares they are feeling ‘depressed’ what they are really saying is “I am feeling hurt” and/or “I am feeling angry.” Anger covers hurt – hurt covers anger.

Depression can paralyse and polarise the ‘sufferer’ into states of fear, impotence, apathy, disconnection, self-loathing, self-sabotage, self-destruction, and self-imposed isolation: It is ‘anti-social’ and ‘anti-relational’.

To feel ‘depressed’ is to feel ‘deeply-pressed’ inside; to ‘push down’ the memories of its fundamental cause – psychological trauma. It is the result of having deeply repressed primary emotions such as sadness, grief, hurt, rage, outrage and anger; deeply suppressed experiences of overriding disempowerment, overwhelming powerlessness, indefensible, reprehensible and unconscionable acts imposed by an external ‘power-over’. It is the unexpressed ‘highly distressing’, ‘intolerable ongoing’; symptomatology of having suffered (great) loss/es not yet fully grieved and mourned.

When we recognise that the roots of this type of depression are to be found in stories of unhealed historical and psychological trauma, exacerbated by ongoing intense personal challenges, we can begin to realise what we need in order to support us to heal and integrate the causes.

One exceptionally supportive way is through conscious communication in form of enlightening inner-dialogue; through opening our heart to a profoundly compassionate and infinitely wise friend; and/or by committing to ongoing exploratory psychotherapeutic conversations with an aptly skilled psychotherapist.

The following narrative is an example of a facilitative and healing communication between the ‘Self/I’(authentic and integrated) and the ‘self/ego’ (adapted and wounded) set out in the format of ‘therapist’ and ‘client’. It serves as an example of the type of dialogue that may prove conducive and beneficial for accessing repressed and suppressed painful emotions. Its emphasis is on the ‘initial step’ one can take in support of the acknowledgment of repressed/suppressed emotions and how instrumental it is to encourage ourselves or another to simply ‘BE’ with them. Eugene Gendlin’s ‘Focusing’ speaks to this in terms of dialoguing with the emotion/feeling by simply stating “Yes, I know you are there.” This one sentence can initiate a process of core emotional healing and therefore release one from the condition and grip of ‘depression’.

At the early stage of enquiry in terms of the dialogue to follow, first-level healing is not to be found in the ‘doing’ or probing into the ‘why’ or ‘how’, (this comes later), but in the mere seeking of ‘what is there’ … the allowing of the emotions to be seen and heard, validated and held, by one (Self and/or appropriate other) who is able to remain unconditionally present in unconditional Love.


(Self/I) – “How are you feeling?”

(self/ego) – responding – “I feel depressed.”

(self/ego) – “Why am I feeling depressed?”

(Self/I) – “And how does that feel to you … to feel ‘depressed’?”

(self/ego) – reacting – “I told you … I feel depressed … catatonically depressed.”

(Self/I) – “Are you feeling angry?”

(self/ego) – defensively – “No!”

A moment’s silence …

(self/ego) – despondently – “Perhaps irritated … a little angry even … I don’t know why …”

(Self/I) – “Can you allow yourself to just feel what is there?”

A long pause ensues …

(Self/I) – in a sensitively timed response … “How are you feeling now?”

(self/ego) – “Numb. Depressed. Hopeless.”

(Self/I) – after a considered pause – “What else is there?”

(self/ego) – “Pain … Despair … Disillusionment … Depression” … I am so sick of feeling depressed …

(Self/I) – And, how does that make you feel?

(self/ego) – “Melancholic … miserable … at times suicidal … Yeah … maybe some anger is there …”

(Self/I) – sensitively enquiring following a further few moments of silence – “Are there any other feelings you are aware of?”

(self/ego) – softer and less reactive – “Yes … sadness. I feel sad … Tearful even … I don’t know why …”

(Self/I) – “It is okay … you don’t need to know why right now … just allow yourself to feel … to be with the emotions.”

(self/ego) – “But if I knew why, I could get rid of the depression …”

(Self/I) – “We can explore its origins and cause another time … for now, try to just sit with the feelings … for as long as that is comfortable for you …”

Another long silence …

(Self/I) – “Would you like to share how you are feeling now?”

(self/ego) – “Depressed … Sad … Without hope.”

Further silence … allowing more space for feeling …

(Self/I) – “Can you reach out to the feeling of “without hope”? And … only if it feels comfortable to do so … can you gather all the other feelings around ‘without hope’? Ie;‘depressed’/angry/numb/melancholy/miserable/pain/rage/despair/sad/tearful … so that “without hope” is in the centre surrounded by the other feelings …?”

Another lengthy pause …

(self/ego) – “Yes, they are all there … and ‘without hope’ is in the middle surrounded by them …”

(Self/I) – “Okay … keep checking in with yourself to ensure you are comfortable … if not, let’s talk about that okay?”

(self/ego) – “Okay …”

(Self/I) – “I would now like to very gently step forward into view of all these emotions … would that feel comfortable for you? It is okay to say “no” if you need to …”

(self/ego) – “Yes … it’s okay …”

(Self/I) – “I am very gently and slowly going to step into view now. Can you see me? Are you still comfortable?”

(self/ego) – “Yeah, I see you … it still feels comfortable … but don’t step any closer …”

(Self/I) – “You have my word that I will remain right here.”

A long silent pause as self/ego feels into the presence of Self/I … experiences being visible … and the gentle, compassionate and respectful presence of Self/I.

(Self/I) – “How are you feeling?”

(self/ego) – “Calmer.”

(Self/I) – “Is there anything you need?”

(self/ego) – “To feel safe … happy.”

self/ego begins to quietly cry.

(Self/I) – “Is there anything you need in this moment? Anything I can do to support you right now?”

(self/ego) – “Stay close” … “Don’t leave us …”

(Self/I) – “I will stay right here. I could set up a little peace camp with a white peace flag … Would that feel okay for you?”

(self/ego) – “Yes … but over there where you are …”

Self/I sets up camp while self/ego looks on.

(Self/I) – sitting in a lotus position in front of the little white tent with the white peace flag quietly flapping on the gentle breeze… “Is this okay?”

(self/ego) – “Yes.”

(Self/I) – “How are you feeling now?”

(self/ego) – “Safer.”

(Self/I) – “What do you most need now?”

(self/ego) – “To sleep. I am tired.”

(Self/I) – “I can only imagine how tired you must feel. But you can rest now knowing you are safe and that I am watching over you. If you need me, I am right here.”

(self/ego) – yawning but still a little anxious – “It is okay to rest?”

(Self/I) – empathically reassuring – “Yes, it is. You can rest deep and sound. I will ensure you are safe and protected.”

(self/ego) – more anxious – “But what about the depression?” And what do I do with all the emotions that have gathered? And what do I do with ‘without hope’?

(Self/I) – with great tenderness and understanding – “Tonight you all need to rest deeply. Tomorrow … the next … or the day after that … whenever you feel ready … we shall begin the process of uncovering … hearing … releasing … and healing. You are not alone anymore. I am here and will stay with you from now on to support, protect and guide you. All is well and all shall be well. Sleep deeply now. You are safe.”

self/ego lay its head down and covered itself in a soft white blanket, a gift Self/I had given to it earlier. All of the other emotions lay down as well … waiting for self/ego to close its eyes … so they could also rest … trusting they were all safe and protected under the unconditionally loving and watchful gaze of Self/I.


‘Depression’ needs a voice:

– It needs to feel compassionately seen and heard.

– It needs to feel deeply understood.

– It needs to be empathically witnessed in its pain and anguish.

– It needs to feel unconditionally loved and held.

– It needs to feel safe enough to speak the unspeakable: In order to heal first we must feel and express what deeply ails us.

– It needs to scream, shout, let it all out, weep, wail and flounder, in an appropriate way (ie not projecting onto another) and in an appropriate setting (somewhere safe and private).

– It needs to fall to the ground and writhe, rage and sob, and be lovingly affirmed and witnessed.

– It needs to express its deepest fears and anxieties, its most painful emotions, all the while being held by the ‘Self’ or ‘other’ in ‘unconditional positive regard’.

The ‘self/ego’ need to be liberated from the suppression and repression that for too long has kept it locked in unconscious patterns of survival. As this process unfolds it will begin to loosen its rigid boundaries of physical, emotional, mental and energetic defence.

The emotions of anger, hurt, rage, grief, outrage, and deep sadness need to be healed and transformed reverentially … and this is only made possible by the greatest healer of all – LOVE.

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