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Depression and the Subtext
of Family Life
Copyright © 2009 by Richard A. Grossman, Ph.D.  ·  All Rights reserved  ·  E-Mail: ragrossman@voicelessness.com
consistent—and may start the day the child is born.  The message:  “You don’t matter” is deeply embedded in the child’s psyche, and may even predate the child’s capacity for speech.  For children,  subtext, which they perceive as genuine, is always far more important than text.  In fact, if the subtext is affirming,  words hardly matter. (My 15 year old daughter Micaela and I have always shared a "I hate you" before going to bed because we know the words are the furthest thing from the truth--irony and word play is part of our relationship--see the essay "What is a Wookah.")

What do young children do with these hidden messages about their worthlessness?  They have no way of expressing their feelings directly, and no one who can validate their existence.  As a result, they have to defend themselves in any way possible: escape, act out, bully other children, or try to become the perfect child (the chosen method is probably a matter of temperament).  Rather than feeling the freedom of being their own unique self, their life becomes a quest to become someone, and to find a place in the world.  When they don’t succeed, they experience shame, guilt, and worthlessness.  Relationships serve the purpose of finding a place and validation rather than experiencing the pleasure of another person’s company.

Inadequate answers to the four questions are not resolved when a child reaches adulthood.   The goal remains the same:  prove anyway possible that “I am someone of substance and value.”  If a person finds success in career and relationships, the questions can temporarily be put aside.  But failures bring them out, once again, in full force.  I have seen many deep, long-lasting depressions resulting from inadequate answers to the four questions, triggered by the loss of a relationship or a job.  For many people there is no
                                                                        
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Depression and the Subtext
of Family Life
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