Julie Reshe. Depressive Realism_AEON_essay_2020

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Depressive realism  
We
ke ep
ch asin g
happ in ess,
bu t
tr u e
cla rit y
co m es
fr o m

depre ssio n a nd e xis te ntia l a n gst. A dm it th at lif e is h ell, a nd b e fr e e

Julie Reshe
Edit e d b y
​Pam W ein tr a ub


1

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

Ostend, Belgium, 1988. ​Photo b+DUU GruDHUW0DJQXP3KRWRs
I re m em ber
bein g
dep re sse d .
It
was
a fr ig h te n in g
sta te
of
min d
th at
se em ed
to
go
on

in defin it e ly .
The
very
id ea
of
wak in g
up
was
rid dle d
wit h
dre a d .
A sta te
of
in te rn al
tu rb u le n ce ,

ap pre h en sio n
an d
neg ativ it y
ab ou t
th e
fu tu re
pro p ell e d
th e
to ta l
co lla p se
of
a posit iv e
an d

op tim is tic
attit u de.
I fe lt
li k e
my
min d
su dden ly
beca m e
sic k
an d
tw is te d .
I did n ’t
re co gn is e
my

new s e lf , a n d w on dere d w hat h ad h ap p en ed t o t h e c h eerfu l p ers o n I u se d t o b e.

The
re a so n
fo r
my
dep re ssio n
was
a bre a k u p.
But
what
le d
to
dep re ssio n
was
not
so
much
th e

re a ctio n
to
ou r
sp li t ,
bu t
th e
re a li s a tio n
th at
th e
on e
yo u
beli e v ed
lo ved
yo u ,
who
was
clo se st
to

yo u
an d
pro m is e d
to
be
wit h
yo u
fo re v er,
had
tu rn ed
ou t
to
be
so m eo n e
els e ,
a str a n ger

in dif fe re n t
to
yo u r
pain .
I dis c o vere d
th at
th is
lo vin g
pers o n
was
an
ill u sio n .
The
past
beca m e

mea n in gle ss, a n d t h e f u tu re c e a se d t o e x is t. T he w orld i t s e lf w asn ’t c re d ib le a n y m ore .

In
th at
sta te
of
dep re ssio n ,
I fo u n d
th e
attit u de
of
oth ers
ch an ged
dra m atic a lly .
Dep re ssio n
is

not
partic u la rly
to le ra te d
in
so cie ty ,
an d
I re a li s e d
th at
th ose
aro u n d
me
were
of
tw o

pers u asio n s.
One
gro u p
of
peo p le
wan te d
to
fix
me,
te ll i n g
me
to
pu ll
myse lf
to geth er
or

re co m men din g
pro fe ssio n al
help .
The
oth er
gro u p
te n ded
to
sh un
me
li k e
a le p er.
In
hin dsig h t,
I
un ders ta n d
th is
re a ctio n :
aft e r
all,
I had
beco m e
cy n ic a l,
ag n ostic
an d
pessim is tic ,
an d
I had n ’t

both ere d t o b e p oli t e .

On
th e
oth er
han d,
I dev elo p ed
a deep er
un ders ta n din g
of
th e
gen uin e
su ff e rin g
of
oth ers .
In
my

dep re ssio n ,
I le a rn ed
ab ou t
th e
dark
sid e
of
th e
world ,
ab ou t
whic h
I kn ew
li t t le
befo re .
I co u ld

no
lo n ger
ig n ore
su ffe rin g
an d
delu sio n ,
op en in g
a new
win dow
on
re a li t y
th at
was
un ple a sa n t

in deed .
My
ex p erie n ce
is
not
un iq u e,
bu t
it
was
in
so m e
se n se
heig h te n ed
beca u se ,
in
ad dit io n
to

bein g
a re g u la r
hum an
en co u n te rin g
a path etic
bre a k u p,
I’m
als o
a ph ilo so p h er.
As
a
ph ilo so p h er,
I kn ow
th at
what
se e m s
to
be
ob vio u s
is
fa r
fr o m
alw ays
so ,
an d
th ere fo re
re q u ir e s

rig o ro u s
crit ic a l
an aly sis .
So,
in
th e
wak e
of
my
ex p erie n ce ,
I was
esp ecia lly
in cli n ed
to
dou bt
th e

eq u atio n
of
posit iv e
mood s
wit h
hea lt h ,
an d
of
neg ativ e
mood s
wit h
dis to rtio n .
Cou ld
it
be
th at,

in m y d ep re ssio n , I w as f in ally s e ein g t h e w orld a s i t w as?

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2

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

B ​efo re
my
ow n
desc e n t,
I’d
bee n
co n fu se d
when
my
PhD
men to r,
th e
ph ilo so p h er
Ale n ka

Zupan čič
at
th e
Slo ven ia n
Aca d em y
of
Scie n ce s
an d
Arts ,
su ggeste d
th at
th e
co m m on
str iv in g
fo r

hap pin ess
co n stit u te s
a re p re ss iv e
id eo lo gy.
What
in
th e
world
co u ld
be
wro n g
or
re p re ssiv e

ab ou t t h e d esir e t o m ak e t h e w orld a h ap p ie r p la ce ?

Yet,
aft e r
ob se rv in g
myse lf ,
I ca m e
to
ag re e
wit h
her.
Look
aro u n d
an d
yo u ’l l
notic e
we
dem an d
a
sta te
of
perm an en t
hap p in ess
fr o m
ou rs e lv es
an d
oth ers .
The
te n den cy
th at
go es
to geth er
wit h

overp ro m otio n
of
hap pin ess
is
stig m atis a tio n
of
th e
op posit e
of
hap p in ess
– em otio n al

su ffe rin g,
su ch
as
dep re ss io n ,
an xie ty ,
grie f
or
dis a p poin tm en t.
We
la b el
em otio n al
su ff e rin g
a
dev ia tio n
an d
a pro b le m ,
a dis to rtio n
to
be
eli m in ate d
– a path olo gy
in
need
of
tr e a tm en t.
The

vo ic e o f s a d n ess i s c e n so re d a s s ic k .

The
Am eric a n
Psy ch olo gic a l
Asso cia tio n
defin es
dep re ssio n
as
‘a
co m mon
an d
se rio u s
med ic a l

illn ess
th at
neg ativ ely
aff e cts
how
yo u
fe el,
th e
way
yo u
th in k
an d
how
yo u
act’.
The
very
te rm

stig m atis e s
th e
su ffe re r
an d
im pli e s
th e
need
fo r
her
to
be
cu re d .
It’s
hard
to
sa y
wheth er

th era p is ts
an d
th e
med ic a l
esta b li s h m en t
are
im posin g
th is
attit u de
or
are
in flu en ce d
by
th e

pre v a ili n g c u lt u ra l p ara d ig m . E it h er w ay, m ost t h era p ie s t o d ay a im t o e li m in ate n eg ativ e m ood s.

What if reality truly sucks and, while depressed, we lose
the verLOOXVLRQVWKDWKHOSXVWRQRWUHDOLVHWKLV?
The
th era p y
best
kn ow n
fo r
pu rg in g
neg ativ e
th ou gh ts
is
co gn it iv e
beh avio u ra l
th era p y
(C B T),

orig in ally
fo rm ula te d
as
a tr e a tm en t
fo r
dep re ssio n
an d
an xie ty .
It
is
base d
on
th e
co gn it iv e

mod el
of
men ta l
illn ess,
in it ia lly
​dev elo p ed
by
th e
US
psy ch ia tr is t
Aaro n
Beck
in
th e
la te
19 60 s.

The
pre m is e
is
th at
dep re ssio n
is
ca u se d
by
a neg ativ e
sty le
of
th ou gh t,
ca lle d
‘d ep re ss o gen ic

th in kin g’.
When
dep re sse d ,
we
te n d
to
se e
ou rs e lv es
as
help le ss,
doom ed ,
un lo va b le ,
defic ie n t,

worth le ss,
bla m ew orth y
an d
re je cte d
by
oth ers .
Exam ple s
of
th is
neg ativ e
world vie w
ca n
be

ex em pli f ie d
by
su ch
ex p re ssio n s
as
‘I ’m
worth le ss
an d
ugly ’,
‘N o
on e
va lu es
me’,
‘I ’m
hop ele ss

beca u se
th in gs
will
nev er
ch an ge’,
an d
‘T hin gs
ca n
on ly
get
wors e !’
Beck
su gg ests
th at
in
th is

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3

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

dep re ssio n
we
em plo y
‘d is to rte d ’
an d
un help fu l
th in kin g
patt e rn s.
CB T
pra ctit io n ers
are
tr a in ed

to d ete ct a n d b re a k d is to rte d t h in kin g i n o rd er t o s e t u s i n f li g h t t o w ard s h ap pie r o u tc o m es.

Durin g
my
dep re ssio n ,
un der
th e
in flu en ce
of
th e
fr ie n ds
I had
le ft ,
I wen t
to
a CB T
th era p is t.
As

yo u
ca n
se e,
I wasn ’t
co m ple te ly
cu re d
an d
still
fin d
myse lf
fu ll
of
‘d ep re ss o gen ic ’
th in kin g.
My

fe eli n gs
ab ou t
th e
th era p y
va rie d ,
fr o m
a desir e
to
tr u st
myse lf
an d
th e
ca re
of
th e
th era p is t
to

ir rit a tio n
at
th is
very
desir e .
I fe lt
li k e
I was
to ld
what
I wan te d
to
hea r,
li k e
a ch ild
in
need
of

co m fo rt
wit h
a ple a sa n t
nig h t- tim e
sto ry
to
get
aw ay
fr o m
th e
hars h
re a li t y
th at
was
su rro u n din g

me.
Dep re sso gen ic
th ou gh ts
are
un ple a sa n t
an d
ev en
un bea ra b le ,
bu t
th is
doesn ’t
nece ss a rily

mea n
th at
th ey
are
dis to rte d
re p re se n ta tio n s
of
re a li t y .
What
if
re a li t y
tr u ly
su ck s
an d,
while

dep re sse d , w e l o se t h e v ery i ll u sio n s t h at h elp u s t o n ot r e a li s e t h is ?

What
if ,
to
th e
co n tr a ry ,
posit iv e
th in kin g
re p re se n ts
a bia se d
gra sp
of
re a li t y ?
What
if ,
when
I
was
dep re sse d ,
I le a rn ed
so m eth in g
va lu ab le ,
th at
I wou ld n ’t
be
ab le
to
le a rn
at
a lo w er
co st?

What
if
it
was
a co lla p se
of
illu sio n s
– th e
co lla p se
of
un re a li s tic
th in kin g
– an d
th e
gli m pse
of
a
re a li t y
th at
actu ally
ca u se d
my
an xie ty ?
What
if ,
when
dep re sse d ,
we
actu all y
perc e iv e
re a li t y

more
accu ra te ly ?
What
if
both
my
need
to
be
hap py
an d
th e
dem an d
of
psy ch oth era p y
to
hea l

dep re ssio n
are
base d
on
th e
sa m e
illu sio n ?
What
if
th e
so -c a lle d
go ld
sta n dard
of
th era p y
is
ju st

a c o m fo rtin g p se u dosc ie n ce i t s e lf ?

M ​od ern
psy ch olo gy
re co gn is e s
ev ery d ay
th in kin g
as
la rg ely
bia se d ,
base d
on
a num ber
of

dis to rtio n s.
But
th is
re co gn it io n
ex is ts
wit h in
th e
fr a m ew ork
of
posit iv it y .
In
sh ort,
th e

main str e a m
em bra ce s
co m mon pla ce
illu sio n s
as
hea lt h y
as
lo n g
as
th ey
don ’t
dis ru pt
th e

posit iv e f lo w .

The
cu rre n t
co n ce p t
of
posit iv e
illu sio n s
fir s t
ap pea re d
in
th e
19 8 0 s
in
a ​pap er
by
th e

psy ch olo gis t
Sh elle y
Taylo r
of
th e
Univ ers it y
of
Cali f o rn ia ,
Los
Angele s,
an d
Jo n ath on
Bro w n
at

Sou th ern
Meth od is t
Univ ers it y .
Posit iv e
illu sio n s
are
co m m on
co gn it iv e
bia se s
base d
on

un re a li s tic a lly
fa vo u ra b le
id ea s
ab ou t
ou rs e lv es,
oth ers ,
ou r
sit u atio n
an d
th e
world
aro u n d
us.

Typ es
of
posit iv e
illu sio n s
in clu de,
am on g
oth ers ,
un re a li s tic
op tim is m ,
th e
illu sio n
of
co n tr o l,

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4

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

an d
illu so ry
su perio rit y
th at
mak es
us
overe stim ate
ou r
ab ili t ie s
an d
qu ali t ie s
in
re la tio n
to

oth ers .
Stu dy
aft e r
​stu dy
in dic a te s
th at
su ch
illu sio n s
are
rif e .
Aro u n d
75 -8 0
per
ce n t
of
peo p le

ev a lu ate
th em se lv es
as
bein g
ab ove
avera g e
in
alm ost
all
para m ete rs :
in
aca d em ic
ab ili t y ,
jo b

perfo rm an ce ,
im mun it y
to
bia s,
re la tio n sh ip
hap pin ess ,
IQ .
How ev er,
cru el
math em atic a l
la w s

te ll u s t h at t h is i s a n i llu sio n – a ll , b y d efin it io n , c a n not b e a b ove a vera g e.

The
ro ots
of
th e
mod ern
posit iv it y
tr e n d
ca n
be
fo u n d
in
th e
re li g io u s
past,
whic h
on ce
pro vid ed

peo p le
wit h
gu id eli n es
fo r
li f e
an d
th e
notio n
of
sa lv a tio n ,
offe rin g
a so li d
pic tu re
of
th e
world

wit h
a hap py
en din g.
In
ou r
se cu la r
world ,
psy ch olo gy
fills
a vo id
le ft
by
re li g io n ,
se rv in g
to

pro vid e
ex p la n atio n s
an d
giv e
hop e
fo r
a bette r
li f e .
Rep la cin g
re li g io n
wit h
psy ch olo gy
keep s

man y
fe a tu re s
of
th e
Chris tia n
tr a d it io n ,
fo r
in sta n ce ,
in ta ct.
The
ro le
of
a co u n se llo r
or

th era p is t,
an d
ou r
need
to
att e n d
th em ,
fin ds
man y
an alo gie s
in
th e
pra ctic e
of
a pasto r
an d
th e

tr a d it io n
of
co n fe ssio n .
Both
co u n se llo r
an d
pasto r
are
fig u re s
wit h
au th orit y
to
cla im
what
is

wro n g
wit h
yo u
an d
te ll
yo u
how
to
fix
it .
The
Fre n ch
ph ilo so p h er
Mic h el
Fou ca u lt
(1 9 26 -8 4)

tr a ce d
th e
orig in
of
psy ch oth era p y
to
pasto rh ood ,
ela b ora tin g
on
th e
id ea
th at
th e
in it ia l

re li g io u s g o al o f p asto ra l c a re w as t o d eli v er t h e i n div id u al t o s a lv a tio n .

The
co n te m pora ry
Dan is h
sc h ola r
Anders
Dræ by
Søre n se n
​poin ts
ou t
th at
ou r
mod ern

asp ir a tio n
to
sh ed
su ffe rin g
an d
an xie ty
an d,
ult im ate ly ,
to
dis c o ver
hap p in ess
is
at
le a st

partia lly
base d
on
th e
re li g io u s
id ea
of
deli v era n ce
fr o m
world ly
su ff e rin g
to
a hea ven ly

co n dit io n .
In
th e
se cu la ris e d
world ,
sa lv a tio n
beco m es
a ta sk
th at
must
be
acco m pli s h ed
in
ou r

ea rth ly
li f e .
Hea ven
is
no
lo n ger
ab ou t
th e
tr a n sc e n den ta l
re a lm ,
bu t
ab ou t
atta in in g
a to ta l
sta te

of h ap pin ess a n d t r a n sfo rm in g E arth i t s e lf i n to H ea ven i n t h e n ow .

Nex t
to
re li g io n
an d
it s
psy ch oth era p eu tic
co u n te rp art,
ph ilo so p h y
co u ld
be
co n sid ere d
here sy .

The
most
pro b le m atic
patie n t
mig h t
be
th e
Germ an
ph ilo so p h er
Arth ur
Sch op en hau er

(1 7 8 8-1 8 60 ),
well
kn ow n
fo r
his
co n te n tio n
th at
​su ffe rin g
is
un avo id ab le
an d
a key
part
of

hum an
​ex is te n ce
​. Sch op en hau er
arg u ed
th at
th ere
is
no
mea n in g
or
pu rp ose
to
ex is te n ce ,
an d

th at
li f e
is
moved
by
an
aim le ss
str iv in g
th at
ca n
nev er
be
fu lf ille d .
He
tu rn s
ou r
posit iv e

world vie w
upsid e
dow n
– th e
norm al
basic
mod e
of
ou r
ex is te n ce
is
not
hap pin ess
th at,
fr o m

tim e
to
tim e,
gets
dis ru pte d
by
su ffe rin g.
In ste a d ,
li f e
is
it s e lf
a bon e-d ee p
su ff e rin g
an d
en dle ss

mou rn in g.
It
will
nev er
get
bette r,
Sch op en hau er
cla im ed :
‘I t
is
bad
to d ay,
an d
it
will
be
wors e

to m orro w
…’
Sch op en hau er
posit s
th at
co n sc io u sn ess
fu rth er
wors e n s
th e
hum an
co n dit io n ,

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5

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

sin ce
co n sc io u s
bein gs
ex p erie n ce
pain
more
acu te ly
an d
are
ab le
to
re fle ct
on
th e
ab su rd it y
of

th eir
ex is te n ce .
‘I
sh all
be
to ld
… th at
my
ph ilo so p h y
is
co m fo rtle ss
– beca u se
I sp ea k
th e
tr u th ;

an d
peo p le
pre fe rre d
to
be
ass u re d
th at
ev ery th in g
th e
Lord
has
mad e
is
go od ,’
he
wro te
in
th e

essa y
‘O n
th e
Su ffe rin gs
of
th e
World ’
(1 8 51).
‘G o
to
th e
prie sts ,
th en ,
an d
le a ve
th e
ph ilo so p h ers

in p ea ce .’

For Freud, the goal was helping patients to accept and
reflect on the hell that life is
The
Germ an
ph ilo so p h er
Martin
Heid eg ger
(1 8 8 9-1 9 76 )
doesn ’t
pro vid e
much
re a ss u ra n ce

eit h er.
He
re fe rre d
to
an xie ty
as
a basic
mod e
of
hum an
ex is te n ce
an d
dis tin gu is h es
betw een

au th en tic
an d
non -a u th en tic
hum an
fo rm s
of
li v in g.
We
mostly
li v e
in au th en tic a ll y
in
ou r

ev ery d ay
li v es,
where
we
are
im mers e d
in
ev ery d ay
ta sk s,
tr o u ble s
an d
worr ie s,
so
th at
ou r

aw are n ess
of
th e
fu tili t y
an d
mea n in gle ssn ess
of
ou r
ex is te n ce
is
sile n ce d
by
ev ery d ay
nois e .
We

go
to
work ,
ra is e
ch ild re n ,
work
on
ou r
re la tio n sh ip s,
cle a n
th e
hou se ,
go
to
sle e p ,
an d
do
it
all

over
ag ain .
The
world
aro u n d
us
se em s
to
mak e
se n se ,
an d
is
ev en
ric h ly
mea n in gfu l.
But
th e

au th en tic
li f e
is
dis c lo se d
on ly
in
an xie ty .
Then
we
beco m e
se lf - a w are
an d
ca n
beg in
to
th in k

fr e ely ,
re je ctin g
th e
sh are d
illu sio n
th at
so cie ty
has
im pose d .
For
Heid eg ger,
an xie ty
re p re se n ts
a
pro p er p h ilo so p h ic a l m oo d .

The
Norw eg ia n
th in ker
Pete r
Wesse l
Zap ffe
(1 8 99-1 9 90 )
to ok
ph ilo so p h ic a l
pessim is m
ev en

fu rth er.
Hum an
co n sc io u sn ess
is
tr a g ic a ll y
overd ev elo p ed ,
he
sa id ,
re su lt in g
in
ex is te n tia l
an gst.

In
his
​essa y
‘T he
Last
Messia h ’
(1 9 33 ),
Zap ffe
re fe rre d
to
it
as
‘a
bio lo gic a l
para d ox,
an

ab om in atio n ,
an
ab su rd it y ,
an
ex ag g era tio n
of
dis a str o u s
natu re ’.
Hum an s
have
dev elo p ed
a
need
th at
ca n not
be
fu lf ille d ,
sin ce
natu re
it s e lf
is
mea n in gle ss;
to
su rv iv e,
he
arg u es,
hum an it y

has
to
re p re ss
th is
dam ag in g
su rp lu s
of
co n sc io u sn ess .
This
is
‘a
re q u ir e m en t
of
so cia l

ad ap ta b ili t y a n d o f e v ery th in g c o m mon ly r e fe rr e d t o a s h ea lt h y a n d n orm al l i v in g’.

Zap ffe n am ed f o u r u n iv ers a l d efe n ce m ech an is m s h um an kin d h as d ev elo p ed :

● is o la tio n
​, i n clu din g r e p re ssio n o f d is tu rb in g a n d d estr u ctiv e t h ou gh ts a n d f e eli n gs;

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6

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

● an ch orin g
​, th e
esta b li s h m en t
of
hig h er
mea n in gs
an d
id ea ls .
The
ex am ple s
of
co lle ctiv e

an ch orin g
he
giv es
are :
‘G od ,
th e
Churc h ,
th e
Sta te ,
mora li t y ,
fa te ,
th e
la w
of
li f e ,
th e

peo p le ,
th e
fu tu re ’.
Anch orin g
pro vid es
us
wit h
illu sio n s
th at
se cu re
psy ch olo gic a l

co m fo rt.
The
sh ortc o m in g
of
an ch orin g
is
th e
desp air
we
fe el
upon
dis c o verin g
th at
ou r

an ch orin g m ech an is m i s a n i llu sio n ;

● dis tr a ctio n
​, th e
fo cu sin g
of
ou r
th ou gh ts
an d
en erg y
on
a ce rta in
id ea
or
ta sk
to
pre v en t

th e m in d f r o m s e lf - r e fle ctio n ; a n d

● su bli m atio n
​, a ty p e
of
defe n ce
mech an is m
in
whic h
neg ativ e
urg es
are
tr a n sfo rm ed

in to
more
posit iv e
actio n s.
For
in sta n ce ,
we
dis ta n ce
ou rs e lv es
fr o m
th e
tr a g ed y
of
ou r

ex is te n ce a n d t r a n sfo rm o u r a w are n ess i n to p h ilo so p h y, l i t e ra tu re a n d a rt.

The
fa th er
of
psy ch oan aly sis
Sig m un d
Fre u d
(1 8 56 -1 9 39 )
was
– li k e
th e
ph ilo so p h ers
– ag ain st

re li g io n ,
an d
cla im ed
it s
pu rp ose
is
to
sa tis fy
ou r
in fa n tile
em otio n al
need s.
‘N eu ro tic s
are
a
ra b ble ,
go od
on ly
to
su pport
us
fin an cia lly
an d
to
allo w
us
to
le a rn
fr o m
th eir
ca se s:

psy ch oan aly sis
as
a th era p y
may
be
worth le ss ,’
he
re p orte d ly
to ld
his
co lle a g u e
Sán dor
Fere n czi.

Fre u d
wasn ’t
op tim is tic
ab ou t
th e
ou tc o m e
of
psy ch oth era p eu tic
tr e a tm en t,
an d
was
re lu cta n t
to

pro m is e
hap pin ess
as
a re su lt .
In
​Stu die s
on
Hyste ria
(1 8 95),
he
ple d ged
th at
psy ch oan aly sis

co u ld
tr a n sfo rm
hyste ric a l
mis e ry
in to
‘c o m mon
un hap pin ess ’.
For
Fre u d,
th e
go al
was
help in g

patie n ts t o a cce p t a n d r e fle ct o n t h e h ell t h at l i f e i s . N ot i n a n y b ey o n d, b u t h ere o n E arth .

D ​esp it e
it s
tu rn
to w ard
​posit iv it y
​, psy ch olo gic a l
th eo ry
in clu des
on e
bra n ch
wit h
a fo cu s
on

th e
pessim is tic
ph ilo so p h ic a l
tr a d it io n
em bra ce d
by
Fre u d
him se lf .
Call e d
‘d ep re ss iv e
re a li s m ’,
it

was
in it ia lly
su ggeste d
by
th e
US
psy ch olo gis ts
Lau re n
Allo y
an d
Lyn
Yvo n ne
Abra m so n
in
a
pap er
su btit le d
‘S ad der
bu t
Wis e r? ’
(1 9 79 ).
The
au th ors
held
th at
re a li t y
is
alw ays
more

tr a n sp are n t t h ro u gh a d ep re sse d p ers o n ’s l e n s.

Allo y,
of
Tem ple
Univ ers it y
in
Pen nsy lv a n ia ,
an d
Abra m so n ,
of
th e
Univ ers it y
of

Wis c o n sin -M ad is o n ,
te ste d
th e
hyp oth esis
by
mea su rin g
th e
illu sio n
of
co n tr o l.
Aft e r
in te rv ie w s

wit h
a se t
of
un derg ra d u ate s,
th ey
div id ed
th e
stu den ts
in to
dep re sse d
an d
non dep re sse d

gro u ps.
Each
stu den t
had
a ch oic e
of
eit h er
pre ssin g
or
not
pre ssin g
a bu tto n ,
an d
re ce iv ed
on e

of
tw o
ou tc o m es:
a gre e n
li g h t
or
no
gre en
li g h t.
Exp erim en ta l
se ttin gs
pre se n te d
th e
stu den ts

wit h
va rio u s
deg re es
of
co n tr o l
over
th e
bu tto n ,
fr o m
0 to
10 0
per
ce n t.
Upon
co m ple tin g
th e

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7

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

te sts ,
th ey
were
ask ed
to
an aly se
th e
deg re e
of
co n tr o l
th eir
re sp on se s
ex erte d
over
ou tc o m e

th at
is ,
how
man y
tim es
th e
gre en
li g h t
ca m e
on
as
a re su lt
of
th eir
actio n s.
It
tu rn ed
ou t
th at,

th e
sa d der
bu t
wis e r
stu den ts
were
more
accu ra te
in
ju dgin g
th e
deg re e
of
co n tr o l
th ey
ex erte d .

Allo y
an d
Abra m so n
co n clu ded
th at
dep re sse d
stu den ts
were
le ss
pro n e
to
ill u sio n s
of
co n tr o l,

an d
th ere fo re
sh ow ed
gre a te r
re a li s m .
The
non dep re sse d
stu den ts ,
on
th e
oth er
han d,

overe stim ate d
th e
deg re e
of
th eir
co n tr o l,
an d
th ere fo re
were
en gag ed
in
se lf - d ece p tio n
in
fa vo u r

of e n han cin g s e lf - e ste em .

The
‘d ep re ssiv e
re a li s m ’
​hyp oth esis
re m ain s
co n tr o vers ia l
beca u se
it
ca lls
in to
​qu estio n
th e

te n ets
of
CB T,
whic h
asse rt
th at
th e
dep re sse d
in div id u al
has
more
th ou gh t
bia se s
an d
hen ce
has

to
be
hea le d
in
ord er
to
beco m e
more
re a li s tic .
But
su bse q u en t
stu die s
have
bols te re d
th e
id ea .

For
in sta n ce ,
th e
Austr a li a n
so cia l
psy ch olo gis t
Jo se p h
Forg as
an d
co lle a g u es
​sh ow ed
th at

sa d n ess
re in fo rc e s
crit ic a l
th in kin g:
it
help s
peo p le
re d u ce
ju dgm en ta l
bia s,
im pro ve
atte n tio n ,

in cre a se
pers e v era n ce ,
an d
gen era lly
pro m ote s
a more
sk ep tic a l,
deta ile d
an d
atte n tiv e
th in kin g

sty le .
On
th e
oth er
han d,
posit iv e
mood s
ca n
le a d
to
a le ss
effo rtfu l
an d
sy ste m atic
th in kin g

sty le .
Hap py
peo p le
are
more
pro n e
to
ste re o ty p ic a l
th in kin g
an d
re ly
on
sim ple
cli c h é.
They
are

more
li k ely
to
‘g o
wit h
th e
flo w ’
an d
are
pro n e
to
mak in g
more
so cia l
mis ju dgm en ts
on
acc o u n t

of t h eir b ia se s.

Depressive rumination is a problem solving mechanism
that promotes analVLs
Oth er
re se a rc h ers
have
lo oked
at
th e
ev o lu tio n ary
ad va n ta g e
of
dep re ss io n .
For
in sta n ce ,
Pau l

Andre w s
at
Vir g in ia
Com mon w ea lt h
Univ ers it y
an d
J Anders o n
Thom so n
at
th e
Univ ers it y
of

Vir g in ia
​ch alle n ge
th e
pre d om in an t
med ic a l
vie w
on
dep re ssio n
as
a dis o rd er
an d
bio lo gic a l

dysfu n ctio n ,
an d
co n te n d
th at
it
is ,
ra th er,
an
ev o lv ed
ad ap ta tio n .
The
ev o lu tio n ary
fu n ctio n
of

dep re ssio n
is
to
dev elo p
an aly tic a l
th in kin g
mech an is m s
an d
to
ass is t
in
so lv in g
co m ple x
men ta l

pro b le m s.
Dep re ssiv e
ru m in atio n
help s
us
to
co n ce n tr a te
an d
so lv e
th e
pro b le m s
we
are

ru m in atin g a b ou t.

Lik e
a fe v er
th at
ca n
be
sc a ry
in
th e
mom en t
bu t
is n ’t
in here n tly
bad ,
dep re ssio n
ca u se s
a
decre a se
in
fu n ctio n al
wellb ein g,
im pair in g
man y
dom ain s
of
li f e ,
su ch
as
work ,
so cia l
re la tio n s

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8

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

an d
se x u al
li f e .
How ev er,
th ou gh
un ple a sa n t,
fe v er
is
not
th e
pro d u ct
of
bio lo gic a l
malf u n ctio n .

Rath er,
it
is
an
im porta n t
in fe ctio n -fig h tin g
mech an is m .
The
im pair m en ts
th at
fe v er
ca u se s
are

th e
ad ap tiv e
ou tc o m e
of
tr a d e-o ffs
in
bod y
sy ste m s
need ed
to
fig h t
th e
in fe ctio n .
Sim ila rly ,

dep re ssiv e
ru m in atio n
is
a pro b le m so lv in g
mech an is m
th at
dra w s
atte n tio n
to
an d
pro m ote s

an aly sis
​ o f c e rta in p ro b le m s.

In
her
​book
​Dase in sa n aly sis
(2 0 0 8),
Ali c e
Holz h ey -K un z,
a mod ern ,
ex is te n tia ll y
orie n te d
Sw is s

psy ch oan aly st,
tu rn s
to
Heid eg ger’s
dis tin ctio n
betw een
au th en tic
an d
non -a u th en tic
fo rm s
of

li v in g.
Sh e
cla im s
th at
men ta l
su ff e rin g
sig n if ie s
a dis illu sio n in g
co n fr o n ta tio n
wit h
th e
re a li t y
of

ex is te n ce .
In
th at
se n se ,
dep re ssio n
is
not
so
much
a dis o rd er
as
a dis illu sio n in g
ex p lo sio n
of
th e

noth in gn ess
of
hum an
ex is te n ce .
In
th is
co n te x t,
a ch eerie r
fo rm
of
what
we
mig h t
ca ll

‘i n au th en tic
li v in g’
wou ld
hard ly
be
a path olo gy
sin ce
it
co u n te rs
acu te
ex is te n tia l
aw are n ess

wit h e v ery d ay t a sk s a n d o b li v io n i n t h e c o m mon ness.

A ​lt h ou gh
th e
dep re ssio n
fo llo w in g
my
bre a k u p
doesn ’t
ris e
to
th e
le v el
of
ex is te n tia l
an gst,
it

was
th e
str o n gest
pers p ectiv e-s h if t in g
ex p erie n ce
of
my
li f e .
It
ir re v ers ib ly
ch an ged
an d

tr a u m atis e d
me
at
th e
co re
of
my
bein g,
an d
I am
now
gen era ll y
sa d der
an d
more
wit h dra w n

th an I u se d t o b e.

Ala s,
what
if
th is
is
th e
co st
of
lo sin g
ou r
illu sio n s
an d
le a rn in g
in fin it e ly
more
ab ou t
re a li t y

it s e lf ?
We
mig h t
be
gettin g
th ere .
Som e
stu die s
su ggest
th at
ex is te n tia l
su ff e rin g
an d
men ta l

dis tr e ss
is
ris in g
world w id e,
bu t
partic u la rly
in
mod ern
Weste rn
cu lt u re .
Perh ap s
we
ch ase

hap pin ess p re cis e ly b eca u se i t i s n o l o n ger a tt a in ab le ?

The
vic io u s
cy cle
in
whic h
we
fin d
ou rs e lv es
– th e
en dle ss
pu rs u it
of
hap p in ess
an d
th e

im possib ili t y
of
it s
atta in m en t
– hurts
us
on ly
more .
Perh ap s
th e
way
ou t
is
actu all y
acce p tin g

ou r
ra is e d
le v el
of
co n sc io u sn ess .
In
ou r
mela n ch oly
dep th s,
we
fin d
th at
su perfic ia l
sta te s
of

hap pin ess
are
la rg ely
a way
not
to
be
ali v e.
Men ta l
hea lt h ,
posit iv e
psy ch olo gy
an d
dom in an t

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9

Depre ssiv e r e alis m | A eo n

th era p y
mod ali t ie s
su ch
as
CB T
all
re q u ir e
th at
we
re m ain
sile n t
an d
su cc u m b
to
ou r
ill u sio n s

un til w e d ie .

In
clo sin g,
I must
ad dre ss
yo u ,
my
dea r
re a d er.
I re a li s e
th at,
as
yo u
were
re a d in g
th is
essa y,
yo u

must
have
ex p erie n ce d
a ‘y es,
bu t… ’
re a ctio n .
(‘Y es,
li f e
is
horrib le ,
bu t
th ere
are
so
man y
go od

th in gs
to o.’)
This
‘b u t’
is
an
au to m atic
re sp on se
to
neg ativ e,
horrif y in g
in sig h ts .
Once
ex p ose d
to

th ese
fo rc e s,
ou r
posit iv e
defe n ce
mech an is m s
kic k
in .
I myse lf
was
ca u gh t
in
th e
drill
while

writ in g
th is
essa y
(a n d
pre tt y
much
du rin g
th e
re st
of
my
li f e ).
Wit h ou t
th is
pro te ctiv e
mea su re ,

we w ou ld a ll p ro b ab ly b e d ea d a lr e a d y, h avin g m ost l i k ely s u ccu m bed t o s u ic id e f o r r e li e f.

A sm all
pro p osa l
of
min e
wou ld
be
to
ex p lo re
dis illu sio n m en t
an d
re fu ge
fr o m
posit iv it y
as
a
new
sp ace
to
ex p erie n ce
li f e ,
hop efu lly
befo re
a su ic id al
re a ctio n
fo llo w s.
Nex t
tim e,
befo re
yo u

plu n ge
in to
alc o h ol,
or
mak e
ap pea ls
to
lo ved
on es,
fr ie n ds,
psy ch oth era p is ts
or
to
an y
oth er
of

th e
man y
li f e -a ffir m in g
pra ctic e s,
re m em ber
th at
alm ost
all
co n str u ctio n s
of
mea n in g
– fr o m

work
to
sp ort
to
op en in g
ou r
hea rts
to
Jesu s
– are
in here n tly
illu so ry .
An
alt e rn ativ e
to
ru n nin g

aw ay
fr o m
li f e
th ro u gh
illu sio n
is
to
ex p lo re
an
illu sio n -fr e e
sp ace
fo r
as
lo n g
as
possib le ,
so
as
to

beco m e
more
ca p ab le
of
bea rin g
th e
re a li t y
of
a dis ill u sio n ed
an d
co n cre te
li f e .
If
su cc e ssfu l,

yo u ’l l f r e e y o u rs e lf f r o m y o u r f a u x-p osit iv it y a n d y o u r c h ain s.

In
th e
en d,
of
co u rs e ,
we
mig h t
not
be
ab le
to
li b era te
ou rs e lv es,
eit h er
fr o m
su ff e rin g
or
fr o m

illu sio n s.
Lif e
is
hell,
an d
it
lo oks
as
th ou gh
no
hea ven
aw ait s
us,
to
to p
it
off .
This ,
in
it s e lf ,

mig h t b e a p ath t o l i b era tio n s in ce , a ft e r a ll, w e h ave n oth in g t o l o se .

Julie Reshe is a philosopher and psFKRDQDOst. She is a professor at the School of
Advanced Studies (SAS) at the University of TXPHn in Siberia, and director of the
Institute of PsFKRDQDOsis at the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS).


09 January, 2020

http s://a eon.c o /e ssa ys/th e-v o ic e -o f- s a dness-is -c e nso re d-a s-s ic k-w hat- if - it s -s a ne

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