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Home arrow Psychology arrow Subjective Darkness: Depression as a Loss of Connection, Narrative, Meaning, and the Capacity for Self-Representation


In many ways, Steve’s battle with subjective darkness can be linked to his experience of being misrecognized in his formative years, when his father often singled him out for excessive criticism and abuse. Although in many other respects this was an exceptionally loving relationship, Steve internalized the negative aspects of it in order to protect himself against loss. If the conflicts in Steve’s relationship with his father really were Steve’s fault, as he supposed they were for so long, then Steve would be able to fix them and regain his father’s affection once he addressed his own perceived flaws. Therefore, Steve accepted his father’s disparagements as factually accurate, and these formed the basis of his own harsh self-appraisals. As a result of these unconscious processes, he often felt fear, anxiety, and inadequacy in interpersonal relationships.

Steve held himself to impossible standards, which, when he inevitably fell short of them, left him feeling a sense of shame and worthlessness. Not being recognized in his formative years for all of the good qualities he possessed meant that Steve had difficulty recognizing and embracing these characteristics within himself later on. He ended up drinking to cope with unbearable feelings of self-denigration and loss. Through his battle to overcome alcohol addiction, Steve took “a fearless moral inventory” of himself, and through this process, he was able to develop a greater sense of acceptance and compassion, most importantly toward himself. Like Judy, he found a sense of purpose in striving to help others like himself, who needed help in order to find new ways to treat themselves with love. Having his experiences placed within the context of mental illness—as described by his doctor as depression and generalized anxiety—provided Steve with an immense sense of relief. It meant that he was fighting against conditions that could be recognized and treated, and therein could be located a renewed sense of hope.

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