project on depression cont ..

Interpersonal psychoanalytical theories

Freud (1917) writes about the overall elusive and complex processes involved in depression, especially in comparison to the process of mourning in which what feels lost is more in the light of awareness. He expresses his uncertainty whether melancholia was a single and well-defined entity, and uncertainty over what depression might be, corresponds in a way to the confusing, uncertain and vague thoughts and feelings of authors who have experienced depression themselves (Klein[1], 1935; Solomon, 2001; Wolpert, 1999).

Freud elaborates on psychogenic aspects of depression with openings to internal object relationships. His suggestions appear in line with contemporary theories, such as ‘endogenous depression’ (in McKenzie, 2000), which imply a depressive individual core. From an interpersonal viewpoint, McCranie (1971: 313-4) argues that melancholia may ‘arise from a depressive core to his [the patient’s] personality, but at the same time, the confusing response from the environment serves to validate these feelings’. Loss of such validation would mean potentially depressive loses of one’s ego or self as well as loss of the social “games” one is part of. (Szasz, 1961). In light of this, Becker suggests that ‘objects and games are inseparably joined’ with self and society constituting a single phenomenon. ‘People “create” objects by acting according to social rules… [t]hey “create” themselves as they create objects.’ (Becker, 1985: 369).

In keeping with Freud’s ideas, Coyne (1985: 323) suggested that one’s depressive “distortions” and “misperceptions” might not only be congruent with one’s reality but also ‘with the social system in which the depressed person now finds himself.’ The above suggestions are in contrast to Beck’s (1967) popular approach to depression, according to which cognitive distortions dominate the information processing of the melancholic so that experiences are rigidly interpreted to maintain existing schema of personal deficiency, self-blame, and negative expectations. McPartland & Hornstra (1964) also argued that disorder of thought and perception are neither defining criteria nor widespread amongst melancholics.

The rigidity and aggression involved in depression may escalate to suffocating and destructive experiences with self-deceptiveness and manipulations (Coyne, 1985). Moreover, Jacobson (1954) argues that depressive complaints are usually more justified than they initially appear. According to her, melancholics often make others feel guilty and depressed, which provokes their defensive aggression and even malice, precisely when the depressed one is vulnerable and needy; highlighting interpersonal depressive processes. While Freud emphasises aggression against one’s ego, Bibring (1953) points out that depression relates to low self-esteem and guilt, following aggressive expressions against others and one’s self. But how a differentiation between self-hostility and aggression against others could take place? One answer to such an open question comes from Wessman et al. (1960) who suggests that relatively healthy individuals become outwardly hostile when depressed, whereas persons with more severe depressive tendencies are more likely to suppress or internalise this aggression.


[1] Melanie Klein, apart from the other two authors quoted here, did not write about her depression openly that year. The information is taken from Smith (1999), who puts forward that Klein wrote about depression during a period of being depressed herself following the death of her son Hans in an accident. This also highlights links and overlaps between mourning and depression.