Healing Childhood Wounds to Heal From Depression
As most of us know, the most important indicator of depression is “chronic sadness.” The diagnostic manual of mental disorders lists its first symptom of depression as “feeling sad most of the day.” But where does this sadness come from? Is it solely a biochemical imbalance in the brain? Or might there be other causes that are more complex?
In dealing with my own depression and in working with clients, I have found that this chronic sadness often springs from losses and traumas that occurred in childhood. Such wounds can be the result of the death of a parent, a divorce, abandonment, neglect or abuse. In all of these cases there was a disruption in the love given by the parent to the child. As this feeling of lack of love carries on into adulthood, depression becomes much more than just simple biology. It is a psychological phenomenon that that needs to be healed through therapeutic processes.
In working on my healing, I have discovered two powerful therapies that are helping me to heal my childhood wounds–the first is doing “original pain work” and the second is “parenting the inner child.”
Original pain work involves going back to our childhood and grieving any losses that you were unable to grieve at the time. Since sadness is nature’s healing feeling, fully experiencing this “frozen grief” clears much of the pain out of the nervous system.
Original pain work takes time, and requires a skilled therapist to serve as a guide. While mourning past losses may be painful, when they are properly mourned we can come back to life again. As the psalmist said, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
The second process of healing past wounds is called “parenting the inner child.” This means becoming the parent to the part of you that is still feeling the pain and emptiness of not having received enough love and affection. Perhaps we experienced neglect, abandonment or even abuse. All of these create an ongoing emotional ache. Unfortunately, looking to other people to fix us and to give us love results in more disappointment. There is only one person who can give us the unconditional love we are seeking–and that is ourselves. As one therapist said, “Of all the people you will ever know, you are the only one who will never leave you.”
Many of us who suffer from depression or anxiety have a little boy or girl who needs our love and attention. If you have such an inner child, I would encourage you to take a few minutes to sit down each day and ask that child, “How are you feeling right now?” “What do you need?” “Is there anything I can do for you?” Then listen to what he or she has to say.
It often helps to get yourself a representation of your inner child in the form of a boy or girl doll or a stuffed animal. Developing a relationship with such a figure will make the process of self-parenting tangible. For example, whenever you want to comfort yourself, give a hug to that doll. Did you know that a twenty-second hug releases the bonding hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is also and antidepressant and anti-anxiety hormone? Giving your child self hugs on a daily basis is a powerful way to nurture the child within you.
I wish you the best in your mental health recovery.