Depression and Shame – The simple yet unconscious patterns that feed and develop an unhealthy mind.

I want to start by saying I’m ok, I’m more aware about myself than I was 3 months ago and I’m on a developmental learning journey towards becoming (hopefully) more human.

This post is simply another story within my journey and I share this for my own reflection but hope that you also find it helpful as a reader.

I’ve learnt that on that journey you learn some big things about yourself and recently I learnt that I have been suffering with shame and depression for the last 3 months and I wasn’t consciously aware I was in a spiral which could have taken me in so many different places.

I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful that I’ve got support and can ask and do ask for help (from family and colleagues and a professional coach) but even with all of that I wasn’t aware of my own blind spot, the subtle shame trigger that started this and it surprised me how two simple words and trying to incorporate those words into who I am as a person created a series of events that unbeknownst to be created feelings and emotional responses of depression and I was full of shame in a way I’ve never felt before.

The words are in themselves perfectly fine but as part of my personal learning journey they sparked reactions which I was not prepared for nor did i anticipate.  I learnt a valuable lesson in relation to the power of words and the subtlety of language, the two words are;

  • Directive: an official or authoritative order
  • Decisive: showing the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively / settling an issue; producing a definite result.

The context for these words is that as an organisational development team we were reflecting collectively with a new external provider and one of the reflections we landed on was that we needed to be more directive as individuals and more decisive so that we could focus on pace and momentum – a very sensible reason on face value. 

This for me personally meant that this was about a personal change and a set of personal behaviour changes and for the last 6 months I’ve been attempting to learn how to be and show more directiveness and decisiveness but have not managed to effectively embody these behaviours.  This in itself was a starting point for my shame (I’m not good enough to do this job was a frequent voice in my head).

The lack of being able to embody these behaviours was causing quite a bit of cognitive dissonance and later escalated to feelings of depression and building on the initial shame but later incorporating the other aspect of shame (who do you think you are to be directive and decisive – no one will listen to you) this plays into and back out of the not good enough frame…

The result of these feelings and state of mind which for some time was unconsciously happening for me I would literally feel disconnected to work, the team and would not want to even do the job and would rather do something else, ideally nothing…what surprised each as during this time even though I was making aspects visible the help around me couldn’t and didn’t help me as I wasn’t consciously aware of the problem yet!

This was not a happy place to be because i knew that i loved my job and the conflict i was feeling was incredibly unsettling, emotionally exhausting and physically affecting my health too.

Moving on to how I became fortunate enough to spot this and take action before it escalated to a more severe situation.

During the same time frame I’ve been continuing my learning helping leaders and developing and deepening my understanding of development, which is as i have already acknowledged very fortuitous.

Learning through and connecting to a few connected and complimentary frameworks and models such as the following allowed me to develop self awareness due to the practices I’m developing but yet consistent in within these models too.

A colleague of mine Roxanne who I work with closely on the leadership work with colleagues in Health and Social Carr shares this with others in the following way which has really helped me connect to all these models in a way that helped me start to unlock the self awareness required to get me out of this shame and depression.

Drama Triangle - Empowerment Dynamic - Braving Inventory

It’s overly complex to describe via this post how these frameworks have actually helped me connect to my learning, however if we ever connect face to face, feel free to ask me to share and draw this picture with and for you.

But over time my deepening understanding of these frameworks and using them alongside each other has allowed me to find a space to reflect on my actions, assumptions and behaviours.

Where I’ve discovered my learning has taken me is in finding clarity about the words and importantly the meanings of those words. I was reminded on the saying from my childhood “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. The learning I’ve understood is that the latest research and findings around neuroscience shows that words have a psychological impact but also a physical impact on you long after they were first said.

So in relation to the words that triggered my shame and depression I’ve found a path out of that by carefully considering and choosing words that help anchor me in a different space…in my current understanding i’m deliberately trying to anchor myself in a space of new leadership behaviours and directive and decisive don’t allow me to do that nor do I find myself being authentic to who i am and able to become.

So the two new words i’ve landed with that are helping me avoid depression and feelings of shame can now feel that i can live and be more vulnerable and authentic:

  • Assertive: having or showing a confident and forceful personality
  • Resolute: admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering

I’ve had to acknowledge in getting to this place that there is a level of requirement in both the role and organisation for the directive and decisive behaviours however that is a current organisational perspective and requirement and part of the role is also about modelling new leadership behaviours and that is where my dissonance comes from as I see the two terms directive and decisive being traditional leadership traits and assertive and resolute being new leadership traits. Perhaps this is too simple but for me this is a profound shift in how i’m seeing myself and learning how to maintain my authenticity.

What I’ve tried to do is understand what outcomes I’m being asked to shape and focus less on the specific traits of directive and decisive and learn about what helps me be the best version of me (as a leader, teacher and coach) and the framing of new leadership is something that helps me fulfil my potential and help role model for others.

Finally I’m incredibly grateful to be able to be able to write this post – to feel safe in my own space and to say what I need to say to help me heal.

To those people who feel this is currently beyond their limits – I know what that feels like and can simply offer these words of support.

Asking for help from others is hard but worth it more than you can realise however it only works when you first allow and accept that help from others can only build upon the help you give yourself. It’s possible to take that first step, no matter how small a step you can manage to make – a small steps is all you need to start you on your path to self healing, belonging and self compassion.

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4 thoughts on “Depression and Shame – The simple yet unconscious patterns that feed and develop an unhealthy mind.

  1. A really thought provoking post Carl and I would really like to have you draw me the diagram when we can find a space in our days and in our minds to do this 🙂

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