Marty was in for a bit of a shock. One of the themes of the Uplift Program, of course, is that no matter how strong you are, you can’t remain unaffected by how others treat you. Your brain responds chemically, structurally, and in terms of synaptic connections to input—and the input that matters most to you comes from other humans. You are not a rock, you are not an island, and no amount of wishing will make it so!
If you’re depressed, you’re particularly vulnerable to negative interactions that trigger past trauma. The amygdala tends to get flooded with emotions, the hippocampus can’t sort them out properly, and the frontal cortex can’t turn them off appropriately. The resulting inability to think clearly and make decisions can lock you into a downward spiral. On top of that, you are probably unconsciously re-creating similar relationships to those that caused your problems as a child and will trigger them as an adult.
You must now create a safe and supportive relationship environment that counteracts the negative aspects of your childhood. You need to put strong boundaries in place to protect yourself. These will help create new neural connections that counter the old, negative beliefs about yourself. Marty, for instance, needed a respite from the neurochemistry of crisis set off by distressing interactions with her husband and others. Within these new, functional circumstances, Marty could begin to heal from the outside in.
Boundaries Versus Barriers
How can you bring about such an environment? Like Marty, you can’t control the people around you; no one has that much power over someone else. You can control the conditions under which you will agree to any relationship.
Everybody talks about boundaries, but most people are vague about what they are or how and when to put them in place. The lack of functional boundaries is the greatest roadblock to good relationships. Without clear, acknowledged limits and requirements of the other person, you can’t feel safe or empowered. Relationships become traps.
In these situations, you tend to rely on dysfunctional childhood coping mechanisms. The only way Marty felt she could defend herself from the demands and emotional abuse of her husband and parents-in-law was to become ill. If she stayed in bed, no one could require her to do anything or criticize her for getting it wrong.
Even her depression was in part a way of removing herself emotionally from an intolerable situation.
However, her physical and emotional illness prevented her from forming any relationship that might help her recover. If you don’t have boundaries, you erect barriers, and these eventually bring about isolation, a major factor in depression.
Boundaries make relationships possible; barriers shut everyone out. Needs provide boundaries that invite people into your life—on your terms.
Of course, a traditional hunter-gatherer wouldn’t have had to worry about stating needs. Members of his band would automatically have met them. Boundaries, taboos, customs, roles, and ceremonies would have been built into the band’s collective memory, a never-changing system that in itself offered security and held everyone together. The market for self-help books on relationships in a hunter-gatherer band would have been slim indeed!
In such a culture, one could talk about “unconditional” love, because the conditions for love were already being met by this invisible underlying system. However, in our dysfunctional culture, we have to re-create a workable system from scratch.
And since (again, unlike the hunter-gatherer) we each came from a different childhood environment, every pairing or group will have to work out its own agreements.
Needy Is Good
Today, much is written about the “authentic self ” and everyone wants to tell you how to find it, nurture it, base your decisions upon it, move from it, or create from it. But what is your authentic self ? It is the you beyond your dysfunctional programming. The you based on your genetic inheritance as a human being, which is at present probably obscured by your conditioning. It is also the you built by taking charge of your environment.
How do you fashion this new, optimistic self ? Through meditation and fasting on a desert or mountaintop? No. Through beating the competition? No. Ultimately, since you are a relationship-forming creature, the real you will emerge in the context of lasting, affirming relationships. A functional you will be born as the result of insisting on getting your functional needs met. They form the basis of that mysterious creature—your authentic self.
In Western cultures we are taught to be independent and self-motivating. If you’re vulnerable or depressed, you “should pull yourself up by the bootstraps” (which is obviously anatomically impossible). In the end it “all boils down to you.”
You must not be “too dependent” (whatever that means), or people will turn away.
Above all, you must never, ever be “needy” (an affliction women seem most prone to, according to men). We have heard this refrain so many times that we called one of our workshops “Needy Is Good!”
Marty was not ecstatic when first presented with the idea that she had to create boundaries and identify her needs, not just adapt herself to abusive relationships. However, during the Uplift, her view began to change. As she began to ask herself what she really needed others to do—and not to do—she came to see that she existed for something other than responding to the whims of others. She began to think of herself as an autonomous human being.
“I’d read almost every self-help book going, and this course seemed to contradict just about all of them!” she now says. “But I began to see that none of the old ways had worked. I had thought that I’d communicated my needs, but really I’d just expressed my feelings. No one seemed to hear me. So when people close to me ignored my requests, I thought there was something wrong with me. My husband and in-laws just kept telling me I was too needy and demanding, and I believed them.”
During the Uplift, Marty discovered that rather than being too outspoken and loud, as she had feared, she had in fact let herself be cowed. “When I became really clear about my needs, gave them with conviction, and didn’t back down, everyone got pretty upset at first,” she chuckles. “I called Stan on it every time he criticized me or yelled. I simply refused to see his parents, because they always made me feel bad. If I started feeling guilty or like I should give in, I called a friend and talked about it or left the house and visited her. It was just as if I were an alcoholic determined not to take that first drink!”
Needs Go Against the Program
Marty’s first, daring step was when, early one evening, Stan said, “Mom’s cleaner is on vacation. I said we’d go over on Saturday and tidy the place.” As usual there was no discussion, no bringing Marty into the decision-making process. No asking her if she might have other plans for the weekend.
Marty’s reply was a revolution, a complete break with her program: “I need you to ask me before you make decisions on my behalf.” Stan was dumbfounded. For a moment he just stared at her as if he couldn’t quite understand.
“But they’re my parents!” he countered.
“Yes. Your parents. I need you not to take me for granted. By that I mean I need you not to assume that I will help out every time your parents get into a problem.”
Stan began to get angry and to gesticulate, punching the air as the words tum-bled from his mouth. This led to the third need:
“When you get angry and act like that, I don’t feel safe. I need you to leave the room.”
By giving her needs to Stan clearly and firmly, Marty began to have a real relationship with him. At first, when he felt his control over his wife threatened, he reacted predictably: he called her selfish, yelled, sulked, and tried to manipulate her by complaining to mutual friends about his wife’s “callous and inexplicable” behavior. But when she persevered with her needs, he began to meet them.
And when he’d behaved differently from her father for a while, her brain finally stopped perceiving him as such. Each time she asserted herself appropriately and he complied, her self-confidence rose. She began to make neural connections around self-empowerment rather than self-effacement and around safety versus powerlessness. She began to truly grow up and to finally leave home emotionally.
Under these circumstances, and with the use of RPMs and regular walking, Marty’s original health and vigor have returned. She has occasional down or worried moods, but the depression and anxiety have not returned.
Marty joined a graduate program in psychology and achieved distinction during her first year as a student, getting high honors in spite of the voices from her past that said she was stupid. She is pleased and amused when her fellow students acknowledge her role as one who speaks up for her rights and tend to follow her lead. Source Credits: Creating Optimism: A Proven, 7-Step Program for Overcoming Depression, Based on the popular Uplift program, written by Bob Murray Ph. D., and Alicia Fortinberry, published by Mcgraw-Hill