By Ross Bishop
I am going to assume that you have in place a program to deal with the biochemical aspects of your depression. Without that, dealing with the depression is possible but as you probably know, it can be very difficult. Hopefully by now, the fog of depression has begun to lift for you.
Depression is a defensive system designed to isolate you from the world. And until your inner child knows differently, she will consider you to be part of that external world. Until she knows that you are there to love, care for and protect her, she isn’t going to move. So when you go inside, if you encounter difficulties or if you find the work to be challenging and frustrating, try and understand the difficulties she faces. Don’t let that stop you or worse, contribute to your depression. The methods I am going to offer you will work, but they must be applied earnestly and rigorously, and the process is not fun. The good news is that you will finally be able to leave your debilitating depression behind.
If you recall from Part I of this series, depression is a secondary condition: a response to the adult’s unwillingness to address the pain carried by the inner child. You have not wanted to address this pain in the past, and it’s not going to be high on your “list of things I really want to do right now” either. Let’s look at what that is about.
First, the pain your inner child carries is substantial. It may be the result of significant trauma as from sexual abuse, or more typically, it would result from years and years of put-downs or rejections that ground down your ego. Whatever your situation was, for the purpose of treating your depression we are going to treat the end result in either case as similar. The pain, whatever itâs origin, was substantial.
It is easy to understand how someone who has been traumatized could have powerful residual feelings and would not want to go back into them. Things can be more difficult to understand when we try to evaluate the damage that comes from years of chipping away at a child's fragile ego. By way of analogy, consider someone who is frightened of snakes or spiders. A person who is afraid of going back into childhood pain is afraid in the same way that another person will fear a spider or a snake. The “spider” or “snake” that this person fears will take the form of a certain kind of personal interaction (or lack of it) that caused them considerable childhood pain. The "snake" that they fear is as real as one that wiggles.
Whatever the combination of factors that created the feelings, what is inside is very painful and the inner child will be very reluctant to go back in and address it (even though she knows that she must if she is to heal). Without the adult’s love and support, the child knows that change is almost impossible, so she wraps herself in isolating depression and disappears.
Unless you share a person's fear, it can be difficult to understand them. That is why only a fool will say to such a person, “There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s all in your head.” The snake probably won’t bite them either, but that totally misses the point and dismisses their feelings. Conventional psychological theory holds that something happened to this child to make her fear this creature. And of course, that does happen. But it is more likely that she holds a fear of entities that take the form of snakes or spiders. And in that way, the two fears (the fear of creatures and the fear of one's inner pain) are actually quite similar, but that’s another discussion.
Let’s look at this situation by way of an example: Assume that this child’s mother was emotionally distancing. She wasn’t there for the child and could not/did not give the child the love she needed. Repeated again and again over many years, the impact of this behavior would be devastating on the child’s sense of self worth. It does not matter that the unloving message really had nothing to do with the child. It was mother's stuff, but a child is unable to discern that. All the child knows is that the love that she hoped to have was not there and she will then do as all children do - blame herself. This child would become convinced that she was unlovable and defective. She would assume that her mother's behavior was because of some flaw or failing on the child's part. It would become her fault. She wouldn’t know why, but she would be certain that there was something wrong with her.
If the girl's father were still in the picture, he would have rationalized not being loved by his wife long ago, and would not be in much of a position to help the child. So the child's feelings of unworthiness would be reinforced. In addition, there would not be a process through which the child could deal with or resolve her feelings. The family environment would not have encouraged, in fact it would have actively discouraged, the resolution of emotional issues. She was powerless, not in control of her life and had few resources with which to address what was happening. All this would exert considerable pressure on her to repress what she was feeling.
She would then go out into the world (school) believing that this emotional burden that she carried was true. And, she would have acted accordingly. When others then reacted negatively to her, her feelings of defectiveness would have surfaced and been once again confirmed, reinforced and strengthened. She would feel terrible and would be forced, once again, to hide her feelings where no one could find them. She would most likely choose to avoid or act out (or both). These behaviors would become her defenses, and in time they would turn into a way of life. This would create additional feelings of shame and unworthiness. By some sort of “normal standard” we would judge her fear of being hurt to be excessive.
Situations like this are not uncommon in our society and by themselves do not create depression. But in this case, there was an additional dimension. Her feelings were so strong that they overwhelmed her. In fact, they were so overwhelming that to this day, she dares not touch them. This is her “spider” or "snake" and her fear of it can be quite powerful.
What happened to her was unfortunate, but the prohibitions against dealing with her feelings are what set this child (later adult) up to be depressed. Separating our example into two parts will help illustrate this important distinction. I will refer to the mother’s lack of love as the “originating condition.” Note that this is a relationship issue. The child’s feelings of being overwhelmed and her fear to address those feelings is actually a different issue from the originating condition. The overwhelm reaction becomes intertwined with the originating condition and is easy to overlook. The feelings of overwhelm will create an avoidance barrier. The distinction between the originating condition and the overwhelm may seem subtle, but the difference is significant. Each presents its own set of issues, which need to be addressed.
Each person will eventually have to deal with their originating condition as their adult lives fail to give them the happiness they desire. It must be this way. The Universe cannot permit feelings of shame or unworthiness to exist without pushing on the people holding them to make changes. No one likes the process, but that’s the way the Universe works.
However, for a significant subgroup of people, the situation is made more difficult because they must first face, and then overcome, the prohibitions raised by their feelings of overwhelm. It is only after they have addressed these feelings and the attendant fears that they will be able to address the originating cause. Often the challenge is simply too great, and they abandon the hope of ever going deeply inside. If this leads to long-term avoidance, these people virtually guarantee that they will spin down into depression.
The originating condition (the mother's lack of love) needs to be addressed, but we must get past the feelings of overwhelm before we can do that. So if you are prepared, the first thing that you need to do is to recognize and accept that you are carrying a fear of going back into an old and painful place. You have avoided this place your whole life. By the way, in a very important sense, your depression is a way for your inner child to get your attention regarding what you have (or have not) been doing.
Avoidance manifests in different ways. The most common thing we see is collapse: limited personal power, stifled passion, feelings of victimization and a fear-driven personality. Tight, rigid bodies, often overweight. Alcoholics, drug addicts and workaholics sitting on a mountain of frozen rage. Sometimes the rage is on or just below the surface. You can observe this in violent criminals, abusers, white-collar crooks or in people who fly off the handle at the slightest provocation.
If you belong to political or environmental organizations you will find “firebrand” people in them who are trying to find socially acceptable ways to channel their inner rage. Dysfunctional behavior always exists in polar opposites and the flip side of the firebrand is a group of people who have a difficult time seeing their problems. It’s everybody else’s fault as they live in a cloud of denial. Their personal lives are a litany of pain and failure, but they cannot understand how they got there. Since their parents loved them, it’s as though the problem must have descended from the sky. They confuse their parentsâ withheld conditional love with openly-given unconditional love. Most parents love their children, but whether that love is openly and freely given is an entirely different matter. However, this gives these people license to not have to look at their inner pain.
Notice that rage is an important aspect of the depressive condition. Your feelings were generated at a time when you had very limited coping skills, you were powerless and not in control of your life. You had few resources with which to address the situation, and the environment provided no support for doing that. You were angry and scared. Rage is a protective response. It is the cat caught in the corner, willing to scratch somebody to pieces in order to keep itself safe. It is a false front that can be composed of incredible sound and fury, whose purpose is to create psychological distance by an inner self that is convinced it can be easily crushed. Real anger brings us together, rage creates distance. It forces us apart. I have observed that most cases of arthritis, EI, MS and fibromyalgia also have a significant rage component.
So you have a child inside who is hurt and scared, and has few tools with which to deal with her pain. Allow me to ask you a question: What would you do if you came into a room and found a frightened and scared child? How would you respond? Hopefully you would get down on their level, open your arms and your heart, and invite them into your love and protection. This is exactly what your inner child needs, and I am going to urge you to do the same thing with her.
Your first step will simply be to get to know her. Find some quiet time where you will not be disturbed. The best and safest way to do this is through the Shamanic Journey Process. (The process is explained in detail in either my book, Healing The Shadow, or in The Shamanic Journey CD). Using the Journey Process gives you freedom from outside (entity) influences. If you feel confident that you can reach her without doing that, then just go inside and ask her to come and be with you.
When she comes, introduce yourself, tell her who you are and that you have come to be her friend. Do not be surprised if you are met by a certain amount of reluctance or even resistance. You have avoided her for years, and she doesn’t know you. She also does not know whether she can trust you. She probably isn’t terribly keen on adults in the first place since they are the ones who hurt her, and for the moment you are one of “them.” She also doesn’t know how sincere you are. If you only show up when you need something, this relationship isn’t going to go very far.
Sometimes people cannot even find their inner children. If that happens, recognize this as a measure of how frightened the child was. It may also be an expression of a lack of trust in you. If you’ve been selling her needs down the river for years in order to please other people, expect to be greeted with skepticism, if not outright anger.
The most important thing you will do in this process is create a relationship of love and trust with her. If you remember the example of the frightened child in the room, your inner child needs to be held and protected. You can talk with her about issues, but donât rush things. Be satisfied on this first visit to simply make a connection with her. The bridge that you are building is going to have to carry some heavy emotional baggage, and we want it to be as strong as we can make it. We’ll get into specifics in a bit.
I want to ask you to make the creation of this relationship the most important thing in your life. I am not kidding. I will guarantee you that this will be the single most important thing you will ever do. Contact her at a minimum 50 to 60 times a day. Do this when you have a pause between things or when you’re walking down the hall, doing dishes, vacuuming, getting dressed, walking to the car, when you have a pause at work, just before you go to sleep or in the shower or tub, that sort of thing. Just take a moment and check in and see how she is doing, at least 50 times a day. Additionally, take a minimum of 10 minutes twice a day to be with her just to talk, be together and problem solve.
If she is doing OK, then that’s great. But, if she is scared or upset, you need to deal with what she is feeling. Talk with her. Find out what she is afraid of or upset about. Feelings of powerlessness, fragility, fear and anger will constellate on the surface as you work with her because that is what she knows. Remember also that she may not know you. Nor does she appreciate that conditions are different than when she was a child. She also will not realize that you bring to her a great many resources that she did not possess. Explain these things to her.
If circumstances make it utterly impossible for you to deal with her in the moment, make a promise to get back to her as soon as you can, and honor that commitment. Remember, there is almost never a time that you cannot take a time-out to go to the bathroom. Don’t make other people or other situations more important than her needs. That’s the message she got from your parents, and you do not want to repeat that painful experience.
A good deal of what we want to accomplish is achieved simply by your being there for her. That’s why it is so important for you to show up a lot. The feelings of overwhelm caused her to wall off because she had nowhere to turn with her pain. Encourage her to share with you what she is feeling. We are not dealing with the originating condition yet, but we are breaking down the barrier of isolation she had to create around it. By making her important and worthwhile, you give her an unmistakable message that the undesirable things she believes about herself are not true. When you tell her how wonderful and special she is, you challenge the conclusions she drew about herself from her early experiences. You give her a way out.
Be aware that this is an area fraught with emotional land mines and obstacles. If she is outwardly aggressive to you, and especially if her eyes flash, assume that she has allowed herself to be taken over by a negative entity. This is a measure of how threatened she felt and how desperate she was for some kind of protection. We’ll talk about entities in a moment, but if you run into trouble, call me (505-473-9127) and schedule a private session so we can clear the obstacles and get you on your way.
In Healing The Shadow I wrote about The Hero/Heroine’s Journey and an old Serbian fairy tale/folk tale called “The Prince and The Dragon” (p. 250). I urge you to go back and re-read that story, only this time; see the dragon as your repressed and depressed inner self. And watch what happens as the Prince, through his courage and love, creates a relationship with the dragon. This is the truth our ancestors understood that has largely been lost to us today.
I want to talk about the role that entities play in depression. When a child is frightened and feels emotionally abandoned by her adult protectors, she will accept the protection of one or more entities. An entity has no power of its own, but can persuasively influence the child’s thinking. The entity’s job is to keep the child from harm by encouraging her to feel badly about herself so that she will avoid life situations that seem threatening. Thus the child will stay in a self-defeating posture and will not stick her head above the trench and be wounded (again).
Entities are behind the withdrawing and distancing behaviors (shame, self-doubt, self-criticism, self-hatred, memory loss, etc.) that cause depressed people to pull away from other people, hide in isolation to avoid life, while crushing themselves with self-deprecation. Entities also drive the injurious behaviors that sometimes accompany depression.
Depressed people spend most of their time preoccupied with dismal thoughts about themselves, the world around them, and their future. They are filled with thoughts of being worthless, reprehensible, despicable, burdensome, and doomed. If something bad happens, it is automatically their fault, a sign of personal inadequacy, and proof that nothing will ever work out right. Alternatively, if something good happens, it is just a coincidence.
With depression we also see an incessant, destructive, condemning, self-chatter. And God forbid, that they should actually do something wrong! If they do make a mistake, the inner hounds from hell will tear them into indistinguishable little pieces of trash.
This is all entity influence. It is important for you to realize that even though these behaviors may seem counterproductive, from the perspective of the wounded, powerless, unworthy child, they are necessary. This is why your relationship with her is so important. With your love, she will no longer need to withdraw in order to survive.
It may take some talking and cajoling on your part, but she will come around. Keep in mind that she wants out of this situation as much as you do. She doesn’t like the entities; she simply had no other choice. You must let her know that no matter what happens in the external world, you will be there to love her and care for her. If you have to tell her this a thousand times before she gets it, be willing to do so. I will say again, make nothing outside yourself more important than your relationship with her. We want her to understand that if the entire world went to hell in the next moment, you would still be there to love and support her. No matter what. No ifs, ands or buts.
Entities can only remain through her permission. And, if they do stay around it is because she has decided that she needs them. As long as she is keeping them here, she is making a statement that something is not complete in her relationship with you. Talk with her about what she needs and what she is not getting. Then take corrective action.
When she agrees to release the entity, then envision it as being lifted off and away from her. Send it back up to where it came from. Make sure that everything associated with it goes too. There are some other things that you can to do that will help your depression a great deal:
1) Do not be alone, either literally or psychologically. Do not isolate yourself. Depression feeds on isolation. If you have friends, spend time with them, regardless of how you feel. Tell them what you are going through and ask for their support. If you have a special friend who won’t judge you, talk candidly with them about what you are feeling. Tell them what is going on for you. This can be a difficult step for depressed people, but it is a very important part of the healing process.
It is the telling and the willingness to tell, that is important. Speaking about the pain helps you to heal. I offer this next idea with some reservation, but try to really listen to what your friends have to say. It is very likely that their view of the truth may be clearer than yours is right now. Depressed people usually don’t want to hear what others have to say because the truth conflicts with the unreal self-image that depression creates. It’s one of the reasons that depressed people isolate themselves.
If you do not have friends, then reach out into the community. Ministers have dedicated their lives to helping people like you, and you don’t have to belong to their church. Or, in the alternative, find a good therapist. Community organizations provide programs of all kinds and just getting involved or doing something can be very useful. Make quilts or join a book circle or do something political or environmental. Find a 12-step program. It matters less what you do than that you do something to get out of your isolation and get your energy moving.
2) Exercise. Exercise or movement of any kind is a great help for depression. Even if it is only to get out and walk around the block, do it. Get out in the air and the sun and get your energies moving. Do some yoga, put on a CD and move with the music, find a Tai Chi class.
3) Keep to a regular schedule, especially around sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. When you do get up, shower or bathe and get dressed. A regular schedule of even simple things is important. If you are not sleeping well, hold to your regular sleep schedule and then nap during the day.
4) Watch out for the “all or nothing” thinking that can be so prevalent in depression. When you feel the dark voices start to rumble, sit with her. Find out what’s going on with her. What is she afraid of? Something will have triggered her fear so that she felt a need to distract you. See what she needs. Work with her until you get a resolution. Do the same thing with the destructive or negative voices you hear.
5) Complete things, even small things. Completing small jobs around the house will help you to feel better. Doing mundane tasks, if they have a positive result, will actually increase your serotonin levels! Do something that you enjoy (or that you used to enjoy), even if you don’t particularly feel like it today. Don’t set yourself up for failure, but reconnecting with what you like to do can be very helpful.
There are a number of forms of depression such as manic, bipolar or borderline conditions that have unique qualities separating them from straight depression. These require different approaches than those presented here, but all forms of depression will benefit from the creation of a strong relationship with your inner child.
The steps we have taken thus far in dealing with depression have not taken us into the originating cause, although what we have done will help you a great deal when it comes time to do that. When you feel that the relationship with your inner child has deepened to the point that you can take on the originating condition, by all means do so. There is a good deal of material on how to do this in both Healing The Shadow, and The Shaman's Path To Inner Peace videos..
"Without emotion, man would be nothing
but a biological computer. Love, joy,
sorrow, fear, apprehension, anger,
satisfaction, and discontent provide
the meaning of human existence."
Arnold M. Ludwig—1980
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