Shifting Depression

Self-psychology can help lift your depression by treating the underlying cause.

Are you suffering from:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Problems with relationships

  • Feelings of emptiness and lack of meaning

  • Chronic shame

  • Lack of fulfilment or direction in life

  • Feeling that something is “missing”

Underneath these symptoms could be a lack of self that stops you from reaching your full potential.

Self-psychology provides a safe, empathetic and containing framework for the development of a secure sense of self.

It sounds a bit high-brow.

Not something that the run of the mill psychologist or counsellor would do.

But for people with Complex PTSD, Personality Disorders (such as NPD and BPD) and others struggling with identity, self-psychology can be a life-saver.

Self-psychology is a way of practicing that developed out of psychoanalysis in the 1940s.

It was created out of a desire to see how empathy could heal people with many different and long-standing problems. “Empathic attunement” is the major tool of self-psychology and it means that the therapist “tunes into” the client and tries to understand what they are feeling, but not in an intellectual way.

“In Self Psychology, the therapist makes the effort to understand the client from within the client’s own subjective experience and viewpoint.”

Self-psychology helps people to recognise and understand their authentic feelings, desires, thoughts, wishes and hopes through the help of a compassionate and understanding therapist.

Self-psychology emphasises the importance of relationships and draws on infant research, attachment theory and neuroscience to support the idea that we are both wounded - and healed - through relationships.

How Identity Disturbance Can Cause Depression

When we talk about the self we mean that part of us that feels consistent (we know who we are and feel comfortable with ourselves) and gives us a sense of cohesiveness and self-worth. Through this sense of self we have a feeling of agency - that we can act and make an impact and that our actions are a reflection of our authentic feelings .

This sense of ourselves as consistent and having agency (or a sense of purpose) in the world also supports our ambitions and ideas and allows us to give expression to our talents and skills. It also helps us to develop (and enjoy) healthy relationships.

For people who have forms of identity disturbance, this connection and sense of coherence will be missing.

People with identity disturbance are disconnected from their real selves.

They don’t have an authentic sense of who they are and are often easily swayed by others or by what they think they “should” do. They will have trouble saying “no” - and hearing it. They will often have difficulty maintaining or understanding boundaries, so relationships will be difficult, perhaps even frightening, because feelings of being engulfed or overwhelmed will be triggered by closeness and intimacy.

The early trauma experienced by adults with complex PTSD or a personality disorder was so severe that they weren’t able to process it.

The trauma stays inside our bodies and can often be recalled in vivid memories which are experienced as overwhelming feelings and sometimes, physical pain.

For people who have suffered childhood abuse resulting in Complex PTSD, the experience they have of themselves will essentially be one of shame.

The true self will be associated with shame and abandonment, painful feelings that they will try to defend against. These very painful feelings will need to be uncovered and gently explored if the healing process is to be successful.

trauma and depression

Often when the painful feelings left over from our trauma threaten to overwhelm us, we unconsciously numb ourselves with depression.

This depression can be very hard to shift because it is serving an important purpose.

Although depression can be caused by a range of things, depression in this situation arises to protect us from re-experiencing the trauma that we never got to process.

The intense experiences that created the trauma in the first place remain unknown to us because they happened at a time when we didn’t have words. As infants or young children we just didn’t have the resources to cope with the abuse we suffered. So we dealt with it in the only way we could to survive.

But as adults the early defences and structures that once helped us to survive, now prevent us from living our best lives.

They stop us from knowing and understanding ourselves, from having authentic relationships (including our relationship with ourselves) and from pursuing our dreams.

How can self-psychology help depression?

Self-psychology helps lift depression by treating the underlying causes.

It helps us reconnect with our true selves by supporting and strengthening our connection to our feelings. Through empathic understanding (or attunement) listening and reflecting, the therapist allows the client to get in touch with their authentic impulses, feelings, ideas and wishes.

This connection will be strengthened and supported through ongoing therapy, so that you will learn to act out of understanding and awareness of your own values and ideals. This, in turn will give you back a sense of meaning and purpose, something that is painfully absent when we are depressed.

Using self-psychology, the therapist provides empathic understanding for the client’s growing awareness and helps them nurture this gathering solidity and strength. When you understand your feelings and have a good sense of self, your life will feel more meaningful - and joyful.

Choosing to work on this takes a lot of courage, but it is worth the effort.

Psychotherapy based in self-psychology will provide a safe space where you can feel held and supported as you come to understand yourself and the reasons behind your depression.

Psychotherapy will help lift your depression through resolving your trauma, giving you back your true self.


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