26 Aug 2008
Agression and depression
The two most frequent sources of psychological problems in our lives are undoubtedly agression and depression. With depression we hurt ourselves, and indirectly others. With agression we hurt others, and indirectly ourselves.
Not many people realise that both agression and depression have a common root. Both actually stem from a feeling of frustration that one is not in control of a situation, or on a wider scale of his or her destiny. They sense that forces outside of themsvelves (other people, society, fortune...) are in control, and they can do nothing to change their situation for the better, or alter the course of events. People react differently to this situation. Some with agression, some with depression.
Quite often the feeling of hopelessness is only perceived and not real. This is typically the case with depression. One can grow to cultivate a feeling of helplessness, a belief that nothing depends on him or her. This can be true even of communities (a circle of friends, schoolmates) and even of entire societies. Such a person tends to give up hope in situations of decision making even before really trying whether the outcome can or cannot be affected. The result is psychological paralysis, lethargy, unhappiness, low self esteem. Depression is an illness. It is not just a passing phase as many young people would like to imagine. It does not go away by itself. Quite on the contrary, it tends to strengthen unless the victim is able to implement a very concious counterprogramme.
Aggression is another reaction to a feeling of helplessnes. It takes place when people suddenly sense (or in truth perceive) that they are unable to control a situation by peaceful means. An imprinted program then steps in, and the person resorts to violence, be it verbal or physical.
Whether one is more prone to depression or aggression is essentially a question of imprinting. We tend to inherit these tendencies at a very early stage from people around us. These are primarily our parents, or other people that make a lasting impression on us at a very early age, in our formative years. Small kids watch instensly the way their parents react to situations, and as the single and central source of wisdom, they tend to copy them. If they see that their parent finds stressful situations hard to cope with, and they tend to turn to depression, they will copy that. If they are surrounded by aggression, on the other hand, it is this modell that they will emulate. They will learn these as the forms of reaction to certain difficult situations, and these imprints will determine how they will act in later life, includeing adulthood. If they do not realise this loaded inheritence, and if they are unable to introduce a counterprogramme, they are likely to repeat the mistakes of their parents and even pass these harmful tendencies on to yet another generation.
What is the counterprogramme then? In both cases it begins with the realisation that one is prone to aggressivity or depression. Without the honest acceptance of such an imprint no further steps are possible. Next comes the distancing. Every single time one finds him or herself in a situation of emerging depression or aggression, one must immediately abandon the situation, take a few steps forward (in an abstract sense, but sometimes even literally). No matter how important the situation is, we must be able to look at it as a case study rather than a key turning event in our lives.
In the case of depression it is advisable to try to re-evaluate the chances of being able to affect the outcome after all. We must ponder what our first, fearful gut reaction is about the likely outcome, and what it really is likely to be. We must eliminate the depressive imprint from the decision, and we must do this every single time, over and over, until we find that we no longer listen intuitively to the imprint. In therapy patients are often told to record the most positive, the most likely and the most negative outcomes in a series of events over a llonger periof of time. They will soon come to realise that in fact retrospectively it is not the most negative outcome that does take place. It is quite often not the most positive either...life is simply boring and revolves around the average. Does the central element of the counterprogramme in the case of depression is being able to distance ourselves from our decisive moments and to eliminate or act against the depressive imprint.
The counterprogramme for aggression starts with the realisation that no argument can ever be won by violence. He who shouts is always wrong. There is no such thing as 'a peppery personality'. This is a bad and harmful imprint, against which we are obliged to work, otherwise we cause much harm to others, and not least to ourselves. The key to overcoming aggression is first admitting the tendency, then being able to distance ourselves from situations when we feel our temper is rising. No matter how important we feel the situation is, we must keep in mind that our counterprogramme to overcome our aggressive tendencies is more important. Thus we must withdraw from aggressive situtations, and come back to the argument once we are able to reopen it in a peaceful and constructive way. If we are unwilling to this, we cannot hide behind the curtain of a bad temperament. We are simply being selfish. We want to shortcircuit situations to out own advantage rather than investing the amount of emotional energy that would make the situtation win-win for everyone involved. Anger can and must be managed.