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Is Depression Love Starvation?

More and more evidence is stacking up suggesting that much of what we call depression might just be, or be caused by, love malnutrition or love starvation. Healthy real love, especially of the nurturing supportive type, can be said it to work like a vital energizing food and also like a very healing medicine.  People who receive the major behaviors of well demonstrated love seem to not experience much serious depression.  If they do experience depression they seem to get over it better and faster than others.  We know that severe love loss can result in severe depression for a great many people.  Loss of a major source of love often can lead to marked neurochemical imbalances and other biological problems, sometimes even resulting in death.  Abandoned infants who are physically well taken care of by others but do not receive the actions that demonstrate love suffer from failure to thrive, failure to grow and infantile depression illnesses.  We also know that several mammal species that experiencing loss of a parent, mate or offspring tend to exhibit the same biological and behavioral symptoms as humans do.  This includes observable symptoms of depression like pronounced lassitude, unresponsiveness to pleasure stimuli, sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, etc..  Being ‘loved on’ and veterinarian antidepressants are the preferred treatments for these animals.  In most cases similar treatment works well for humans also. Consequently with this evidence, and many more documented examples, we might conclude that a deficiency of healthy, real, nurturing love may result in one or more types of severe depression.  Receiving the behaviors demonstrating love from people who have the attitudes and feeling states of love seems to offer the cure in many cases of depression.

In the helping professions there is considerable evidence showing the similarity of, or connection between, love loss and depression.  A number of addiction counselors point to the most common cause of relapse in alcoholism and substance addiction as probably being one type of love problem or another.  All long, ongoing love life problems involve depression according to some relational therapists.  It seems that especially mate love, family love, deep friendship and comrade love, plus healthy self-love and spiritual love when lost, absent, or markedly reduced almost inevitably result in the same symptoms as diagnosed depression, according to certain counselors and therapists from various fields. In rehabilitative medicine good, supportive family love is known to be extremely helpful in helping amputees overcome the despondency that usually accompanies limb loss.  Love loss also can be seen as a major precursor to suicidal depression, a frequent trigger to fatal overdoses, and a strong contributing factor to fatal and near fatal accidents.  Depression along with love loss is thought to be a frequent factor in all these human tragedies.

What’s the Cure?
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ew or regained love often is seen to quickly alleviate depression in many people.  New and regained love are known to enliven and energize people making them more disease resistant, neurochemically more healthy, and prone to live healthier lifestyles.  Doing a good job of receiving nurturing and supportive love from any-and-all sources offering healthy real love can be a primary deterrent to depression.  This is especially true when there has been a loss, or great reduction of love, for a person who has only one major love source.  So, if you loose someone who loves you turn more to others who love you, and work at soaking up their love-filled care and concern.  If you don’t have anyone else go to a love-centered counselor who can help you get started on finding and building a loving network.  And don’t let anything get in the way of that.  Building or connecting with a network of healthfully loving people probably provides some of the best insurance against the depression that comes with love loss.  Those who are strongly participating members of a highly healthfully loving couple relationship, family situation or friendship group fair far better when it comes to handling depression than do those not having such love filled relationships.

Those who learn and practice healthy self-love behaviors are thought to be the people who are most quick to recover from depression linked to love loss.  Those who practice healthy self-love affirmations and behaviors may be the most depression resistant.   People who work together to improve their love behaviors toward each other and toward  themselves, and those who work to develop more spiritual love actions seem to recover from depression at faster rates and more thoroughly.

Cure your love life issues and you just might cure your depression.  That is the hopeful possibility presented here.  But wait, what is meant by ‘love life’?   That’s crucial to understand!  Lots of people think sex when they hear the term ‘love life’, or just hear the word love.  Ask a person how their love life is and you may get a blush, a leer, or an offended look because they think you’re asking about their sex life.  It seems a pity to me that sexuality has usurped, and perhaps somewhat blinded us to the much larger and more important meanings of a term like ‘love life’.

Here your love life has to do how well, how much and how often you give and receive the behaviors, communicate the thoughts, and experience the wide array of physical and emotional feelings which give evidence that healthy real love is occurring.  From that understanding there flows a number of questions you might want to ask yourself.   “How well do I actually do healthy real love?”  “How often do I show my love?”  “How good am I at receiving the demonstrations of love from others?”  “How well do I do at communicating my thoughts of love?  Do I have them?   How frequently?”  “Am I doing healthy self-love sufficiently?”  “Am I good at enjoying the feelings that love can bring?”  There is a lot to this meaning of ‘love life’.

If you are wondering how do we define healthy real love remember a working definition  is given, explained and discussed in this blog’s first entries, but in brief here is our more detailed working definition:

Healthy real love is a powerful, vital, natural process of highly valuing, desiring for, often acting for, and taking pleasure in the well-being of the loved.  Love is further defined by its five major functions: (1) to personally and profoundly connect us, (2) to provide competent balanced safeguarding, (3) to improve us in all healthful ways, (4) to heal us and maximize our recovery from being sick or injured, and (5) to reward our behaviors from and with love via the many joys of love.

Note that in this definition love is not an emotion, nor is it sex, nor is it everything else listed in the blog entry about what love is not.

A very important consideration is that there are false forms of love and they, unfortunately, may act to increase depression, not cure it.

Your love life may contain many types of love, or it may not.  Life partner love, sibling love, parent to child love, child to parent love, higher power love, and a host of others are all to be considered as important in your development of a healthy enriched love life.  Any, or all of those types of love can be important for countering depression and it’s effects.  That means there are a lot of wonderful, healthful, possible ‘antidepressant’ relationships you can’t get from a pharmacy but you can get from real life.  Don’t leave out healthy self-love.  Without love-filled relationships susceptibility to some form of depression appears to be much more likely and common.

It is important to know that some forms of depression may have nothing to do with love-malnutrition or love-starvation.  Some depressive conditions are caused by imbalances in brain chemistry or other neurological problems.  Remember your mind (including your psychological heart and gut) is in your brain.  Whatever affects your brain can very strongly affect your mind, heart (love), and gut (emotions).  Therefore, bad brain chemistry can get you depressed all by itself.

Whenever there is no evidence of  biologically or physically caused depression suspect a love problem.  Ask yourself “How goes your love life?”, which may include healthy self-love, romantic love, life partner love, family love, spiritual love, love of life, love of your life purpose, the healthy mix of love and sex, love of people, etc..  If there are areas that seem empty, confusing, or areas that emotionally hurt when you focus on them then maybe you have a love deficiency that might lead to depression.  You also could have the ‘emotional poisoning’ of a false love to deal with.  Remember, healthy real love works like a vital energizing food and a very curative medicine.  If the love in your life isn’t helping to fight your depression, or seems to be making it worse, it may be a type of false love.  If that seems to be the case a good therapist probably can help.

Now there is another great big important question to ask yourself if you are trying to understand your own depression or trying to understand a loved one’s depression.  The question is “How is your depression trying to help you?”  That’s right – help you!

Consider the proposition that all your parts, systems and the machinations by which our species has been adapting and hopefully improving over millions of years, are all trying to help you.  Therefore, depression, anxiety, fear and all other ‘bad’ feelings are trying to do you a ‘good’ service, just like physical hurt tries to help you.  For example, if the physical pain in your side gets you to the surgeon who removes your abscessed appendix before it kills you, then the hurt saved your life.  All ‘bad’ feelings are ‘good’ in that they are all trying to provide you some kind of assistance.  You might even say they are trying to love you.  Yes,  these emotional warning systems can overdo it, under do it, and mis-do it – like all human systems, but their basic purpose is to aid you.  It’s the hurt you feel when touching a hot stove that gets you to yank your hand away before there is any real damage.  Fear and anxiety get you to be more cautious possibly when you need to, anger gives you more power when you don’t have enough – although it is clumsy power, boredom tells you “that’s enough” of something and it’s time to do something else, and so forth.  They all are there to assist you and even though these emotions are not fun to feel,  it’s a much better idea to work with them than to work against them.

Now let’s take a look at depression, the non-chemically induced kind.  When you have a feeling of being depressed notice what you usually do.  Usually you don’t do much of anything.  You sit around or lay around mostly inactively.  Notice what you think about.  Usually you think about what’s wrong and all ‘downer stuff’ of your life.  That’s what depression wants you to do, to not do much so you’re not distracted from thinking about what’s wrong.  Depression does you the service of getting you to be still long enough that you can focus on the unpleasant things you want to dodge thinking about in your life. Depression gets you to think about those very things.  Depression is the ‘take inventory’ feeling.  Cooperate with your depression and take your personal inventory, and then make a plan to do something about what you’re depressed about.  That’s the way it’s supposed to work.  If when depressed you take a lot of pills, get drunk or anything else that dodges taking inventory  your depression will be your good friend and probably get worse until you take the inventory, make a plan and start carrying it out.  At least that’s how I’ve seen it work with a lot of people in my practice.  Yes, your depression could overdo it to the point you can’t think straight and, therefore, can’t take a good inventory.  A good therapist can help you with that.  If it were not for depression there would be a lot of things people might never face until it was too late.  Depression has helped millions of people get out of bad marriages, dead-end jobs, lousy families, repressive political regimes and unfulfilling lifestyles.  If it weren’t for depression, and the service it provides, those people might have stayed until their situations totally destroyed them.  The idea is ‘work with your depression’.  Find out what it’s trying to tell you, and make the improvements in your life which you probably have been avoiding out of fear.  At least that is often the case when dealing with purely psychological or “normal” depression.  Perhaps frequently the improvements you will need to make have something to do with not getting enough of the right kind, or the right amount of healthy real love.  Possibly you’re staying in a loveless relationship out of duty.  Maybe you’re stuck in a meaningless career due to a lack of gumption that a healthy dose of self-love might give you.  You might think you’re trapped in a draining lifestyle because you love your kids, mate, etc..  You may need to fix the source, type or amount of love your getting, add new sources of love, or disentangle yourself from a love life situation more harmful than helpful.  Surprisingly some people discover that depression begins to alleviate the minute they start taking a realistic inventory, even though it hurts to think about the situation they are in.  Others find it doesn’t get better until they are enacting the plan that came from the inventory.  Sometimes when people start working their plan anxiety or fear arises because now they are facing their real issues.  Then they may back off from enacting their plan.  Often psychological or normal depression (which can be experienced as quite intense) gets worse when a person backs away from carrying out their plan for improvement.  That seems like a pretty clear guidance message to keep working the plan.  It also is the healthfully self loving thing to do.  Sometimes we go through life situations where our choice seems to be either to get anxious or to get depressed, take your pick.  With enough healthy self-love usually we pick the ‘anxiety route’ and go do what were afraid to do, but perhaps more cautiously.  That choice changes things for better or for worse, but it least it’s different and usually not depressing.  Often getting out of depression means forcing yourself to cross a sort of emotional desert before you can find new emotionally fertile land to live in.  With enough healthy self-love you will be important enough to yourself to persevere and make it across the ‘depression desert’. Healthfully loving friends and family can provide emotional oasis experiences along the way.

If you or anyone you care about struggles with strong or repeating depressive episodes there are three things to do.  First, check with a physician, possibly a psychiatrist to examine whether or not there may be a physical cause or contributor to your depression.  Second, and sort of simultaneously with doing the first thing, go looking for a good love oriented and hopefully love knowledgeable therapist.  Third, and more or less simultaneously with the other two, take a good, broad and deep look at the many parts of your ‘love life’ searching to see how you are going to improve it.  The good news is that almost everyone who learns to do this really well makes the needed changes and gets a largely new, improved and healthier life and love-life. Frequently, but not always, this alleviates the depression.  Aim to live undepressed and love enriched and you probably will do just that if you are willing to work at it.  I can say this with confidence because I have seen and helped literally hundreds of people do exactly this.

In closing I can say, not all, but much of depression does indeed seem to be, or stem from  love starvation – a lack of healthy real love of one type or another.  So often when a person experiences the powerful, vital, natural process of being highly valued, and when that person experiences someone desiring for, acting for and taking pleasure in their well-being they experience love and get better.

As always – grow in love!

 

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly