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What is it?
How do I 'cure' it?

Robert Sapolsky, a legend in the field of Biology and Stanford Professor who spends his summers observing baboons in the hills of Kenya describes depression as:


“A biochemical disorder, with a genetic component, with early exposure experiences that makes it so someone can’t appreciate sunsets.”


I love this description. It’s very useful to use at a dinner party should anyone be attempting to understand the mental health epidemic we have on our hands. But it shows there’s a lot to unpack.


The most compelling description I have heard is from Dr Gabor Mate, who explains that depression isn’t an emotion, it’s a state of mind and -pression means to ‘push down’. So the person is pushing down their emotions as a way of coping with them. This really resonated with me and explains the numbness that is felt in depression.


But, why would a person push down their emotions?


Well we’d have to jump back to childhood when the brain was developing in response to its environment and parental relationships to understand that. This stuff genuinely blew my mind. If you were brought up in a family that lacked intimacy and honesty surrounding feelings, then it’s likely you repress ‘uncomfortable emotions’.


A child needs two things in their developmental years: Love (affection) and Authenticity (true expression of their intuition). Now if the child is in the presence of a loving mother (or primary caregiver, for convenience I will use the term ‘mother’) who experienced lots of unprocessed childhood trauma herself this can cause real issues.


For example: if the child is authentically expressing the emotion of anger for e.g. ‘not getting a dessert after dinner’ the mother will shut down and turn off her love/affection if she is uncontrollably triggered by rage (due to her upbringing). The mother then sends the message to the child: ‘angry babies don’t get dessert’. But the child receives the message as: ‘angry babies don’t get love’.


So, what does the child do?


The child shuts off the connection with their own intuition. With their authentic self. So they can receive love. And this is where the foundation for a depressed adult begins! When we neglect our own authenticity.


Just think about it: The opposite of depression is expression.


And this is why ‘the essence of trauma is the loss of self’. And therefore, healing trauma is referred to as ‘coming home to oneself’.


So, humans can push down their emotions. And gradually over time we experience the consequences of neglecting to feel these feelings. But where do they go? They don’t just disappear. The emotional residue remains buried deep into the psyche and can do for many years, whilst the person does everything in their power to keep it there. But like hot air, emotion rises, and eventually it will break through to the surface in one way or another. This is why the healing of childhood trauma is formulated on the premise of actually giving yourself the support you never received as a child, for whatever reason, and through this support you send the message to these ‘trapped feelings’ (inner child) that it’s okay, it’s okay to feel. I’m here. This is why yoga, meditation, dance and anything that get’s you moving and out of your head can play an important role in healing, for they bypass the rational mind and can open up a space for buried emotions to be released. They are vulnerable practices and it’s no wonder some people stay very clear of them. If you do not have a support system or you haven’t developed the capacity to support yourself, doing this type of inner work can be dangerous. You are going to places you have never been, feeling things you have refused to feel, initially as a coping mechanism but as time has gone on, the trapped feelings cause long term affects: addictions and dysfunction within the brain.


And dysfunction breeds more dysfunction. Family to family. Generation to generation. The unprocessed trauma can reek havoc and suck the life out of people and cause people with the best intentions to play a part in their own families misery. However, ‘it didn’t start with you, but it can stop with you’ (Mark Wolynn).


And this is the most wonderful thing, for there is a way to break the spell.


We can heal.

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