Christopher Germer, a well-known psychologist often illustrates our instinctive response to pain through a simple formula: pain x resistance = suffering. This concept is also known as “what we resist persists.” I am encouraged by the number of people who have taken this first step towards reducing suffering through telling a friend or asking for advice on the first step towards getting help. This suffering formula also highlights that alcohol, drugs or other avoidant substances or behaviors are instinctual because they appear to work, albeit temporarily, and not in a sustainable way.
Avoidant patterns begin as an attempt to avoid feelings that might be associated with past physical or sexual abuse, painful memories or traumatic events, and then individuals also begin to avoid positive emotions such as joy, love and happiness. Techniques for managing depression can be as much about managing the painful memories and painful emotions as they are about managing and increasing the frequency of feelings of joy and happiness.
I like the suffering formula, because it affirms why we are averse to talking about our depression and seeking help. We brush it under the rug, because avoidance does work. Just like we avoid touching a hot stove, we avoid touching our emotional pain. While we can avoid a hot stove emotional pain throughout one’s life is inevitable rather than avoidable. Depression and other mental health symptoms can present themselves in a variety of ways, thus it is important to learn to recognize the warning signs of depression, and learn how to manage those symptoms.