emotional maturity and depression

Continuing the series on “Developing emotional maturity – part 6 of many”. [cf. part 1: what is emotional maturity? part 2: how to develop emotional maturity; part 3: spiritual maturity; part 4: emotional intelligence; part 5: emotional immaturity]

Rhett Smith is putting together a great series of blog posts about depression. Not just depression in general, but taking a closer look at depression, burnout, and ministry.

[note: this is my personal opinion] What does depression have to do with emotional maturity? It’s about being emotionally honest. We all have struggles and difficulties in life — I don’t recall ever hearing someone exclaim, “Oh, life is so easy, it’s a cake walk!” Each one of us need a safe place to talk about the issues and burdens of life. Depression is one of those issues. Unfortunately, many (most?) cultures and contexts stigmatize these kinds of emotional and/or psychological issues, so that it is difficult to go for help and healing. As if the emotional issue wasn’t tough enough to manage already.

[continuing with my humble opinion] What is unfair (not that life is supposed to be fair) is that people with depression are forced to deal with their issues and work on better healthy self-care, while a person with anger doesn’t necessarily have it. Depression forces a person to “say uncle” and debilitates to ask for help. Without help, the person cannot productively function (to varying degrees.) As Rhett rightly notes, “[this is not] a substitute for professional help or advice. Please consider seeking out professional help if you consider yourself to be at risk for depression.”

On a personal note, in a 2007 blog post titled, “deconstructing depression,” I described my own journey and understanding, and also linked to the DTS Chapel message from Pastor Tommy Nelson (Denton Bible Church) about his experience.

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9 Responses

  1. Rhett Smith says:

    DJ,

    Thanks for the links, I appreciate it a lot. I have you linked in my post tomorrow. Check it out tomorrow.

    Looking forward to catching up when you are out here next. Would love to talk to you more about this issue, etc.

    Rhett

  2. Deef says:

    I think mental/emotional health is a better focus than emotional maturity.

    Time and experience with emotions doesn't mean you'll gain emotional maturity or have mental health. Typically unhealthy coping skills get reinforced and repeated until a mental or physical break down.

    ……
    Emotions are the body's reaction to the mind (thought).
    ……

    I think some important traits for healthy mental health are: Acceptance, Awareness, and Honesty.

    Acceptance: Whatever and whenever emotions arrive, it is totally normal. Emotions are the body's natural reaction to thought.

    Awareness: If you have an emotion or feeling, your body is trying to tell you something. It takes awareness/attention to learn what the message is. Awareness also helps with understanding & processing the emotional experience, and also helps to develop emotional communication/empathy skills.

    Honesty: Lying to yourself and others just takes more energy and ends up being counterproductive. However we do live in a society where denial is way to common.

    …………
    Some common unhealthy coping strategies I've observed:

    Pray more, pray for a miracle, pray for a recovery. (total unacceptance, though miracles are possible for a small percentage, counting on them for a psychological/emotional issue doesn't seem very wise, when there is mental health professionals and public support systems avaiable)

    Sin less, do more good. (also unacceptance, along with adding more emotional damage by moralism)

    Ignore, don't think about it, think about something positive, be happy, keep busy, distract yourself, denial. (this strategy is trying to use sheer force of will to battle the emotions. No one comes out as a winner when one part of yourself is fighting another part.)

    …………..
    I find it funny that typically an irreligious person will be more sympathetic and supportive while a typical evangelical will be more judgemental, dismissive and moralize (when it comes to tragedy, grief, depression, trauma,etc.).

    It is not surprising that the subject mental/emotional health is lacking within many churches, since many in the ministry repeatedly use unhealthy coping strategies for their own emotional stresses (in addition to continually adding more emotional stress to their life).

  3. djchuang says:

    @Deef, thanks for the comments and noting various coping mechanisms used to respond to emotions. The other thing about emotions, once acknowledged, a person can still make a decision to behave a certain way. For example, if a person is angry, s/he still has to decide what to do or not, be it pick a fight, throw something, talk it out in the right context with the right person, do nothing, and so on. I think that's where emotional maturity takes it farther than emotional health.

    As for religion's effects on a person's empathy or sympathy, in my life experience I've seen it both ways. Some people are judgemental because of their religion, some are judgemental without religion. Some have found certain religious practices to be helpful, some do not.

  4. Deef says:

    In my opinion from observation, experience, reading, and research, I think that a large percentage of the population (in particular in American culture) has an unhealthy mental/emotional body/mind.

    Based on that, I think that without the foundation of decent mental/emotional health, then focus on emotional maturity is bound for failure.

    People can develop a level of emotional maturity using a foundation of unhealthy coping strategies (many of which are actually much more effective in the short term). However if their unhealthy emotional coping/processing methods continue on(which is likely because most typically choose
    the path of least resistance), it is only a matter of time until they overload and that then manifests into a physical ailment or mental illness.

    The term maturity even has a hint of competitiveness in it, which can trigger internal stress of trying to achieve a certain level, keep up with some sort of expectation, or feelings of inadequacy (when people compare their perceived lower levels to their unrealistic perception of other's perfection).

    However, whether to focus on mental health or emotional maturity isn't really important, in the big picture just having a higher awareness & understanding of body/mind/emotions is more important.

    ……..
    As for my commentary on evangelicals possibly being more judgemental/dissmissive or moralizing.
    I was simply sharing an observation that Pastor Tommy Nelson made in his Mar 27, 07 talk on depresssion at the DTS chapel. Here are some of his related quotes from that talk:

    25 min:
    “Christians generally speaking don't have a clue.” (in the context of depression/emotional stresses) “I've been ministering since 1977, if anybody had come to me, like me. I would've given him some bromides. Read this, say this, and if it hurts when you do this, quit doing it.”

    26 min:
    “I tell people who come to me with depression. Be careful of sharing this with evangelicals. A lot of times the pagan is more compassionate. A lot of times the pagan won't do a knee jerk reaction to you. But the Christian, will all of the sudden go dark ages on you, he'll go medieval on you.”

    27min: paraphrase: “Christians not only moralize, but they also scorn treatment”

  5. djchuang says:

    Thanks for the comment and quotes. From my observation, experience, reading, and research, I think it's not just an American culture issue, it's a worldwide human issue — that most of the world's population has an unhealthy mental/emotional body/mind. Each particular culture has its own way of dealing with it, albeit unsuccessfully.

  6. Deef says:

    Not sure about how widespread poor mental health is worldwide. From my limited travels, I have found that people in poorer/less developed countries seem to be actually be happier (even though they have much less luxuries, and possibly with more suffering) than people here in the USA.

    Mental health is an issue of human nature, so it deals with people of all cultures. Not sure if different cultures have specific strategies for it. I think the origin stems more from the hard wired survival instinct of fight or flight, which quite effective in life/death type emergencies, but in most other instances, it wreaks havoc on the emotions, mind, body & nervous system.

    There is a wealth of knowledge out there that is categorized as mind/body or spiritual, of which a good portion of that material covers mental health and wellness.

    ….

    Of note, the main reason I commented on this topic was to offer some personal suggestions that may help with developing better peace of mind and a more stable healthy mind/body/emotion relationship.

    The suggestions of acceptance, awareness, and honesty may sound overly simple, but within each of those concepts opens up much more. Those were just the best terms I could come up with at the time to simplify & summarize a much broader knowledge base.

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