On steep ground
There are times in life where things involuntarily come to a halt. Stagnation. That can be somewhat unhinging – especially if issues are involved which are dear to you. Enthusiasm, creativity, progressiveness, self-initiative, joyful anticipation – and suddenly it’s like being a car without gears: The engine is still running at high speeds, but nothing moves in any way. Worse: the engine is noisy and consumes energy yet – but you’re not getting anywhere though.
That’s frustrating – and “frustration”, according to lexical definition, is “an experience of (actual or perceived) disadvantage or refusal that is perceived as an emotional response to an unfulfilled or unfulfillable expectation (disappointment), e.g. due to the failure of a personal plan or to the complete or partial lack of satisfaction of primary and secondary needs. On the one hand, frustration can lead to a constructive change in behaviour, but often triggers regressive, aggressive or depressive patterns of behaviour. “
Before it becomes too theoretical, first of all a personal example:
Moved to a rural area three years ago and optimistically hoped that my self-chosen lifestyle of multiple-relationships would subsist and progress. And of course, thanks to the internet you are connected everywhere with the whole world…
In 2018, however, after the non-monogamy-friendly dating platform OkCupid had changed their search heuristics, I deleted my profile there (being stranded without results anyway). But I showed my colours sedulously on JoyClub and on Facebook… Concerning my experiences with these two internet presences I could write a detailed history here – but I’ll leave it at last month. Then I dissolved the Joy-account to the day after exactly two rather inconclusive years. And three weeks ago, I also got out of the last polyamorous Facebook forum (Weekly recurring questions – and especially the subsequent antioligoamorous debates – such as “And how do you proceeeeed with your chiiiildren…?” or “And wheeeen do I have to tell my new date that I’m leading another relationship…? ” will eventually crush even the toughest cookie…).
The closest monthly Polyamory-Meetup is located 50 km away in the next major city – and anyway: It’s a regulars’ table and no contact-exchange where constantly most interesting potential mates and sweethearts walk through the door.
Therefore: Poly-Single again. Yep. No, nonsense – well, allright I live in a relationship… – but even as a “duo” you’re just not a polycule, in any case no proper multiple relationship, dear, whatever, I just hope you understand what I mean.
And now the mobile phone is silent, the mail inbox remains empty and the data stream of the daily dozens “XYZ has shared a post” messages (finally ?!) dried up…
Now the moment has arrived to deal with the above-mentioned emotional response to an unfulfilled or unfulfillable expectation.
And knowing me that’s not so splendid, because instead of the above-mentioned chance for a “constructive change of behaviour”, I personally tend to lean towards the also recited “regressive and depressive behaviour patterns”.
Frustration, a severe shortage concerning need-fulfilment (among them connection, community, exchange, friendship, intimacy, togetherness – to name but a few…) – and on top of that, depression.
Colourless, joyless, hopeless, lifeless.
Depression – and I know my bit about depressions, because they likewise have afflicted me outside of potential multiple relationships for all my life to a greater or lesser extent – have in my opinion their most annoying virtue by being so “sticky”. Or – as a friend called it some times ago – by feeling “caked”. And that’s what I feel is just the right picture: Depressions muster a vicious tenacity, as if you had made a yeast dough on a non-greased baking sheet – and now the whole thing “sticks” like a sedimentary conglomerate. With such a thorough and ingrained attachment that on some days one can no longer distinguish “Where do I end and where does ‘It’ begin?”. That’s why I empathise a lot with those people who identify themselves on some days with their “black dog”, with those for whom everything seems to be doused in darkness or, as Rainer Maria Rilke once put it , “there seem to be a thousand bars and back behind those thousand bars no world”¹.
The most terrible thing
about such a situation is that we – who live in such a
performance-oriented world today – are quickly convinced that
depressive states and those who are suffering from them them are both
economically and otherwise rather useless. In western industrialized
nations, this view is so widespread that even those affected judge
themselves in such a way – which usually aggravates their condition
and very often chronicles it. In western industrialised nations, this
view is so widespread that even those affected judge themselves in
such a way – which usually aggravates their condition and very
often chronifies it. The word is “widespread disease” – there is
little we can do.
And yes, with such a firmly established belief, with such a judgment, such a pathological diagnosis – I would also say: There is little you can do.
But what if this appraisals were incorrect?
What if depression had an “important function” – or, more gently, “a value” that could be of significant impact for leading committed-sustainable (multiple)relationships?
The American psychiatrist and psychotherapist Scott Peck, whom I have sometimes quoted in recent entries, calls the the long dark tea-time of the soul² “The Work of Depression”.
By this description alone he explains, as I have mentioned at the beginning, that depression is by no means inevitably equated with lifelessness. Because – as I stated in my initial picture – deep down there is still an engine running, though it seems as if in vain – and one is getting nowhere.
Nevertheless, Scott Peck, for his part, is also perfectly clear in his evaluation that “depression” is definitely one of the borderline states of human existence. And to illustrate this, he refers back to the findings of the death-researcher Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who identified in her book “On Death and Dying” (1969), “depression” as one of the five stages in the process of dealing with the own (inevitable) death: 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression and, possibly, 5) Acceptance.
In that respect Scott Peck drafted an example:
»Say, e.g., there is a flaw in my personality, and my friends are beginning to criticise me for that.
My first reaction is that I deny it: She probably got up this morning on the wrong side of the bed, I think, or: He’s just angry because of his wife. So I tell myself that their criticism really has nothing to do with me.
But if my friends are keeping it up, then I get angry with them. What gives them the right to poke their noses in my affairs? They do not know what it’s like to be in my shoes. “Why do not you keep your nose to your own affairs?” I think or even tell them.
If they love me enough to insist on their criticism, then I start to negotiate: I really have not slapped their backs lately often enough and told them how well they are doing. And I stroll around, smile at my friends and am in a good mood and hope that this will put them to silence.
If that does not work – if they still insist on criticising me – then I finally start thinking about the possibility: Maybe something is really wrong. And that’s depressing.«³
Anyway, both Scott Peck and Elisabeth Kübler Ross agree of course, that no one passes through such a process simply by waving a magic wand. Accordingly, both confirm that most people die either in denial or angry or negotiating or depressed – or keep o living in such a way.
Because in order to reach the stage of “Acceptance”, the previous stages are inevitable, including the completely obtained stage of “Depression”, about which Scott Peck, referring to his example, says:
»When I deal with these depressing thoughts, if I reflect on them, analyse them, deal with them, then I’m not only able to spot the flaw in my personality, but I can also name it, explain it, and finally be void of it. And if I succeed with this effort to let this part of mine die, I will emerge at the end of my depression as a new and, in a sense, resurrected person.«³
Thus, according to Scott Peck, the “Work of Depression” is the logical (and necessary) “final stage” of an inner psychic dying process – that always has to go through exactly these same stages, if we perform any significant change or step in our mental growth.
Why do Scott Peck and I, as the authors of this bLog, believe that this “inner work” can contribute to our relationship skills?
Because by accomplishing the “Work of Depression” there is a chance that we become willing to renounce and to surrender ourselves.
And this “self-renunciation” is an important prerequisite for Scott Peck’s so-called “void” of any community- or relationship-building process (briefly sketched by me in Entry 8).
He admits, however, that most of us nowadays struggle with the “void,” which implies a good measure of “non-certainty,” since today “knowledge” is literally equated with “power (over)” – and even in spiritual or philosophical circles at least the knowledge about oneself is esteemed as the highest goal of human experience (concerning the latter I have to clean my own backyard yet…).
Regarding my view of Oligoamory I have written several times that I value an ideal oligoamorous (multiple)relationship because of its potential to be “more than the sum of its parts“. To make this possible – and in order to keep their relationship alive – it would be important for the people involved in such a relationship to continually strive for the understanding that the relationship itself is a separate organism beyond their respective identities (the identities of the individual participants).
And that’s exactly why the “void” is needed; that’s where breathing-space has to be created.
If we go back to the level of relationship-building, then Scott Peck describes that the stage “void” is regularly preceded by the stage “chaos“: The stage in which we want to improve the others, where we would like to enforce our own viewpoints. Exactly a stage in which denial, rage and haggling takes place. Here, too, my car-example can be applied: The engine is howling loudly – but the occupants are still arguing about the access to the driver’s seat and all would like to indicate the direction; but because the controls are sometimes dragged in this direction and sometimes in the other, there is actually no measurable forward movement.
Thus, if the stage of “void” corresponds to the “Work of Depression,” then this is, to a certain extent, the not always pleasant realisation that we have to give something up, to let it die, in order to gain something better, by creating “space” for it. Accordingly, possible growth obviously requires it that we literally have to go through this “depression”.
If we are about to “create space” in our hitherto accumulated knowledge, it means that we have narrowed our perspective beforehand precisely by that knowledge – and its accompanying assumptions, prejudices and diagnoses.
It’s a bit like a cherished room, which we have gradually furnished more and more (or where people of our past and present have put things in) – until it is “overgrown” straight to the point of derangement. The problem is obvious: at some point there is no room left for something “different”.
What’s “different”? It is the extra-ordinary, the un-expected, the new.
And to us, who are thinking (and writing) in terms of ethical non-monogamy and multiple relationships, that can also mean human beings. And if we do not occasionally empty our hearts and minds thanks to the “void”, then we will have difficulties: To allow other people to come near us, to truly listen to them, to entrust ourselves, to surrender ourselves.
To us, who believe in committed human relationships, the value of the “void” is always twofold: On the one hand with regard to new, previously unknown people and on the other for our loved ones, who are already by our side.
And there is another aspect which may encourage us in periods of depression and apparent stagnation. If we truly dare to surrender to the “void” a phenomenon manifests in our psyche, which is known as “horror vacui”. As a matter of fact, “void” as “non-condition” is never an end in itself, even if we initiate it on purpose, e.g. with the help of meditation.
Because of that the void itself creates always an attraction that is not subject to our control: Thus, there is always the chance for the un-foreseen, the un-expected and the new.
Accordingly, if we sometimes literally experience ourselves as “victims” to our frustration and depression, when we feel anxiety, because we have lost any familiar terrain (or were forced out of it), when we feel abandoned and numb, we should be prepared to trace our “un-certainty” and “alienation”.
Beyond guarantees and safeties, beyond the void, the “new” emerges – and we can not know who or what it might be.
And if the aphorist Sophie Manleitner is right: “Loving someone who has depression is like London – it’s the greatest city in the world, but it rains every day…”, then I’m going to like my rain a bit more from today onwards.
* JoyClub.de is a German adult dating site (like e.g. fling.com) with a large nonmonogamous community.
¹ This line stems from Rilke’s most poular poem “The Panther”.
² Yes – that is the title of Douglas Adams’ famous novel from 1988 and its reference to the depressions of immortal beings in the face of eternity.
³ This is a random example to outline any optional issue! Scott Peck didn’t choose it to suggest that all depressed persons have personality-flaws! Please feel free to put in your own subject.
Thanks to Andy Dutton on Unsplash for the photo.