Depression, the brain, and letting the monster out

BraindepressionHere is what a brain scan for a depressed person looks like (strange how it looks to me like an angry face). The front of the skull is at the bottom of the image. The orange and yellow flare-ups show increased activity in the limbic system in the centre of the image. The amygdala (arousal) and hippocampus (emotional memories) are both involved. At the bottom of the image we see increased activity in the frontal cortex – the so-called ‘thinking’ centres.

Since the limbic system governs the production of emotion we can see immediately that the depressed person is more emotional than the average. Yet the subjective experience of depression is the total opposite.

The language of depression that reflects this subjective experience is:

Numb – nothing touches me, ‘Just going through the motions’, ‘Lifeless’, ‘Dead inside,  ‘I just want go to sleep’, ‘I wish it were all over – now’, ‘I am empty, Life is empty’, ‘Pointless’, ‘Same old thing, again and again’, ‘Death – how I long for it…’

This tells us straight away that depressed people don’t feel the emotional storm that is actually being created in the brain. The thinking centres are not processing emotion! So what are they doing instead? Well, if you listen to depressed people talking you soon get the answer: they are thinking about failure. About loss, about pointlessness, about the past, about the catastrophic future. About what ‘bad’ people they are. You can get more information about the link between the brain, emotion and language here.

By the way, ‘positive thinking’ won’t make any difference, despite what some Cognitive therapists might positively think. And here’s why: the problem is not negative thinking but the fact that the person’s thoughts are not dynamised by passion. A ‘positive’ thought is just one more empty idea to add to the log-jam that already exists in the depressed brain. A dynamic idea is one that brings you alive again. An empty idea is just a thought.

At some stage the depressed person has (without realising it) suffocated her own passion. She has de-pressed it because she has bought into the idea that her passion is bad, destructive, evil, selfish. Those ideas deny her permission to live. But because emotions belong to life, to emotional truth, to the growth of the organism they have to be suppressed and denied. Hence the numbness, emptiness and longing for death.

To become free again she has to let the ‘monster’ out. The ‘bad’ thoughts, the ‘bad’ emotions and the ‘bad’ desires.

For Reverse Therapy we take the necessary steps in this order:

  1. The first step is to treat depressive symptoms as a signal that emotion is not being allowed expression.
  2. The second step is to connect to the emotions (these are usually the ones that were there are the start of the depression and are connected to some significant life challenge going on at that time).
  3. The third step is to talk to someone you can trust about those emotions – and the desire, the love, the excitement, the need for comfort, the longing for fulfilment or connection that comes with them. This is the first stage in letting the monster out.
  4. The fourth step is to start acting on those ‘bad’ desires or hopes. This is the second stage in letting the monster out.

Next post: I will give some examples of how this process works in real life.



3 thoughts on “Depression, the brain, and letting the monster out

  1. Sandra Gikas November 7, 2007 / 8:19 pm

    I have become very depressed and after reading your depression blog I am still unsure what to do to come out of it. I was able to at least figure out that feelings of “helplessness” or what I perceived as having “no control” over a current situation in which things will not go my way have contributed to this happening. What does one do when he wants to change a situation yet feels helpless to do so? In this case, I was planning to move in with my mate of 13 years but the house he bought 3 years ago is in a town I do not like and do not feel comfortable making a permanent home of. I first became very frustrated that he would not consider moving and then great disappointment set in as I felt I was powerless to change his mind. I then felt very helpless because I want to live with him but not in that house in that town. About 10 days since all this started I have gone into a bad depression. Do I just practice acceptance and focus on a future without living with him even though this is my heart’s desire? He won’t budge as he feels very content where he lives.


  2. John Eaton November 8, 2007 / 3:54 pm

    Hi Sandra
    It seems to me that you do have choices (although not the one you might like best). Much depends on your emotions about your partner. You don’t say what these are but if there is affection there then you can continue to see him while living where you wish to live.
    If you are angry then your body will want you to stop de-pressing that and talk things through with him. If you are scared, or sad, likewise.
    It’s important to distinguish between Headmind desires and Bodymind ones.
    Bodymind desires generate emotions which require constructive talk/action in the moment. They are typically encouraging you to be more honest about the relationship.
    Headmind desires are more like aspirations (or they can be cravings, or even bananas). These may or may not be realistic.
    Best JOHN


  3. omar July 18, 2012 / 9:55 am

    hi there, my name is Omar, i have struggled with depression for over 3 years now, I have seen psychiatrists, psychologists and been through hospitalization. I recovered from depression now. What i want to say is.. to come out from depression, you need to believe. Believe in yourself and believe in god. you’re not the only one who is and has been through depression. I recommend that you keep seeing if you’re seeing a medical professional, because they know what they are doing. Just believe that you will get better and eventually you will. Pray, talk to those who you trust and don’t be afraid of anything because you are more than special.


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