It is a graphic image, but some depressive states are best described as emotional constipation. Consider how similar some of the symptoms of depression are to physical constipation: Feeling low, blue, no energy, not feeling like doing anything, loss of a sense of well-being, decline of normal interests (It should be noted that severe depression has additional, more severe symptoms.). Unresolved emotions can become compressed down on the inside of a person, like undigested lumps of dough. The heat of consciousness and the action of resolving issues from the past are needed to bring “digestion,” movement, and assimilation to the stuck emotions.
Years ago, a man came to me as a patient. He had been depressed
for many years. He began telling his life-story. At age twelve his mother died. His father, a stern man, lined up all of his children before going to the funeral, and he instructed them that there were to be no tears. Their mother was in a better place, he said, and they should not feel sad. With that they went to the funeral. There were no tears from any of them. John, my patient, began to continue with the story of how his life went on after that event. I interrupted and asked if he had ever grieved the death of his mother. He said he had felt some sadness but had gone on with his life. “I got over it,” he said. The heaviness of depression was in his voice. I asked if he remembered being at the funeral, and would he be willing to go to that memory. A few moments passed. He said that he remembered standing next to his mother’s coffin, peering inside to see her. “What are you feeling, as you stand there?” I asked.
“I don’t feel anything.” He paused, then added, “I wasn’t allowed to feel anything.”
“John, your father is gone and you are the man now. You can give yourself permission to feel and express it now, if you want to.”
A few moments passed. His countenance began to change as pain welled up in it (Later he told me that, inwardly, he had revoked the no-feeling rule imposed by his father.). He began to cry, at first in sputters and spurts. Then great sobs, like waves, rolled through his body. Tears flowed freely…for 30 minutes. These were not the tears of a 52 year old man reflecting on his mother’s death, and crying about it. These were the tears of the twelve year old in John, the inner child of his past who had experienced that event. The experience was still there, stuck, unresolved, unexpressed…like an invisible pause-button on an inner remote control had been depressed these many years. The button was released when adult John gave the twelve year old permission to tell the truth of how he really felt. Telling the truth by expressing his grief set a part of his heart free.
In subsequent sessions, John’s depression began to lift as he continued giving himself permission to feel. He unlocked one memory after the other, and life began to flow through his body as he allowed his soul to discharge and release his emotions. It had never occurred to him to declare his father’s no-feeling rule null and void, but when he did so it had the effect of him becoming more the man he was intended to be. Underneath it all he was a feeling person.
During the process he also discovered that he had anger toward his father packed inside, the target of which anger was the damage done to his quality of life by shutting down his feelings. He released the anger and forgave his father, thereby removing a thick sludge of bitterness that had settled into the bottom of his soul for many years.
John went off his anti-depressant medication and began to live his life in a new way. This was a case of emotional constipation that was resolved by a decision, then by movement, release, and a new and healthy life-style of digesting and assimilating feelings from life’s many emotion-generating events.