Research has shown that those suffering with depression display a common yet self-sabotaging mind habit. This habit prevents them from feeling and enjoying the positive emotions that are available naturally throughout the course of a day.
A new study conducted by KU Leuven suggests that those with depression (in this case, postpartum women) experienced normal potential for positive emotions. Yet, they had a habit of suppressing those positive emotions.
The research concluded that suppressing positive emotions may play a key causal role in the depressive episode. This was the first scientific study to examine whether this suppression of positivity plays a role in the development of depression.
To complete the study, Raes polled 200 women both during and following their pregnancies.
Surveys were determined whether or not the mothers were currently experiencing symptoms of depression, as well as determining their response to both positive and negative emotions. The women were polled again at both 12 and 24 weeks postpartum.
The study discovered that 8% of volunteers experienced symptoms of depression. Further, the suppression of positive emotions was a significant predictor of its occurrence.
While many people tend to characterize depression as simply an abundance of negative feelings, it is important to note that a lack of positivity is also an important characteristic. In fact, it may be the most important. Researchers now believe that this may be due to the fact that people who are prone to depression have an active habit of suppressing positive feelings that come up naturally throughout the day.
If you do suppress positive feelings, then something good happens, you say to yourself something like:
Something will ruin this, wait and see.
I do not deserve to be happy.
I am fooling myself if I pretend to be happy.
In other words, when you begin to feel good, it is possible to talk yourself right out of it in favor of feeling bad. It’s fair to say that this process is largely subconscious. In other words, it feels like it is happening to you, rather than something you are intentionally doing.
In a surprising contrast, researchers found that a tendency to dwell on negative feelings did not contribute to the development of the depression. In other words, suppressing positive feelings may be the critical, causal element. So, we could define depression (in part) as a lack of positivity, with dwelling on negativity as a merely more noticeable outcome. If you suppress the positive, then you are left with the negative.
This study reminds me of several conversations I had with Nathaniel Branden, who calls this phenomenon happiness anxiety. When happiness is unfamiliar to you, Nathaniel would say, you don’t trust it. So, when you begin to feel positive emotions that might lead to greater happiness, you tend to dismiss them in favor of a more familiar (if negative) state.
This makes all the sense in the world if you understand self-sabotage and negative psychological attachments. We get attached to inner negativity in childhood because it is so common – and not only because many parents are bad parents.
Much of our angst has to do with ‘child-mind expectations,’ which can never be fully satisfied. Small children do not understand that they cannot have what they want, when they want and how they want it.
Children – bless their hearts – cannot comprehend others’ limitations and how the world works. So, even good parents will consistently and inadvertently make their kids feel controlled, rejected and deprived (ever raised a toddler?)
Bad parents make matters much worse.
Alas, we have no choice but to endure the perceived negativity and familiarize it. Then of course, we remain attached to the familiar. Your unconscious mind considers venturing out of familiar territory as a dangerous act. If happiness lies outside of familiar territory, it will resist happiness in a thousand ways, including talking you right out of it.
And so, yes, you need to learn to tolerate happiness and stop rejecting it. You must understand that you are rejecting happiness before you can embrace it, though. You can’t stop doing what you don’t realize you are doing.
This unfortunate set up creates self-sabotage. Yet, it can be unlearned in a relatively short period of time if you are open to its existence within you. To learn more about self-sabotage and negative psychological attachments (and how to overcome them) watch this enlightening free video.
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Last reviewed: 8 May 2014