James Hillman: Depression in a Manic Society—“I have to stay busy. If I stop, I’ll feel sad and empty inside.”

"Percussion" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

There are many good things about being active and working hard. Yet, some people display a mania in the busy-ness of their lives as a manic defense against depression. They fear that their energy and purpose will suddenly collapse if they slow down. And it might, at least temporarily.

Those people often carry many of the characteristics of mania: excessively outgoing, optimistic, euphoric, aggressive and argumentative. Their lives are so complex and fast paced that they have no time to reflect. They move with a speed that leads to an absence of inwardness. If there is no time for introspection and loss, the losses will mount until they eventually become unbearable and overcome us.

Slowing down even to experience sadness can be restorative of psychological health. James Hillman* said that “through depression we enter depths and in depths find soul.” Melancholy and sadness can bring refuge, focus, gravity, weight, and humble powerlessness—all necessary to discover consciousness and depth.

Hillman suggests that by slowing down and finding depth in our lives, we can find a way of living multiple-mindedly rather than single-mindedly. By pausing, we find what’s interesting—depth, fantasy and image.

Most changes are undertaken more successfully if approached incrementally and with moderation. Rather than abruptly ending an on-the-go lifestyle, taking some time each day to do nothing or to stroll leisurely without an agenda will allow unconscious contents to bubble to the surface.

The unconscious is like a rebellious teenager. If you repress either for too long, you’re in for some unpleasant surprises. It’s less risky to make time for hidden feelings and thoughts to arise, than to stay too busy to deal with them.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

• Renegade psychologist James Hillman died last week on October 27. The notes included here are from his seminar I attended in Santa Barbara called “Depression in a Manic Society” in 2000.

Read “Mild Depression and the Blues.”

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