I was talking to a friend who was brought up in a very catholic community. He was telling me that many of his school friends suffered from depression and/or addiction of some kind (particularly to alcohol). Which got me thinking about why that should be.
What would it be like to go to church every week to confess?
What if you were at primary school and had to go and tell a strange voice behind a grille that you had been naughty today or had bad thoughts. And what if you had to do that every week of your life?
Would you even know what ‘sin’ was when you were that young? How would you feel to know that pushing your brother over when he stole your lego was a sin? How would you feel to find out that the flashing feeling of hatred when you mum was cross with you was a sin?
How would that make you feel about yourself?
How would it feel to find out the your burgeoning sexuality was a sin, that your desires were a sin?
Would you give up your desires, your hopes, your dreams?
Would you deny or repress your sexuality?
Would that make you happy?
How would it feel if week in, week out you were looking for bad things in yourself; things to tell the confessional so that you could be forgiven for the bad things you didn’t know were bad?
What if you were told you were born of sin and that happiness is when you are dead?
How would you feel?
How would you know joy and fun and lust and excitement? How would you know love, play, anger? How would you feel about your body if you were told to touch it were a sin?
Would you grow up feeling like a sinner? Feeling nothing, desiring nothing, expecting nothing? Would you grown up to hate yourself? Would you grow up feeling sad?
What if alcoholism, depression, pedophilia were created in confession through repression, denial and pressing down parts of who we are in order to conform?
What if confession created what it set out to destroy?
Would we still do it? Would we still make our children go?
Because you know that cognitive therapy is highly effective for depression. Beck and Ellis said that depression is caused by negative thoughts. Beck’s identified a set of thinking patterns which could lead to depression. His Negative Triad were negative thoughts about yourself, about others and the world and about the future.
Try it. Imagine if your thinking was so conditioned that you thought you were awful, sinful, bad, useless. Imagine if you thought the world was full of sinners, that it was bad, that people can not be trusted and then imagine that you thought that you could never be happy in this life, but would have to die and go to heaven to be happy. Wouldn’t that make you depressed?
- How do you think about yourself? Others and the world? The future?
- How does that make you feel?
Beck also talked about ‘Negative Automatic Thoughts’ (NATs), these are the repetitive thoughts that pop into our head, which we believe without question. We all have them (my favourites have been ‘it’s all my fault’ and ‘I’m not good enough’) and until we notice them and challenge them, they are just like the soundtrack to our lives that we didn’t know could be any different.
- What are your negative automatic thoughts?
Now the biologists among you will know that there is a link between depression and serotonin levels; low serotonin can lead to depression. But what we don’t know is whether low serotonin levels cause negative thinking and depression or whether negative thinking causes the drop in serotonin.
So what if the confessional was the perfect place to train people in negative thinking, to programme their negative triad and their Negative Automatic Thoughts for life? If we thought about it, what would we do differently? How would we think differently? What would we change?
Just a thought.
If you’d like help reprogramming your negative thinking the Love Being Me course in Greece will help you do just that. The audio course will also be available in November so check that out.