Sometimes I Get Depressed

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

The Thinker in the Dark - A5

I consider myself a content person. I have a lot. I give a lot. I receive a lot. And yet, sometimes I get depressed.

Sometimes I don’t even know why. I check if there is a full moon, and there isn’t. I ponder what may have gone wrong throughout the day or the week, and there’s nothing.

For the longest time I have searched inside myself why I got depressed. Often it’s some residue of childhood wounds. Being left alone, neglected, yelled at – whatever. It’s part of being human. Everybody feels this way some time.

Often I tell myself to snap out of it. That others have real reasons to be depressed about, and may not even be depressed in the first place. Usually, that doesn’t help. It just makes me feel worse about myself.

But a couple of days ago, I seemed to start to understand what the purpose of this could be. Sadness is a universal feeling. Sadness is grief, sadness is loss, sadness is loneliness. No one is exempt from that.

Knowing that every single person on this planet knows sadness is a unifying and transformative thought. It creates compassion for others, and for oneself. There’s nothing wrong with being depressed sometimes, because it is the very definition of being human.

It doesn’t matter if there is a palpable reason or if it’s buried deep inside of you. Just knowing that it serves to understand one another better lifts me out of the muck of the heaviness a little.

Richard Rohr in his brilliance has given us another explanation for sadness: As soon as we start to do some soul searching (and if you hang around on Psych Central, you are one of us), we start to meet our shadow selves: those parts of us that had to accommodate and bend into a pretzel for the sake of others and our own survival. We created a false self that was made for the sake of others, but denies the existence of the real self.

So as soon as we start dealing with our authentic selves, the false self feels threatened and eventually gets depressed, because it knows that its game is over. “A certain degree of such necessary sadness is important to feel, to accept and to face” writes Rohr. “People who have never had no inner struggles are invariably both superficial and uninteresting.”  How comforting!

Of course, we do have to make the distinction between necessary suffering and a form of depression that is more a symptom of not facing ones shadow self. Lots of people go through the world never dealing with their issues and their losses and they will inadvertently get depressed because they never dare to confront their demons. This form of depression is a signal to deal with what has never been dealt with sufficiently.

 

Hartwig HKD via Compfight



What Is A Soulful Person

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

art collections designed

If there is a soul, what is that really? The term “soul” is usually monopolized by religions and implies an existence after death. In psychology, we use the word “Self”, that what we identify with as a whole. But are they different from each other, or do they mean one and the same?

The psychotherapeutic school of thought Internal Family Systems therapy is shining a new light on this question. The theory surmises that we all consist of a number of parts, as in “a part of me wants this” and “a part of me wants that”. Some of these parts carry a lot of feeling, and others are very detached and intellectual. Some see the world for what is is, and others want it to be different.

Very often, several of these parts are in conflict. That is what gets us into trouble. One part knows that it’s dangerous to eat that extra slice of pizza, but the other needs some comfort food and will try to overpower the first one. Then there’s another part that judges you for even being weak, and off we go into a merry-go-round of internal struggle.

And we go on and carry that internal tension into the world and cause more conflict with others who we then blame for whatever we can in order to get rid of the pain.

So it is important to sort out all the conflict we carry around inside to avoid misplacing it onto other people.

Many times, there are lots of parts involved in an epic internal battle for control and in an attempt to avoid pain. IFS theory, which was created by the psychologist Richard Schwartz, states as one of its goal to get all the parts to coexist in harmony with each other. If they all rally behind you, they play like an orchestra in tune with its conductor.

So there is the big question, who then conducts the cacophony of parts? It is the Self who is behind it all. The Self as it is is already calm and peaceful, deliberate and serene. It’s not the Self that gets us into trouble, but the parts that are constantly at war with each other.

Our task lies in getting in touch with that inner being that already knows what is right and good. Too often it is obscured by anxiety, sadness and doubt. The more of our parts are fighting to be in control, the harder it is to get through to that innate wisdom that we all carry within us.

Some people see this Self, which is healthy and led by equanimity, as the Soul. A presence that is timeless, reliably calm and detached from the daily drama that pulls us in many directions. A person who can be in touch with the Self throughout most days is what we call a soulful person: a personality of inherent beauty and serenity. Everybody has it. The only a task is to find it.

 

 

shankar gallery Richard Lazzara via Compfight



About These Annoying Seven Tips That Will Change Your Life

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

photo-17 Here’s what’s wrong with the seemingly endless and yet so fascinating lists of things that are either good for you or bad for you: They give me anxiety. Here’s this list about the 7 most compelling books I should read. And then there’s the one with the 10 most delicious dessert recipes without sugar. Even news organization now publish a daily list of “5 things to know for your new day”, covering everything from winter weather to the fighting in Ukraine. 

Every day I am bombarded with – probably even quite useful – information about all the things I am supposed to do better. The problem is: it’s too much.

Don’t get me wrong: I too am frequently drawn to articles headlined “5 Ways To Increase your Mental Strength” or “6 Breathing Techniques That Help You Fall Asleep”. I have read many fine articles by equally fine writers that contain helpful information about anything from healthy foods to why smiling is good for you. I even wrote an article some years ago about “5 Dating Tips for Introverts”.

The problem is: it doesn’t stick. I love reading what I could do to lose those five pounds or to make my brain stop forgetting random pieces of information. I go down the lists, thinking: yep, I know that already. Oh, that’s actually interesting. Wait, I haven’t thought of that one before.

But as soon as I click on another article I have already forgotten what 5-item-list I just read. The lists are a great seduction to lure us into the kind of bite-size infotainment that makes us believe we learn something new. But the brain doesn’t learn from reading 50 different things in as short a time as possible. It learns by repeating the same things over and over.

Some people say it takes 17 repetitions – for example to learn a new word in a foreign language, or get the hang of a new habit. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery, and how even geniuses like the Beatles had to practice in order to become really good musicians.

How many hours you need exactly, I don’t know. But I do know that the people in my psychotherapy practice need to address their issues over and over in order to change their behavior or how they feel about a certain situation. I know that changing your mind means changing your beliefs about yourself – and that may be a job of a lifetime.



Lying Awake at Night

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

Last night was one of those nights again. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning – maybe it was 3am, maybe it was 5am, I don’t know. I felt sad and uncomfortable. Something wasn’t right. What was it this time? Sometimes I wake up at night and I worry that I don’t have enough friends. Other times I am afraid I won’t have enough money in the long run to live the life I want to live.

Last night I felt concerned about one of the clients in my care who had arrived at an impasse. Was there something I hadn’t done for her? Was she mad about an intervention I had made? Did I not live up to my responsibilities?

As usual I started doing what I learned works best in these situations. I start to comfort that part of me that is afraid. I tell myself that everything will be all right. Like a child on my lap that is inconsolable, I tell myself that it’s ok. That there’s nothing to worry about.

It usually helps. Most of the time, I fall back asleep.

In the past I tried to push away the fears. As soon as I realized that I was anguished, I would repress the fear. No, it’s insubstantial. Nope, I don’t want to think about that. No way is this something I want to deal with right now

It backfired. Every time I dismissed my own fears, they would come back with a vengeance. I kept waking up, having the same concerns. Or I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. I felt worn out, tossing from side to side, starved for warmth and attention – from myself.

Until I finally started to realize that I have to actually do what I tell my clients: walk towards the fear. Look at it. Embrace it. Rock it side to side. Don’t repress it. It will get worse.

Millions and millions of people lie awake at night, worrying about their loved ones, about their mortality, about their future. You are not alone. Whenever your mind is in the grip of fear, remember, there are so many people who feel just as alone and scared and bleak as you do right now.

We are all in the same boat. When night falls and morning is about to break, we are at our most vulnerable. We lie alone with our thoughts with no one to talk to, fragile and full of sorrow. But you are not alone. You are a part of the human family. We all are afraid at times. We worry about things that seem meaningless once the sun comes out.

Fear is a part of being alive. It’s the flip side of courage, of heroism and resolve. Without fear, we would be complacent and stagnant. Welcome your fear. It is trying to relay a message that only you can decipher.

 

José María Pérez Nuñez via Compfight



Every Breath You Take

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

October 17, 2013 

Breath is the source of life. Ancient yogis have built much of their wisdom on how to utilize breathing not just as a spiritual practice, but also a means to enhance physical and emotional well being.

“Take a deep breath” has become a ubiquitous formula to meet many challenges: it’s a popular – and effective – go-to remedy to calm yourself down, to handle the anticipation of bad news or to get ready and take a dive. Breathing techniques are a common tool to contain pain, most frequently in child birth. But what may seem to some like new age advice to avoid more heavy duty solutions is actually based on hard science.

Deep, slow breathing has been proven to increase oxygen flow in the bloodstream, which in turn triggers the relaxation response. What is usually meant is abdominal breathing, where the inhale is focused on the abdominal area rather than the chest and shoulders.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal praised the benefits of deep breathing and its potential benefits for multiple conditions, starting with stress reduction and anxiety, and improving physical conditions like inflammation, high blood pressure, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, heart health and the entire immune system.

Most techniques focus on deep breathing versus shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is usually associated with stress – the fight or flight trigger. Howard Kent, founder of the Yoga for Health organization and author of the book Yoga Made Easy, states that, “One of the most common problems in our society is shallow breathing. The process that we call hyperventilation can be a response to many challenges: emotional, environmental, and physical. As a result of these challenges, there is a tendency to take small breaths — a sign of unease with life — using only a small upper part of the lungs.”

Taking the time to redirect the attention to the automatic and effortless dynamic of the breath is a soothing and easy way to calm yourself in a self directed manner. No experts or pharmaceutical help necessary.

Another set of breathing exercises come via the Huffington Post: The so-called “Taco breath” is good to cool down physically and mentally. You curl your tongue and inhale through your tongue like a straw. Sit with your back, neck and head aligned, feet flat on the ground, and inhale through your tongue. Then  swallow the breath while you’re holding onto the breath, and then exhale through your nose, pulling your bellybutton to your spine — a long, slow, deep breath. It’s good to sooth stomach aches.

 

The Zen Diary via Compfight



How Body Language Helps Us Make Decisions

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

Une passante

Sometimes the mind is too confused or too overwhelmed to give us useful information about what the right thing to do is. We get trapped in self doubt and anxiety and may end up doing nothing at all, which makes us feel depressed and not in control.

When the mind is too wrapped up in thinking, listening to the body can provide relief.

I sometimes get upset about silly things. The neighbor did this, or a friend said that… it’s easy to get caught up in making assumptions about what other people do, and we tend to think their actions have something to do with us, when in reality they don’t.

When that happens I check in with my body. Am I really upset about my friend not calling back at the desired time? Or is it just my paranoid mind telling me stories that she doesn’t want to talk to me, is trying to tell me something blablabla.

When my body is relaxed and doesn’t give me any signal, I attribute the thoughts to my reptile brain, which is programmed to dish out warnings when there seems to be danger, but isn’t very good at differentiating between what is really dangerous or just related to a past experience. So when the body is calm, I try to let it go. It’s so tempting to give in to fearful thinking even when there isn’t the slightest evidence that harm is being done.

It’s different, when my body gives me warning signs. For example, if I have a conversation with a friend and something that was said doesn’t sit right with me, I wonder if I should bring it up to that person or let it go. When I feel a knot in my stomach or a tightening of the muscles in my chest, then I know that something is up. Maybe something from the past was triggered that needs soothing or simply being talked about. Then I try to bring it up in a non-threatening way, by talking about my experience rather than blaming the other person.

It’s important to take a closer look at these physical reactions as well. When the body contracts or sends a warning sign, it may have to do with what’s happening right now. Or it may have to do with past experiences. For example, you might get tight around the shoulders when you hear someone talk very loudly. That can be a sign of trauma. Maybe a parent was rageful or flew of the handle quickly when you were a child, so the body reacts protectively when triggered. It doesn’t have to mean that the person you are talking to is intending to do harm. It may have to do with a sensitivity that goes back to experiences in the past.

So, even though the body is an impeccable tool to get to know yourself better, it’s important to understand why these reactions happen. Body language is an additional tool of self exploration, but it has to be utilized sensibly and with care.

 

Gilles Klein via Compfight

 

 



The Soul Wants to Grow

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

Muerte Logos

I am starting to doubt the medical model of mental health. I am not so sure anymore that when we chose challenging relationships that it means we are having a personality defect or are attracted to the “wrong person”. I am beginning to believe that our soul – the part of us that is consistent, calm and free from anxiety – choses people who confront us in ways that force us to grow.

The way I learned about psychotherapy was that we are essentially shaped in our families: our parents and siblings and close relatives are the first major influences in our lives and form our beliefs about what relationships should look like.

I still believe that. Yet, another aspect of this model is that we continue to be attracted to the same type of people who in some ways resemble our family members. If your father wasn’t really there for you or was absent in your childhood, chances are that you will feel attracted to a similarly unavailable person as you look for a partner. Or, if your mother was depressed and unresponsive as you were growing up, you may feel drawn to someone who too can be moody or uncaring of your needs.

Freud called this dynamic the “repetition compulsion”: somehow we are prone to make the same mistakes over and over until it hits us over the head that we are supposed to do something different, and we have learned our lesson. Many therapists will tell you to stay away from the same type of personality you keep feeling drawn to, because you will never get what you want, and just settle for the nice guy who may be good for you but don’t really feel an attraction to.

But the real lesson is that we have to engage in these relationships to some degree in order to learn about ourselves. We have to feel the despair of not getting what we want from an unavailable person in order to learn that we have to stop looking to others for the fulfillment of our every need. That first and foremost we have to take a close look at ourselves and what we want from life and what we can and should expect from others.

That doesn’t mean we have to stay in a relationship that is chronically frustrating or lifeless. It means that we unconsciously chose it on order to learn about ourselves and to try to overcome what was missing from childhood. If your partner doesn’t embark on this path of growth with you, you don’t have to do all the work alone. If it feels like there is no interest or willingness whatsoever to learn and grow together, it may be time to allow the relationship to end.

The soul wants to grow. It can grow within a relationship, when both partners recognize that unhealthy patterns need to be addressed. Or it can grow in a relationship where both partners are in agreement that they want to continue to learn together.

If neither possibility is on the horizon the soul must move on by itself and find other relationships where it can continue to grow.

 

Andres Rodriguez via Compfight



How to Prevent Sex and Desire from Fading Away

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

 “Good lovers aren’t born, they’re made. You cultivate the erotic. It takes an active focus and intention to see your partner as an erotic person”. These are the words of Ester Perel, the new star in the world of sex therapy. Her popular book “Mating in Captivity” discusses how to deal with the potential fading of lust and romance in longterm relationships.

When asked when they find themselves most drawn to their partner, most people will say something like, when I see them radiant, in their element, passionate or joyful. They see their partner as “the other”, where there is absolutely no caretaking. They are curious and don’t assume to know everything about them. Knowing that life still has surprises, that there is more to discover about your partner is the key to an erotic revival.

One way to bring back the excitement is to utilize an extra email address just to be seductive with each other, suggests Perel. The alternative email address becomes an erotic space that exists only for the sake of playing and flirting. You can come up with different personas in yourself or live out a role play you always wanted to engage in.

In a recent podcast, Perel reminds us that eroticism is not the same as sexuality. While sex is an action, eros happens very much in the mind. “Eroticism means connecting with aliveness”, says the sex therapist.

A good sexual fantasy often offers the solution to the widespread boredom in longterm relationships. Whatever turns you on – toys, stories, things – can be utilized to spice up your sex life.

Too much safety in a relationship can become an obstacle to sexual interest. It especially becomes an issue when one person feels that he or she is doing too much of the care taking. Women in particular get worn out by providing care and nurture and experience attending to their spouses’ sexual needs as just another burden.

Perel suggests that it is important to take responsibility when we contribute to the disconnect by not taking enough time for ourselves. She has coined the phrase “I turn myself off when…” (for example “…I spend all my energy on taking care of the kids”) in order to bring the attention back to the partner who is uninterested in sex. Rather than saying “nothing is turning me on” the phrase “I turn myself off” brings the focus back to the place where desire isn’t owned. Desire requires us to take an interest in oneself.

Perel believes that monogamy is harder on women. Women are hardwired to try and create safety for their offspring, and that focus can lead to setting aside their sex life  for sake of safety. Women struggle with how to deal with motherhood and taking care of the whole family at same time. The prejudice is that women don’t want sex, but the truth is that the need to create safety and to nurture everybody else had depleted them from feeling their own sexuality. They may not have been seen, nor do they see themselves as a sexual being in a long time. When the partner brings up eroticism, they really are trying to remind them not to forget that part of themselves.

When one partner is uninterested, yet the other is, the latter is put into a painful state of longing. And when that longing is chronically ignored or even ridiculed, it causes frustration. That is when the conversation about what was lost needs to begin. And one thing that was lost is aliveness, which some people attempt to recover with an affair.

“Affairs are not about sex, they are about feeling alive again”, so Perel. When sex is being withheld, there is lots of frustration. At this point, the best thing to do is to have a conversation about missing the other, missing what has been lost and that is not necessarily sex alone. Starting the conversation is paramount.

Infidelity, so Perel, doesn’t always mean that something was missing from the relationship other than simple aliveness. In that case, the infidelity is simply an alarm to put more energy into regenerating the relationship.

How you can learn to navigate the stalemate around one partner wanting sex and one who does not, click here.

Foto: Brigitte Deisenhammer via Compfight



Welcome Back!

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • Less than a min read

helloHello again! After a not quite two year long hiatus, I am ready to blog once again. In the meantime, I’ve completed my training in Imago Relationship therapy, which was such a gift to me and deepened my knowledge about relationships, couples dynamics, intimacy and sex therapy. You will read a lot more about these topics. Stay tuned! I am excited to be with you again.

Hand photo available from Shutterstock



Good Bye And Good Luck!

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • Less than a min read

shutterAfter one and a half years, I am retiring my blog about introverts, shy people and all kinds of Gentle Selves, and turn to the new and exciting field of the science of consciousness. It has been an honor to serve all readers who shared my interest, and I want to encourage all the check out my new blog Mind Matters – Neuroscience and Consciousness.

Woman behind shutter image available from Shutterstock.



 
The Gentle Self Buddha Betrayed
Gerti Schoen is the author of The Gentle Self
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