By Mike Bundrant
It turns out that people suffering with depression engage in an unconscious habit that prevents them from feeling the positive emotions that are available to them every day.
A new study conducted by KU Leuven has shown people in a depression (the volunteers for this study were postpartum women) experience normal potential for positive emotions. However, when positive emotions were felt, they were suppressed.
The research concluded that suppressing positive emotions may play a pivotal role in the development of depression.
Performed by Professor Filip Raes, this study is the first to examine whether the suppression of positivity plays a role in the development of depression. To complete the study, Raes polled 200 women both during and following their pregnancies.
The surveys were completed between 24 and 34 weeks of pregnancy to determine if the mothers were currently experiencing symptoms of depression, as well as determining their response to both positive and negative emotions. The women were polled again at both 12 and 24 weeks postpartum.
The study found that around eight percent of the mothers experienced symptoms consistent with depression, and that the suppression of positive emotions appeared to be significant in predicting its occurrence.
While many people tend to characterize depression as simply an abundance of negative feelings, it is important to note that a lack of positivity is also an important characteristic. In fact, it may be the most important characteristic. Researchers now believe that this may be due to the fact that people who are prone to depression have an active habit of suppressing positive feelings that come up naturally throughout the day.
For example, when something good happens, they may find themselves thinking:
Something will ruin this, wait and see.
I do not deserve to be happy.
I am fooling myself if I pretend to be happy.
In other words, when you begin to feel good, it is possible to talk yourself right out of it in favor of feeling bad. It’s fair to say that this process is largely subconscious. In other words, it feels like it is happening to you, rather than something you are doing to yourself.
What the study did NOT find
In a surprising contrast, researchers found that a tendency to dwell on negative feelings did not correlate to the development of postpartum depression. In other words, it may be that suppressing positive feelings is what creates depression.
So, we could define depression (in part) as a lack of positivity, with dwelling on negativity as a merely more noticeable outcome. If you suppress the positive, then you are left with the negative.
Learning to tolerate happiness
This study reminds me of several conversations I had with Nathaniel Branden, who calls this phenomenon happiness anxiety. When happiness is unfamiliar to you, Nathaniel would say, you don’t trust it. So, when you begin to feel positive emotions that might lead to greater happiness, you tend to dismiss them in favor of a more familiar (if negative) state.
This makes all the sense in the world if you understand self-sabotage and negative psychological attachments. We get attached to inner negativity in childhood because it is so common – and not just because many parents are horrible parents.
Much of it has to do with child-mind expectations, which can never be fully satisfied. Small children do not understand that they cannot have what they want, when they want (now!), and how they want it.
Children – bless their hearts – don’t understand how the world works. So, even good parents will consistently and inadvertently make their kids feel controlled, rejected and deprived (ever raised a toddler?). Bad parents make matters much worse.
At any rate, we learn to endure the perceived negativity and, of course, develop an attachment to the familiar. Your unconscious mind considers venturing out of familiar territory as a dangerous act. If happiness lies outside of familiar territory, it will resist happiness in a thousand ways, including talking you right out of it.
And so, yes, you need to learn to tolerate happiness and stop rejecting it. You must understand that you are rejecting happiness before you can embrace happiness, though. You can’t stop doing what you don’t realize you are doing.
This unfortunate set up creates self-sabotage. Yet, it can be unlearned in a relatively short period of time if you are open to its existence within you. To learn more about self-sabotage and negative psychological attachments, watch this enlightening free video.
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