09/03/2009 03:53 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Ask Maddisen - How To Get Unstuck From Depression

Dear Maddisen:
I'm a healthy and productive person, and am happy with my life overall. But when I get into dark or unhappy moods, I sometimes feel paralyzed, stuck. Then I get mad at myself for getting stuck. And then it gets worse! Do you have any advice for how I can move through the natural dark times without feeling so stuck and self critical? With much appreciation, NS

Dear NS.
First, I've got to tell you how refreshing it is to hear you acknowledge the natural dark times. We live in a culture that tends to propagate the unnatural perception that we should be spouting in joyful exuberance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - so trust me, NS, when I say you've already taken a big step into the natural movement and mobility you seek merely by your acknowledgment. My intention is to share a theory about the natural cycle of our human nature and to provide a few tips for getting unstuck from the natural dark times.

What is the natural cycle of our human nature, our psyches? If we study ancient traditions including those of the Native American Indians and the East Indian Buddhists, and the more recent teachings of psychoanalyst C.G. Jung and Dr. Steven Foster & Meredith Little of the School of Lost Borders, we find a common theme related to a psychological paradigm referred to as the four shields, or four directions (south, west, north, and east), or four seasons (summer, fall, winter, spring). This is also related to the wheel of life.

For example, when our psyches are in the south, or what I call the "I Need" state, we are more like children, expressive, spontaneous, playful, reactive, with our attention on what satisfies our immediate needs and cravings. When we are in the west, what I call the "I Feel" state, we may feel more like an adolescent passing through the dark lands of self-consciousness, isolation, loneliness, boredom, and we want to go our own way, but feel exposed to the indifferent forces of nature. It can feel unbearable here, but this place is often where we unbury our greatest gifts. In the north, the "I Want" state, we are like the adult, focused on survival, self control, self reliance, hard work, sacrifice, and immersed in mental processes. And in the east, the "I Am" state, we experience the wisdom and reward of experience from our trip around the wheel of life, and the birth of new life, new hope, and a shift in perspective toward the Light, or what some call Spirit. And then we move naturally to the south again, and go around and around and...

Have you noticed this cycle in your own life? Can you see any examples of how you have moved in and out of these states throughout a day, a week, and hour, etc? Do you sense that you tend to exaggerate one or more of the directions? For example, a person who is a workaholic and who doesn't make time for fun or play might be described as exaggerated in the north and undernourished in the south. Just becoming aware of this could help this person take steps to create more balance and satisfaction in these areas. Even entire cultures, generations, or groups can appear to be exaggerated and undernourished in certain directions.

Please keep in mind; this is a simplified and somewhat generalized description of the psychological paradigm. However, I'm sharing it with you to demonstrate the dynamic nature of our psyches, and how very natural it is for us as humans to experience and move through a rich and wide array of emotions ranging from dark to light.

We tend to cycle naturally and unconsciously through these states. However, where many of us often get "stuck" is in the west, the place of depression or other forms of unhappiness, and there are a few simple methods I'll share to help you get unstuck, so that you can continue your natural journey on the wheel of life. Of course, the best way to move out of the west place is to move into the north and do - take action, walk the dog, go to work, engage in service work, etc. But if even that's not working and you still feel stuck or paralyzed, carry out one or both of the following simple processes to help get you moving again.

If you are stuck in the dark place, it's most likely because you are judging yourself for feeling what you're feeling (!), so to set sail, the first thing you do is self forgiveness.

I've observed that the judgment about feeling bad is in itself what causes stuckness and emotional suffering. In other words, if we are unhappy about something and just allow the feeling of unhappiness without judging it, there is less suffering and the unhappiness dissipates faster and we move on.

Follow these steps to self forgiveness:

Step 1
Take note mentally or on paper the specific judgments you are making about yourself (and others if applicable).

Step 2
Start with the expression: "I forgive myself for judging myself for..." or "I forgive myself for judging myself as...", and then add whatever the judgments are. Make this an audible process, meaning say these phrases out loud.

For example, "I forgive myself for judging myself as depressed and stuck."

Step 3
Repeat until feel complete with the self forgiveness, and follow with this phrasing: "Because the truth is...", and then add the positive traits you know or sense to be true.

For example, "Because the truth is it's natural for me to feel dark sometimes, and I always move out of it feeling better."

If this gets you "moving" into the north and into action and no longer feeling stuck - wonderful. Be kind to yourself and gently move yourself into the north and do something, taking small steps to get yourself moving around the wheel. If you need more assistance to get moving, try the next process too.

This is a fun way to trick your ego into regaining its confidence and mobility. You do it from wherever you are emotionally, especially if you are down in the dumps and feeling stuck in it.

Step 1
Start with the expression: "I am confident that ..." and then fill in the blank with whatever you are currently confident about.

For example, "I am confident that I am feeling depressed and stuck." Or, "I'm confident that I'm resisting this and judging myself." Or, "I am confident I don't wish to be stuck here." Or, "I am confident I want to feel better." Or, "I am confident that I love my cat." Or, "I am confident that I love pizza." Or, "I am confident my friends love me." Etc.

Try this, and repeat the phrasing until you feel lighter and more elevated, and no longer stuck. Being confident about what you are feeling, regardless of what it is, can shift you into feeling empowered, which is an emotion of higher energy and motion.

Step 2
Think about what small action you can take next, even if it's as simple as cleaning the kitchen and loading the dishwasher. Be kind to yourself and gently move yourself into the north and do something, taking small steps to get yourself moving around the wheel.

Moving on
The result should be that you get unstuck from the dark place, and move into the doing, however simple that is. Acknowledge yourself for getting yourself unstuck!

And so, dear NS, I hope this provides you with some useful steps for getting unstuck from the natural dark times. The beauty of the paradigm of the four directions and the wheel of life is that we are always moving and evolving whether we realize it or not. Even better, if we feel stuck or exaggerated or undernourished in any area, we now have ways to get moving and practical knowledge about how to balance and nourish our psyches in natural ways that honor our full humanness and the rich rainbow of our emotions.

Your Coach, Maddisen

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Copyright 2009 Maddisen K. Krown