Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Depression: The Role of Unprocessed Feelings and Emotions


Written by Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Tatijana Busic


Do you find yourself struggling to cope with the intense feelings and emotions associated with depression?


In this second post of our four-part series about depression, we’ll provide you with a few of many psychological views of how unprocessed feelings and emotions might lead to depressed feelings. In the following post, we’ll provide you with various strategies you can use to deal with depression on your own, or in your relationships with others.



Feelings and Emotions Associated with Depression


Depression involves different types of difficult emotional experiences, including chronic negative feelings and emotions (e.g., fear, sadness, anger, worthlessness, guilt, shame, irritability, restlessness or lethargy, detachment and numbing). Depression is, of course, a broader mental health diagnosis that consists of many different features, as outlined in this series' first post in which we addressed what is depression. Depression is different than normal grief in which we feel sadness for a prolonged period of time in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one (i.e., loss of a parent, child, sibling or friend).


Unprocessed Feelings and Emotions as Signals of Need in Depression


Our feelings and emotions provide us with important information about our self, others and the world around us. Depression is a signal to us—a calling for us to listen to our feelings, emotions, desires, and needs.

Some of us are unable to clearly identify, label or express our feelings and assert our needs. Being able to figure out our feelings, emotions, and needs is, however, critically important. It is important because our feelings and emotions guide us by providing us with a sense of what is significant to us in our environment both at home and work. Emotions signal to us that we have concerns, goals, and needs and that some type of action may be required by us to deal with these concerns, goals, and needs in our environment. When we do not attend to our feelings, emotions, and needs, we can create a world that feels false to us. We can become disconnected from what’s really important to us and in our relationships, which can result in hopelessness, anger, or detachment and withdrawn feelings.


In our relationships, it's important to process our feelings, emotions, wants, and needs. Depressed individuals may have difficulties managing their emotions and figuring out what they need from others. If we can’t figure out our feelings, emotions, wants and needs, we won’t be able to approach our friends, family members, partners, or even employers with our concerns or needs. Some individuals become out of touch with how others can sometimes provide us with responses that can be valuable to us----only if we actually know what it is that we need from others, feel entitled to ask for support, and risk expressing our vulnerabilities and needs to others (i.e., to listen to us, help us sort out our feelings, verbal reassurance or physical reassurance through a hug etc.) can we realize how others can be a source of contact-comfort, and soothing to assuage the distress in our everyday world.
When we can’t sort out our feelings, emotions, and needs, we can’t get in touch with ourselves and how others might be able to respond to us in ways that can make life better for us. Depression sets in as hopelessness grows---with depression, it becomes more and more difficult to reach for support and increasingly we withdraw, detach, or are irritable and angry, which pushes people further away from us.

Loss and Grief, Meaninglessness and Purposelessness


Life can be a symphony of losses. Many of us struggle to cope with unresolved losses that are accompanied by grief, and possibly a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness. We can experience loss in many ways---loss of loved ones in our close relationships (i.e., death, separation), and the loss of self and identity as we transition through various life stages or as a result of unexpected changes to our mental or physical health.

We may experience the loss of a parent, partner, child or friend through death, separation or divorce---and experience normal grief. Some individuals will grieve these types of losses and eventually return to feeling better—albeit life is never the same with the loss of a loved one. Some individuals, however, will not recover as well. The loss may create a deep sense of loss and grief about the relationship with the loved one---this loss may also remind you of various other past losses in life in which your emotional needs were unmet---increasing a sense of loneliness, pain, guilt, shame, and isolation. When we have not appropriately grieved our losses, the pain and sadness of previous losses can accumulate and surface unexpectedly---prolonging your recovery time.

Loss of a loved one might also leave you with a shattered sense of your self, identity, and future---if so many of your life plans were associated with the lost loved one. Re-discovering who you are separate from your lost one can take time. Hopeless despair, sadness, and anger can also emerge when it is difficult to reconnect with others, and re-create a renewed sense of meaning and purpose after these types of losses.


We also experience loss and grief as a result of changes caused by normal lifespan changes (i.e., change in roles and identity), changes in our physical and mental abilities, and health status. When these changes occur, some individuals have to face loss related to unmet expectations and unachieved goals---the lost hopes of what we thought our lives would be. Changes in our life circumstances (i.e., children leaving home, loss of employment etc.), health status (i.e., mental and physical changes associated with illness or aging), alter our capacities and possibilities of functioning in ‘old’ ways. When we experience loss or a lot of change, we can lose our bearings and struggle to find meaning and purpose in life again. Over time, we can begin to feel hopeless about ourselves. You can lose a sense of vitality as you try to re-define what’s of importance to you in the aftermath of all of these changes.



How CFIR Psychotherapists Can Help


CFIR psychotherapists can support you to deal with your emotions, including helping you to get to know your feelings and emotions, label them and figure out what they might mean to you. Some us of have strong emotions that need to be dimmed somewhat but still understood. Sometimes strong emotional reactions come from unprocessed feelings, emotions and needs from our past relationships, and losses, or from losses in present-day life. CFIR psychologists provide cognitive-behaviors, existential-humanistic, emotionally-focused and psychodynamic therapy strategies to support you to deal with your emotions, understand what these important signals mean to you, and to help you to take action in the world that will promote self-growth and recovery from your losses.

In the next blog post of the series, we will be providing you with strategies on how to deal with your feelings of depression. We’ll be outlining strategies for ‘yourself’ and strategies for ‘your relationships’. Aside from seeking psychological services to help you with your symptoms, there are many things you can do to feel better on your own.


Read more additional posts from the 'Depression' series:



Learn more about our Depression, Mood & Grief Treatment Service.