On Depression

by Jason Stotts

Recently I was thinking about the issue of depression and I’ve come to conclude that the fundamental aspect of depression is impotence – no, not sexual impotence (although this could certainly cause depression), but rather a kind of metaphysical impotence. By this I mean a feeling of being powerless to affect the world around you, feeling powerless to control yourself, a feeling of inefficaciousness that arises from a lack of control over your own life.

Many of you will find it curious that I speak of feelings here and not thoughts – well it’s because I think that the issue is fundamentally at the sense of life level. The issue of depression starts with one’s sense of life – which is a pre-rational, subconscious self-evaluation of yourself and your life which greatly influences your opinion of yourself. Although the sense of life starts at the pre-rational and subconscious level, it can be controlled (to some extent) by one’s conscious convictions and rational choices. Nevertheless, most people never even attempt such control and for them their sense of life is running on auto-pilot; although unfortunately for them, auto-pilot just means integrating and evaluating any random feelings and thoughts that happen to pass in one’s mind into an evaluation of yourself and your ability to deal with reality.

For most this means that if they do well in life then they will have a positive sense of life and if they do poorly in life then they will have a negative sense of life – in each case since the person is not consciously affecting the process it just integrates what’s available. This is, however, something of a “vicious circle” as good actions reinforce a positive sense of life so that you are more able to act in the future and bad actions reinforce a negative sense of life so that you are less able to act in the future. In each case, one’s chance behaviors and success (or lack thereof) end up determining their future to a great extent as one acts from one’s sense of life – not directly but as the fuel and motive force for one’s conscious mind and rational faculty.

Have you ever stopped and thought about why you were just fundamentally a “happy person” or a “sad person” – it is because you have that kind of sense of life. It’s not as if most people consciously control this, for the people who do not attempt a conscious rational control, this is “automatic”. Yet, it affects your consciousness because someone with a positive sense of life naturally feels that they will succeed and so this influences them to act more often and in the right ways, whereas someone with a negative sense of life is less likely to act (since they believe they will fail) and if they do act they typically “shoot themself in the foot” because they act thinking they will fail – which inevitably leads them to do precisely that.

Sense of life affects depression because your sense of life gives you your sense of efficacy in the world. Someone with a positive sense of life believes themself to be efficacious and will act with certainty, while someone with a negative sense of life believes themself to be inefficacious and will act timidly or not at all. This can cause depression because if one feels that they will fail before they even begin, they will adopt an attitude of “what’s the point?” and fail to take the actions required to actually succeed.

Because a sense of life can affect one’s sense of efficacy in the world, one’s sense of metaphysical potency or metaphysical impotency – it greatly affect one’s life. In fact, it makes no little difference in one’s life, but rather all the difference.

I firmly believe that most people who are depressed from internal causes (i.e. excluding those who have lost some external value like a loved one) are suffering from this sense of metaphysical impotency and that if they could recognize this and act to start correcting their sense of life, that they could fix their problems.

Of course, I am greatly indebted to Ayn Rand for the concept of the sense of life, which she identified as playing a major role in life, but I think that her analysis can be pushed to much greater lengths than she went. While Rand recognized that sense of life has a large role in love and in art, I don’t think she realized the over-whelming implications that it has for all facets of one’s life.

Since one’s sub-conscious provides the fuel and impetus for one’s conscious mind, one’s sense of life literally affects everything one does. For a person with a proper sense of life, there are few set-backs that cannot be overcome and these are dealt with as incidental issues to one’s goal – they are dealt with magnanimously (as The Philosopher would say) and treated as challenges to be met. Alas, someone with an improper sense of life treats any minor set-back or issue as a crisis and is constantly beset by doubt and worry – draining all of their energy and holding them back from their true potential.

The issue of sense of life and of metaphysical potency (a term which I coined) are quite important to understanding one’s life and they deserve to be elaborated and clarified much more than I have done here, since I have barely begun to wrestle with some of the more complex issues. Yet, I think I have laid a sufficient amount of groundwork for my purposes here to show the connection between sense of life, metaphysical potency, and depression. For the rest I will have to issue a promissory note, although the more I think of the issue the more I become convinced of its importance and the more I am inclined to pursue it.

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