Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pseudo-Independence As a Sign of Depression

"To act from independence is one thing, from compulsion, another." (Peter Kramer, Against Depression, 91) The difference between the two is the difference between free will and the determinism that mental illness imposes.

What often seems like an act of independence out of one's free will is actually the polar opposite (or a variation thereof); viz., of bondage. Thomas Merton once wrote, e.g., that anyone who smokes a cigarette every time they feel the urge to do so is not free, but enslaved. The person who has sexual intercourse every time they feel the urge to do so is not free, but in bondage to their urges.

One sign of true freedom is the ability to choose against one's urges or feelings. In such freedom one is not psychologically, or clinically, compelled. 

Brown University psychiatrist Kramer tells the story of a woman named "Mariana" who appears, to her suitor "Harry," to march to the beat of her own drum. Kramer writes: "Often, these traits signal independence. They indicate confidence...  [But] In this instance, I thought, the identical behaviors signal illness."

It's hard to judge between the two. How many times, in ministry, have I been fooled? Yet I have, I think, seen the real thing. Usually my clarity about this comes after months and years of changed behaviors. I don't spend a lot of time trying to judge whether the person is free or not, but over the years a number of misjudgments cause me to be more cautious. The person who on a Sunday morning declares their freedom is, at times, far from it.

There are people who shout about their "freedom" from sexually promiscuity while being oblivious to their bondage. If their friends misread the social cues as signs of an independent person, that would be like looking at water and pronouncing it wine. 

Kramer writes: "The social response to depression gives rise to paradox and oxymoron" (93). The depressed psychologically determined person, in their self-proclaimed freedom, appears liberated.

Pseudo-independent behavior (false freedom) is often a signal of depression.

I write about prayer as God-dependency in my book - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.