Love and Major Depression

Depression and Spiritual Growth


Love is a topic that may well have the largest single literature in the history of mankind. How does God love those with major depression?"Love" is a topic that may well have the largest single literature in the history of mankind. And yet few people actually have an understanding of love; that may partly be because the term is used in so many different ways and with so many different meanings. One of the first things that one learns about love is that it is a gift. It cannot be earned, or bought; both of those strategies lead to failure and disappointment. I know that for a fact, because as a child I tried, ever so hard, to earn my parents' love by being a "good boy" and an outstanding student. It did no good whatsoever. And no one is owed love (the only exception being that responsible parents do owe love to their children). In the case of romantic love, one cannot seek it and hope to find it; usually one meets ones beloved by pure accident. Yet love has the ability to excite the most powerful and enduring emotions experienced by most normal people during their lifetime. And it can be one of the most powerful healing forces known. It is important to all humans.

The most incisive picture of love that I have ever encountered comes from Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. On p. 25 of this masterpiece, Peck defines love as "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing ones own, or another's, spiritual growth". [Emphasis added.] I usually subconsciously expand his definition by replacing the word "spiritual" with "spiritual/emotional". Note here that it is important that one has a will, not a "hope" or "desire" or "wish" or ..., to accomplish the act, and that will requires discipline (the topic of the first chapter of his book).

When I first read this definition fifteen years ago, I was baffled. Where are the "warm fuzzies": the delight in being with another, the touch, the kiss, sexuality? What he said sounded very abstract and obscure, and did not speak to my own then-current, or my culture's, conception of "love". But over the years, as I gained experience and thought more deeply on what he wrote, I became convinced that his definition is the very best I have ever found. Of what he speaks is a different kind of love; not mere romantic "love", but the real thing. It is, for example, the love of a parent for her/his child: the innumerable careful, tender acts of encouragement and teaching, to facilitate a child's emotional and spiritual growth, and awareness of, and comfort in, the world. This is a love of great power. In its purest form, it is perhaps God's love for all people; a love that is crystallized in the Quaker view by Her/His (make a choice) will to facilitate the spiritual growth of all of us through His/Her Light.

The topic of love and its power is so important that I will quote from Peck at some length:

The time and the quality of the time that their parents devote to them indicate to children the degree to which they are valued by their parents. ... The feeling of being valuable --- "I am a valuable person" --- is essential to mental health and is the cornerstone of self-discipline. It is a direct product of parental love. Such a conviction must be gained in childhood; it is extremely difficult to acquire it during adulthood. Conversely, when children have learned through the love of their parents to feel valuable, it is almost impossible for the vicissitudes of adulthood to destroy their spirit. ... As a result of the experience of consistent parental love and caring throughout childhood, such fortunate children will enter adulthood not only with a deep internal sense of their own value but also with a deep internal sense of security. All children are terrified of abandonment, and with good reason. ... To the child, abandonment by its parents is the equivalent of death. ... A substantial number of children actually are abandoned by their parents during childhood, by death, by desertion, by sheer negligence, or ... by simple lack of caring. ... these children, abandoned either psychologically or in actuality, enter adulthood lacking any deep sense that the world is a safe and protective place. To the contrary, they perceive the world as dangerous and frightening ... for them the future is dubious indeed. ... In summary, ... it is necessary for them [children] to have self-disciplined role models, a sense of self-worth, and a degree of trust in the safety of their existence. These "possessions" are ideally acquired through the self-discipline and consistent genuine caring of their parents; they are the most precious gifts of themselves that mothers and father can bequeath. When these gifts have not been proffered by ones parents, it is possible to acquire them from other sources, but in that case the process of their acquisition is invariably an uphill struggle, often of lifelong duration and often unsuccessful. [Emphasis added by me.]

These remarks are not directed just at people with CMI, but at all of us. But a person who is in profound depression may not be able to express or receive this kind of love at all. They often think they "need" something more directive, supportive, and overtly comforting. One of the first problems a person, having emerged from depression, will face in healing, is learning to "love ones self". Such people may have such low esteem from a lifetime of pain and failure that they must practically start over as children. Likewise a person who is manic may not even view other people as "real", but only "constructs" of his/her own mind: almost like automatons playing a script that he/she has written. Both types will have much to learn about love in the process of healing.

When I first read the statements by Peck quoted above, given my own history, I felt doomed: I had been abandoned; I had not received "consistent genuine caring" from my parents; I did indeed lack a sense that "the world is a safe and protective place"; and the prospect of facing "an uphill struggle, often of lifelong duration and often unsuccessful" was extremely discouraging, nay, daunting! Fortunately, I had not gotten to the end of his analysis yet. Because there is another source from which this kind of love and its concomitant benefits can be acquired. And like romantic love, it is a gift; but this gift comes from a higher power, God, and is far more powerful than even the strongest human love.

next: Mental Illness and Public Policy
~ back to Manic Depression Primer homepage
~ bipolar disorder library
~ all bipolar disorder articles

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 12). Love and Major Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: March 31, 2017

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info