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PATRICIA MCTAGUE-LOFT, MS, LMFT, FAPA, SAP
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Posted on: October 29, 2018
Individual Counseling insights brought to you by Westlake Village-based California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.
The incidence of depression in our society seems to be on the rise. Recent estimates suggest that as many as one in three of us will experience some form of depression within our lifetimes. Others claim that depression may even represent a symptom of our times which are characterized by alienation, lack of strong community bonds, and hopeless economic situations for many.
It is normal to feel sad and experience down days occasionally. Most people go through normal periods of feeling dispirited, especially after they experience a loss or any other period of stress. But what specialists call clinical depression is different from just being “down in the dumps.” The main difference is that the sad or empty mood does not go away after a couple of weeks – and everyday activities like eating, sleeping, socializing, or working can be affected.
People who experience depression describe it as agonizing pain that cannot be shaken and seems to have no end in sight. They feel trapped and talk about having a dark, empty pit in their chest or stomach that cannot be filled. Some depressed people suffer so much that they may even contemplate suicide. Virtually all people with depression complain about reduced energy, reduced concentration, and the inability to complete projects. About eighty percent of depressed people say they have trouble sleeping, with frequent nighttime awakening during which they worry about their problems. Many people with depression oversleep during the daytime. Sufferers of this disorder report that they have had either an increase or a decrease in their appetite, sometimes accompanied by weight gain or loss. About fifty percent of people with depression say that their symptoms are worse in the morning and that they feel a bit better by evening.
Half of all people with depression report only one severe episode within their lifetimes, but the remainder may have this happen twice, or repeatedly, during their lives.
Here are some symptoms of major depression –
These symptoms, however, describe only most women and some men. There is another form of depression, male-type depression, that has a different set of symptoms.
Because of the socialization patterns found in our society, depression in men takes on a different look. Men do everything they can to avoid appearing vulnerable, weak, or indecisive. While women tend to think through or process their feelings when they feel depressed, men tend to take action. Men who are depressed usually don’t admit to feeling sad, although they may feel fatigued or irritable. They usually don’t have a name for their feelings, but they know they feel deadened inside. Thus, they turn to activities in order to distract themselves from their sad feelings. Sometimes these activities are adaptive, such as going out to find a job if he is unemployed, but at other times men distract themselves in destructive ways, like avoidance, denial, or acting out. They are reluctant to take responsibility for their underlying feelings of sadness – which they neither name nor admit to.
Let’s consider some of the main ways that men negotiate depression –
A man dealing with depression may express profound dissatisfaction with himself, his accomplishments in life, and his ability to deal with the challenges of everyday life. His way of framing his life experiences takes on a negative tone. He may feel that he has missed out on opportunities experienced by others and that he has failed as a protector and provider. He looks on life as a glass half empty and has difficulty in rewarding himself for his true life accomplishments. He may find it challenging to see his setbacks as only temporary or as an opportunity to overcome his adverse experiences.
To him, failure is a source of great shame. When shame comes to dominate a person’s life, the negative thought process is magnified and leads to rage, defensiveness, and self-destructive behavior (such as substance abuse). The man will probably refuse to recognize the underlying problem as depression – because that too would be a source of shame. Unfortunately, he would more productively address his depression by exploring it directly rather than engaging in selfblame and avoiding looking into the true causes of his unhappiness.
A man in depression defends against his feelings of sadness at all costs, and this leads him down the path of blaming others for his unhappiness. It’s as if he tells himself, “I’m feeling bad and I know it’s not because of anything I’ve done, so I need to find the cause outside of myself.” He dreads living with his feelings of dysphoria, and knows at a certain level that he cannot take any more experiences that make him feel even worse about himself or more hopeless about the future. Therefore, to defend against this state, he goes on the offense.
The main targets of his blaming behavior is his family – the ones he is closest to – although others may bear the blame as well. He generates conflict with others seemingly out of the blue, although he may also ruminate over an issue and bring it up again and again without resolution. Relationships can be sorely tried during this phase of a man’s depression – and even result in domestic violence. During the conflict he may sense a feeling of power and give his own feeling of unhappiness a cause and a name. A target out there is concrete and identifiable – and easier in a way to deal with than the uneasy feeling of emptiness he harbors inside. The drawback to attacking others, however, is that he ends up feeling even more alienated and isolated as the depression magnifies.
Depression represents a threat to a man’s traditional sense of masculinity. He feels weak, vulnerable, and unable to take action – and this is unacceptable to him. As a result, a man may turn to exaggerated hypermasculine behavior to address his inner fear of appearing powerless. He hates feeling ineffective, so he turns to highly stimulating experiences to convince himself that he is vital and powerful. For this reason, many depressed men engage in substance abuse, look for places to express anger, and seek sexual stimulation.
Men in depression may drink alcohol to excess because it gives them a temporary experience of wellbeing – a way to escape the dreaded deadened feeling of depression. Similarly, they may use marijuana or stimulating drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine. Unfortunately, alcohol and other drugs do give a temporary feeling of euphoria and escape from depression – and because it feels good, the man may go back to it repeatedly until an addictive pattern is established.
Anger provides a similar feeling of stimulation, not just psychologically but neurochemically. People report a sense of power and “being alive” during the adrenaline rush associated with explosive anger. Sexual experiences can provide a similar rush. However, the result is always the same – the temporary feeling of well-being is not a cure for the underlying depression. In fact, it distracts the person from engaging in behavior that will address the depression in a healthy and more permanent way.
When people feel bad, it is normal to try to find a way to escape from the negative experience. However, depression can be addressed therapeutically – and to avoid dealing with it is to perpetuate it. Men in depression engage in an infinite variety of avoidance and escape behaviors, anything to while away the time so that they don’t have to face the empty feelings of their depression. For example, the depressed man may “zone out” for extended periods of time. He may spend hours online, or watching TV, or reading. He may drink excessively or use drugs. He may have a series of sexual affairs. He may lose himself in his work. There are healthier strategies for dealing with depression.
Answer the following questions with a “yes” or “no” response. If at least half of your answers are “yes,” it may be helpful to consult a therapist to discuss treatment strategies.
The newsletter from which this blog is drawn is intended to offer general information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from these broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problems. ©2018 Simmonds Publications: 5580 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037. Website: www.emotionalwellness.com
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