Feed the Feminine Podcast Episode #6:
Depression and the Repressed Feminine
Welcome to Feed the Feminine, a podcast dedicated to reviving archetypal feminine qualities in a masculine-dominated culture. Join me each episode as we talk about the archetypes present in how we eat, express, and relate and what we can do to find meaning and reach balance.
On this episode I’m talking about depression and how the collective repression of the feminine may be influencing depressive ways of being.
As always, before we dive in, a quick disclaimer. The information
provided here is intended to covey general information only and does not intend to replace or infer proper psychological diagnosis. No therapist/client relationship is implied or actualized through any contact with this podcast, website or its creators unless formally agreed upon in a proper clinical setting. And now, without further ado, here's this week's episode of the Feed the Feminine podcast.
Responses to the Collective Repression of the Feminine
I recently posted something on Instagram that says “One response to the collective repression of the feminine is to comply and repress our own feminine within. Another response is to rebel like mad, kill our own masculine and overfeed our feminine. Neither response heals us.”
Before I unpack that, I just want to revisit some key points about The Hungry Feminine that informs this perspective. A reminder, essentially. When I discuss the masculine and feminine in this space, it’s not about gender but archetypal energy that exists in all things. We all have feminine and masculine within us, we just tend to have one that dominates the other a bit more. People who tend to be more emotionally attuned, creative, imaginative, day-dreamy, spiritual, or mindful - essentially right-brained folks - tend to be stronger in their feminine. Those who are more left-brained, concerned with logic, taking action, putting things in order, strategizing, concerned with the physical world, they’re stronger in their masculine. I know many women who are dominant in their masculine and many men dominant in their feminine so we HAVE TO look beyond gender when we’re having this conversations and remembering that feminine and masculine is archetypal energy here.
At a cultural level, we see the repression of feminine traits nearly everywhere; capitalism, politics, we prioritize money, consumption, we’re constantly fighting class warfare, we tell artists to get a real job, we laugh at the spiritual, we yell at those slowing their pace to hurry up and be more productive. And really, I think one of the best ways to just see simply how we repress the feminine is the way we treat mothers who breastfeed. We are so disgusted by the natural nurturance that comes from women’s breasts that we moralize breastfeeding, we demonize women trying to feed their children in public as though it’s an obscene act. Because our cultural education says the only way we want to see breasts is when we can acquire them for pleasure, for masculine-driven purposes. But their feminine purpose, to feed and nurture, ew, gross, I’m offended, arrest her.
So now going back to that Instagram post about two of the responses we may have, individually, to the collective repression of the feminine. The two ways I described, either complying and repressing our own feminine or rebelling and repressing our own masculine, the reason they’re not the path to healing is because they keep us enacted in extremes. So in the former, the one where we repress our own individual feminine, we’ve bought into the cultural mythology that says feminine qualities are bad, weak, sinful, silly, and so on. We’ve introjected that messaging and believe it, so when our individual feminine within speaks up, we tell her to go away. In some cases that repression can result in eating disorder, other addictions, self-harm, and yes, depression, because we’re prohibiting a part of ourselves from existing. It’s as if you told a child to pipe down and stop being so unapologetically themselves because they were nothing but trouble. That child’s going to feel real sad and isolated and like they don’t know how to be themselves while still being accepted by others. Being accepted by others is critical for us as humans, it’s a natural need to be included, and our self-esteem is informed by our inclusion. So if there’s something about you that’s been widely rejected by the society in which you live, you may hide that part in order to fit in. But then who are you? You don’t know.
Also, when we react by repressing our own individual feminine, that means we’re giving full reign to the masculine, and the masculine for all of its strengths, is not so good with the empathy or compassion. And this is where the “pull yourself up by your boot straps” “buck up and get over it” kind of narrative comes from. It’s the whole “there’s no crying in baseball” kind of thing where when you DO feel emotional, the only part of you that’s left has no idea what to do with that. It finds emotions to not be very valuable or informative so you start speaking to yourself and your own emotional existence as though it’s a problem, a flaw, something you’ve got to get over rather than something that needs a little love and nurturance and exploration in order to transform positively for you. Anytime we invalidate our own emotions, we’re setting ourselves up for depression, because there’s an aching part within us and we’re telling ourselves we’re bad for having that ache.
When you react the second way, where you actually overfeed your feminine and, in an act of total rebellion and perhaps disgust, repress your own masculine, you’re not going to heal either. So part of the reason I say disgust is because when we don’t have balance, when we’re in extremes – I’ve said this before but it’s worth mentioning again – extremes lead us to the shadow side of things. Where masculine light is positive and helpful, masculine shadow is greed and war. So when we look at the collective, in American culture, where feminine is repressed and masculine reigns, what we’re mostly seeing, at least the stuff that catches our attention and sucks us into the 24-hour news cycle, is masculine shadow. It’s the gross stuff, the violence, the hatred, the theft, the arguments, the supremacy, the fight for power. So we start to think that’s all the masculine is, and we start to despise it, wanting to kill it off within ourselves. I want nothing to do with that, it’s so out of line with my values and who I am naturally as a person, and I want to murder that inside me. But when the feminine is all that controls within the individual, the feminine shadow is now what’s going to come out. And the feminine shadow is where you’re likely to find another iteration of depression. Because there’s nothing to balance out the emotions, no boundaries to make relationships safe, codependency arrives here, passive aggressive communication takes over indicating a lack of self-agency, that we can no longer speak up for ourselves and make an impact so we have to make small remarks here and there which perpetuate feelings of resentment, and we can start to feel like without the approval of another, we are worthless.
Behavioral Signs of Masculine/Feminine Excess
So if we take that a little further and look at behavioral signs of excess, we can understand this even more deeply. I’m going to take us into a place of behavior and personality before taking us back to mood, and the depression we can experience as a result of all this.
The behavioral signs of masculine excess are insomnia, restlessness, anger, irritability, lack of empathy, violence, grandiosity, need for constant stimulation, impulsive behaviors. Behavioral signs of the feminine hypersomnia, low energy, excessive guilt, apathy, lack of motivation, over or undereating, weight gain or weight loss, compulsive behaviors. Now if you’re a therapist or social worker or if you’re familiar with the DSM, the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, you may realize that those behavioral signs start to sound like diagnostic criteria. Masculine excess can start to read a little like mania or a little like narcissistic personality. Whereas feminine excess reads as depressive.
What’s interesting to me in that discovery is that depression has interesting relationships with both mania and narcissism.
So… this will primarily hit for the psych nerds like me, but I think anyone can get into this and I want to be clear that just because I’m using diagnostic language, doesn’t mean I’m diagnosing anyone. In fact, I’m using the diagnostic language to widen the lens, not narrow it… There’s a difference between mood disorders and personality disorders. Usually when we talk about depression, we’re talking about a mood disorder. And usually when we talk about mania, we’re talking about how it see-saws with depression in those with bipolar disorder, which is also a mood disorder.
Narcissism, however, while it can arise in other ways, is typically referred to by its personality disorder. What a lot of people don’t know is that depressive personality disorder was a diagnosis in the DSM IV, one that was marked for further study and essentially removed in the latest version of the DSM. It can still technically be diagnosed as personality disorder not otherwise specified but as its own living, breathing, autonomous diagnosis, it’s been removed. Many clinicians feels that dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder, which is another mood disorder, can replace depressive personality disorder. And I think that’s unfortunate because mood and personality organization are different and the distinctions are necessary.
For one thing, a personality disorder comes from personality organization. We all have personality organizations, it’s essentially the scaffolding that we build ourselves on. Your personality organization only becomes disordered when you are completely rigid in your behaviors, you’re unaware of your behaviors and the impact they have on your life, and your defense mechanisms are mostly primitive, compared with more mature defense mechanisms.
For another thing, even though it’s no longer an official diagnosis in the DSM, depressive personalities need representation. It needs to be a part of the conversation that mood is not the only place depression shows up, that the way we see the world and organize our self in response to it can be depressive at its core, regardless of mood. You can be euthymic, and still be a depressive.
Depression vs. Depressive Personality
Now when you have a depressive personality, you can also have a manic personality, because there’s room for that see-saw again. Essentially there is a personality organization that mimics bipolar disorder but it’s less about mood and more about, again, your understanding of the world and how you need to respond to it. It is my belief, through my personal experiences and observations, that those who are in excess of their feminine are more likely to have depressive personality organizations. And this can be further perpetuated when the culture rejects the feminine, because depressives already have a lot of self-doubt, they feel bad, sinful, and incompetent so cultural rejection can further drive that home, especially as the self is still developing.
A former instructor of mine from graduate school, his name is Matthew Bennett, he wrote a book, still yet to be released, I believe, with an artist friend of his, Leigh McCloskey. The work itself is called The Hieroglyph of the Human Soul, which I believe is also the name of the second-floor library in Leigh’s home where he painted this stellar mural, encompassing the entire room – ceiling, floor, furniture – you feel like you’re floating around in the cosmos, the whole thing is a trip in there. Anyway, they explore the archetypal patterns in personality organizations – this is different than a mood disorder, which is what we think of when we think of depression. Our personality organization is essentially what we’ve learned about the world and how we need to respond to it. It’s the scaffolding on which we build ourselves, and there’s a depressive personality organization that, if we have it, can inform our depressed mood. As part of Bennett’s and McCloskey’s work, they created this grid that helps us conceptualize how socialization and early life experiences can develop our personality structure. In other words, what we experience both interpersonally in our younger developmental year in family and the people closest to us, but also how we're socialized, oftentimes by our gender but our culture and socioeconomic status and other boxes we check off, what expectations we're held to. I won’t get too into the specifics but on this grid, the narcissist and the depressive are directly across from one another as they are the same, but opposite. So remember we’re talking about the narcissist because behavioral signs of masculine excess read like mania or narcissistic personality while the behavioral signs of feminine excess read like depression or depressive personality.
Both the narcissist and the depressive are self-focused. For the narcissist, it’s about how they avoid shame by increasing their value through external conquests. Like look at this beautiful girl I’m dating and this fancy car I’m driving and all of my famous friends who love to talk about how great I am. The depressive is more like please don’t look at me, why is everyone looking at me? I’m going to mess this up or I’m doing something wrong and people are going to notice. They're going to notice that everything I've ever said is actually a lie and that I'm an imposter and I don't belong here and I don't actually know what I'm talking about. It's still about me but through a completely opposite narrative.
A depressive always wants forgiveness, they carry around a constant fear of doing something immoral or making a mistake. I've talked about this in previous episodes, that me, as someone who is in excess of my feminine, someone who has experienced an eating disorder, someone who has experienced codependent relationships, I'm a depressive. I've said it before, I'll always own it, because owning it helps me to understand myself. It helps me understand that when I engage in behaviors that don't give me the desired outcome, I get to look at that and say "okay this makes sense" because as a depressively organized person, I'm under the influence of this, I'm expecting this, and so I'm behaving to create this outcome. But now that I can be objective about myself and I'm able to kind to myself about it, I can check the facts on that and recognize that that's not actually true, that something in there is broken down and I've got to troubleshoot that instead of letting it take over and control behavior in my life. Depressives are typically too busy being self-critical that they tend to give others too much of the benefit of the doubt. And so they attach to others easily, sometimes too easily, but are also sensitive to anything perceived as criticism, which can make those attachments feel hurtful or toxic. This is the feminine shadow. Boundary-less intimacy, giving away power to someone else to validate you. A judgment toward self, a need to be in control and perfect at all times. Feminine shadow and depressive personality tend to share those patterns.
A narcissist struggles to love. They’re blocked from it, so they perform in a way to receive validation instead. Sometimes they accomplish this through domination, power, self-assurance – they become predators, because if they’re not winning, they have to face how empty they are and why. In narcissistic behavior, you can sense that every action is a direct avoidance of the depression that will come from a lifetime of shame.
And depression’s relationship with mania, whether in depressed mood or depressive personality, is also interesting, because, in some ways, the mania tries to be a savior. It’s almost like “have no fear, I’ll pull you out of this depression” and the deeper the depression, the more urgent the need for mania, so it shows up like a bat out of hell as another means, like narcissism, of avoiding depression. I’ll say that in addition to keeping an eye out for that Matthew Bennett, Leigh McCloskey book, I will also recommend for clinicians to pick up Nancy McWilliams’ Psychoanalytic Diagnosis. Its one of the greatest books I continue to consult regularly and she incorporate the depressive and manic personalities into her work. There’s so much juicy goodness in there.
Depression: The Existential Ache
Depressed mood, now, depression as we think we know it… it’s like an existential ache. A heavy ache that creates numbness. Like when you’re holding something heavy for too long and your arms go limp, it’s a fatigue, a cloudy one. It creates an absence of things; an absence of purpose, passion, desire, curiosity, hope, an inability to see the future, an inability to connect, an inability to see good in oneself or the world. Like all things, this exists on a spectrum. Not all depression can be negotiated with like how I’m outlining here. But finding meaning in my depression was one of the most life-changing experiences of my life and I believe looking at it through the lens of masculine and feminine can do that, can help find meaning, because it helps inform us about what we’re grieving for.
I have always been a very self-aware person. I would describe myself as a highly sensitive person, I'm an empath, I learn through my emotions. I perceive through my emotions. So this can create a vulnerability in several ways, one of which is that I'm hyperaware of everything. And being hyperaware of everything can really clue you in to where things don't fit and sometimes having that knowledge is a burden because you're seeing things that other people aren't and that's maybe why they're able to go about their day being happy and I'm here fixated on something's wrong. And I can see it and why does no one else see it or feel it? But it was when I recognized the function of my depression in all of that that I gained back my power over it. Depression is something I've struggled with my entire life but didn't really recognize it until I was 21 experiencing a major depressive episode in college for the very first time where I completely shut myself in for 5 days.
I had no human interaction except to IM my friends just enough of a strategic explanation for my absence so they wouldn't come looking for me. I ate no food, I hardly slept and when I did, it was with blasting headphones on my ears because that was the only way I could silence the ruminating, abusive self-talk running rampant through my mind. I had suicidal thoughts but was so numb and depleted and in a black fog that I had no agency to execute any of my plans. and my depression is some kind of an alert system that I am not being true to myself. That I am prioritizing conformity for my self, that I am trying to make friends just so that I'm not alone but that the friendships are meaningless because it's a false me who's showing up in them. My depression is a way to remind me that the world as I know it struggles to make sense to me, and that I am a feminine person in a masculine world, an introvert in an extrovert's world, a feeler in a thinker's world, a nocturnal creature in a morning person's world and so what do I have to be excited about when everything about me says I don't belong? When I struggle to connect to others because we're living on different planets? Of course I speak with immense privilege, still, for even though I have never felt represented in our culture in any meaningful way, as a white, able-bodied, cis person loosely of the religious majority in America, I am the most represented person there is. But this is just my story, the voice of my depression and loneliness. And once I recognized that my depression was not about ME and how shitty I WAS but that I'd internalized a negative narrative about myself from a WORLD that is struggling with its own identity crisis and doesn't know how to love, connect, or nurture itself meaningfully, that's when my depression stopped being my enemy.
We hurt when the feminine is not present. We ache. Because qualities of the feminine are our most natural instincts, not instincts of war or protection, but instincts of peace, connectivity, spirituality, life itself. The feminine takes us beyond our skin and bones and allows us to reach our higher power, allows us to reach other human beings beyond just human chatter. The feminine gives us those experiences in life that are indescribable, so when we’re without that, things start to feel hollow.
But those individuals who respond to the cultural repression with an almost rebellious overexaggeration of the feminine within themselves, they’re going to become so free with their emotions, without boundaries, that they’re going to get flooded. They’re going to become emotionally overwhelmed. I’m someone who has always been dominant in my feminine and was always described as being sensitive and emotional as though that made me weak. I believed that I was weak then. Now I found my sentimentality and emotionality to be my biggest strengths. But I do admit that when we are too much in our emotional self, for too long, and too many extremes, things get difficult. DBT – dialectical behavioral therapy – a modality of therapy that’s actually very masculine in and of itself because of its structure and linear thinking – is helpful for that reason. It takes the feminine nature of psychotherapy – a science that is not quantitative or measurable, the study of the human psyche – and it adds some step-by-step, linear structure through which to understand the self. It can be a helpful tool in therapy when used correctly.
But there’s a concept in DBT that we all have an emotion mind and a rational mind but that they cannot operate individually because if you’re too much in emotion mind, you’ll be really reactive behavioral and maybe say or do ineffective things you’ll regret. But if you’re too much in your rational mind, you’ll be cold and distant and emotion-less and that will make closeness or connectivity with other people really difficult. It will make finding meaning and soul in your life almost impossible. So DBT says the two need to inform each other, they need to communicate, and when they do, when a balance is struck, what you get is wise mind. This indication that when you merge emotion and reason, you gain wisdom. It’s a very modern, masculine incarnation of principles of the yin and yang – it’s about balance. So the feminine is the emotion mind and the masculine is the rational mind. Too much of one and not enough of the other leads to discontentment, suffering.
So what can we do with all of this information? For one thing, we can start increasing our awareness of our mood, naming depression when it arrives, if we don’t already, and getting to know ourselves in relationship to the masculine and feminine. As you’ve listened along in this episode, you likely heard yourself being spoken about at one point of another. When? When did you hear yourself represented? When I spoke of the masculine excess or the feminine excess? Understand which one you’re dominant in and, more importantly, what your relationship is to less dominant one. Are you angry at that one? Scared of it? Mean to it? Do you starve it? How can you feed it instead? I have some tips on the blog – there’s a piece called How to Feed a Healthy Feminine (and Masculine) over at thehungryfeminine.com/blog that can be a good starting point for you. But recognizing that, when it comes to depressed mood, whether or not you’re a depressive personality, depending on your dominant traits, something can be done.
If you’re in excess of feminine, you need some boundaries, you need to check the facts of your feelings – in other words, are you responding to something real or something assumed? As your emotion mind taken off without you, collecting data that only exists in your own mind? You need some healthy masculine to step in and problem-solve rather than just stir in the overwhelm of emotion. Not because our emotions need solving, but because if you’re drowning in your emotions, you need a life vest. If you’re in excess of the masculine, you need some tenderness and self-compassion. You need a healthy feminine to step in and provide some nurturance and community and maybe a little playtime, or stillness in which to tolerate the bad feelings, rather than letting the masculine narrative tell you to buck up and move on. Now sometimes depression is bigger than all of this, and sometimes taking these actions in the moments of depression won’t work and you’ll feel like a failure which will only perpetuate the depression. So take it easy on yourself and lead with curiosity. I have found the best approach isn’t to tackle this while I’m in an episode of depression but rather before and after it. After it, to sort of Monday morning quarterback the situation and unpack it a bit to understand it, so that I can cope ahead for the next time, practice balancing out my masculine and feminine for routine maintenance, and looking out for warning signs that a depressive episode is coming on, trying to get ahead of it. But these things take practice. Just like you don’t just go and run a marathon without training, you don’t just solve your depression overnight. But you can make it more manageable and less overwhelming if you create daily practices around balance and coping ahead for when the balance gets thrown. More to follow on this, stay tuned if you want to learn more.
Thank you for joining me here on the Feed the Feminine podcast. If you enjoyed this episode and want to explore more, you can subscribe for updates on upcoming episodes as well as head over to thehungryfeminine.com where you can join the mailing list to stay in the loop. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thehungryfeminine. Thanks again for being here, see you next time.