When I first agreed to be a blogger for PsychCentral, it was an agreement to experiment with the blogging process. Now that I've blogged regularly for the three month trial period I'd committed to, I've discovered that blogging isn't for me. I can offer the reasons, but the bottom line is that the relationship between blogger and reader is too distant to satisfy me. I have not gotten very much in the way of feedback from readers. What feedback I have gotten has mostly been globally supportive ("nice piece"). A few replies were critical when someone disagreed with me. The most feedback I received was when I suggested that evidence from a variety of fields (epidemiology, neuroscience, genetics, epigenetics) all pointed to depression being far more a social problem than a medical one. I have suggested that there can't be a singular medical solution to what is largely (though not entirely) a social phenomenon.
A high level of anxiety in kids is a key early warning sign of emotional difficulties that can easily mushroom into eventually suffering anxiety and depression together. In fact, in the majority of adults, depression and anxiety co-exist, but they don’t have the same age of onset. Typically, anxiety precedes depression by many years; the anxious child is much more likely to become an anxious and depressed, or “comorbid,” adult. The most common form of anxiety, though not the only one, is social anxiety. When a child is fearful of other kids and avoids interacting with other kids (stays in the classroom at recess instead of going out and playing, for example), there is good reason to be concerned.
The largest group of depression sufferers in the United States is currently between ages 25 and 44. That will likely change as depression continues to strike at younger and younger ages. One of the many characteristics of this age group that feeds their higher rates of depression is their belief that they should be able to say what they think and say what they feel “just because” -- Just because they feel a particular way, they think it’s important to “put it out there.” There’s a common attitude that says, “Ya gotta keep it real.” Roughly translated, that means you have to speak the truth as you see it, telling people how you feel or what your reactions to them are in a given moment. Never mind if others see it differently, never mind if your viewpoint is hurtful to others, never mind if being “real” sends out the wrong message, especially to more vulnerable children, that “this is the way it is.” There’s a significant sense of entitlement wrapped up in this behavior.
How well do you know yourself? Some of the most depressed people I’ve ever treated became depressed by trapping themselves in circumstances where they really just didn’t belong. With eyes wide open, yet not really seeing, they ignored their own basic nature and got absorbed in situations that violated that personal nature. Here’s an example of what I mean. One of my clients, Joyce, is depressed, divorced, and in her mid-30s. A self-described “nester,” she claims she wants nothing more than to find the right man and settle down into a long and healthy marriage. But she has not been dating, socializing or putting herself in situations where she can meet eligible men who might be suitable to marry. Why not?
When you meet someone for the first time, what do you tend to notice about him or her? Pause and think about your response. Do you tend to notice his or her appearance – manner of dress, physical attractiveness (or lack thereof), the quality of eyes, hair, teeth, skin, body size and weight? Do you tend to notice his or her demeanor – smile, eye contact, friendliness, interest in and willingness to engage with others, use of touch and personal space? Do you focus on his or her intelligence, verbal skills, ability to articulate ideas, speed of replies and grasp of complex ideas? Do you focus on his or her emotional qualities – easy to laugh, gentle, supportive, seductive? I’m barely scratching the surface of all there is to “tune into” with another person, and listing all the things there are to observe and respond to would take volumes. (In fact, volumes have been written about what we notice and respond to, both consciously and unconsciously, in others.) But some characteristics clearly matter more than others because they have a stronger influence on how other people perceive them and behave toward them. You need to know what you’re looking for, and how to understand what people are telling you “between the lines” of what they say, so that you have realistic reactions to them.
The tendency of people in general, and depressed people in particular, to excessively use their own frames of reference in interpreting and reacting to life experiences is called an “internal orientation” by psychologists. The term internal orientation describes someone who reflexively uses his or her internal experience, such as feelings, beliefs, and judgments, as the sole or primary basis for forming reactions and generating behaviors. When your focus, or orientation, is an internal one, it means much of the time, perhaps too much of the time, you are either entirely or primarily engaged with whatever is going on inside of you.
In my posts, I regularly focus on the importance of good relationships with others as a core ingredient of feeling good. Why? Because many studies from a variety of fields have all shown that people who are connected to other people in positive relationships have significantly lower rates of depression than those people who are not. People in happy marriages, for example, have a much lower risk of developing depression than people who are unhappily single. People who have a network of positive and supportive friends have much less chance of becoming depressed than those who have no such network. Good relationships can provide us with the basic needs we all have for love, intimacy and support. When you're depressed, though, it sometimes seems too huge a task to engage with other people. When you're hurting, you want to be left alone, and for those who try to support you, they often end up getting less than your best. So, why bother to try?
The emphasis in our culture, unfortunately, has increasingly become one of form over substance: too often image matters more than truth. People are so wrapped up in their solitary pursuits of personal interests and satisfaction that other people have merely become tools for achieving it. Truth and integrity end up taking a back seat to winning. Here’s an example: Parents emphasize the importance of getting into the “right” college, which becomes their child’s goal. School systems across the country now report huge increases in academic cheating. This is form over substance: the child would rather get an “A” however he or she gets it than an honest “B” or “C” that won’t get him or her entry into the “right” school.
This post is all about developing the kind of focus that can not only help you feel better, but be better. I have much more than a casual interest in the topic of how your focus influences your life experience: For more than three decades, I have focused on two primary domains of professional interest: Applying clinical hypnosis in short term psychotherapies, and treating depression strategically in individuals, couples and families. I have written many times on depression already, but a blog on the merits of clinical hypnosis is long overdue.