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Talking To Depression

Do you ever sit depression's butt down, and talk to them? It can be healing to sit with uncomfortable emotions and ask them: what are you needing?

This is something that meditation teachers: Sharon Salzberg and Tara Brach, discuss. In Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection, Salzberg explains how she sometimes offers her self-criticism tea and encourage that side of her to take a nap. In Brach's RAIN practice (recognizing our emotions, allowing them to be there, investigating where these feelings are in our bodies), nurture is where we get to practice self-compassion and ask difficult emotions: how can I support you in this moment? What do you need me to do or say to you?

I sometimes tell clients to imagine that these difficult emotions are like children who have lots of needs. And so, when the angry child shows up or the lonely child presents themselves or the sad child says hello, it's important to say hello, sit with them, and reflect on what they may be needing.

Depression tells us that we should stay in bed, ignore our loved ones, ignore our basic needs, and perceive the activities that have brought us lots of joy in the past as meaningless. I think when the depressed child shows up, it's going to be important to not only practice RAIN, but to also practice tender discipline--a term that writer Jocelyn K. Glei reflects on.

There are harsh criticisms. There's a meanness at times to the way that we talk to the parts of ourselves that we don't like. And warning, the negative self-talk ahead can be triggering. Maybe it sounds like "get the fuck out of bed, you piece of shit. You're so worthless. I can't believe you spent all day in bed. You have so much to do and you're ignoring everything. Are you proud of yourself? Why do you even bother?" It's been shown that talking to ourselves like this exacerbates our fight, flight, freeze response. We become even more paralyzed, more avoidant, more ashamed, more self-punishing.

Tender discipline is different because it wants you to treat yourself with the same kindness, patience, gentleness, and love that you would treat someone you really care about. It sounds like: "I know it's really hard to get out of bed right now. You had a tough week. You felt incompetent and unworthy. You felt like you weren't enough. I can totally see why you wouldn't want to function today. Let's stay in bed for another 30 minutes. And then, we'll brush our teeth, we'll make some food, we'll drink some water. We will also commit to calling one loved one, answering one e-mail, and taking care of one errand."

That might be a lot to commit to. It's my overachiever side coming out :D But, the goals are: to face ourselves more and to be kind with ourselves. At times, we're ashamed of certain parts of ourselves. The depressed child within us definitely experiences this shame. They just want to hide away from the world. But I think, even though they won't admit this, they also want to feel connected with others. They want to feel like someone gets them. In their anger, they choose to isolate and pretend that they don't need anyone. My hope is that you have someone in your contacts list who gets you, who accepts you, who you can call and share a laugh with. As you connect with this person, I do hope that the depressed child within you feels comforted and seen. If you don't have such a person, know that, although it's difficult, you can comfort that depressed child too.

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