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Is It Possible To Judge An Appropriate Level Of Depression By Taking Cues From Others?


shockwaves
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Hey guys,

 

I'm finding that all too often, I judge the appropriateness of my own emotions by observing how a similar topic affects another human being. I'm trying to figure out whether or not this is the proper way to go about this, because I am dealing with a bit of depression as a result of it. My basic question is this: do you believe that human beings need to analyze others' emotional states in order to figure out where their own should be? I wrote here a little while ago about how a recent discussion with my then de-converting brother (he has since re-proclaimed himself a liberal Christian) re-sparked depression in myself. Read about that HERE if you would like to know more about that.

 

In summary, I began de-conversion about 5 years ago. Before the conversation with my brother occurred, I had more or less come to terms with things. I had learned to enjoy my friends and life much more fully, I had mostly ceased to view my impending death in a depressing light, and in general I was content, and pursuing my dreams here at my university. After speaking with my newly de-converting brother, I jumped right back into depression.

 

This time, things were different. I realized that I was depressed not because the things my brother brought up actually would have depressed me had they just popped into my head as thoughts, but because they depressed my brother even after I told him many of my reasons why they don't depress me, and yet his depression continued. This forced me to say SLOW DOW! what is going on here - perhaps my reasons for not being depressed are really not good reasons after all. Maybe the reasons I am not depressed were NEVER good reasons to not be depressed, because my brother is still depressed.

 

Now, I have debated Christians before, and many of them were depressed about the prospect of atheism. Yet that never affected me. Why am I affected by my brother's depression? Because I have chosen to make my brother (as an individual who has been raised in the EXACT same fundamental christian household as I have) as a fairly accurate indicator of what is, and is not depressing. I have this strange feeling that unless I can take my brother with me all the way - hold his hand all the way through deconversion, and convince him to accept things in exactly the same way I have accepted them, I do not deserve to be happy. Instead I deserve to make his depression my depression - because it COULD be the feelings I really should be feeling.

 

 

I know this all is going to sound ridiculous to you guys, it sounds ridiculous to me as I write it. But I really do need this question answered, because never before have I had cause to analyze the question of why individuals should be able to come to their own conclusions independent of others.

 

What I have been thinking so far on the subject: I have just started to come out of my current depression by realizing a few things. For one, I realized that not all human beings are equal. Not all have the same brain structure, so by necessity, it is impossible to conclude that all brains should experience depression in the same way. For another thing, I realized that though my brother and I grew up in the same family, we really did choose two very different paths. I am 22 now, and he is 21. He chose to ignore the rules of Christianity in order to have fun, while at the same time expecting heaven. I chose to live my philosophy - really figure out whether or not Christianity was for me, which forced me to face certain facts, which drove me to deconversion. Right there is a huge difference. I disliked life as a Christian - I knew I was not free to be who I was, and I had a driving passion to know the truth. My brother always had fun as a Christian, because he didn't care about the rules or the specifics. When his friend showed him his first atheist related article, and he first began to question God, the ONLY thing that changed in my brother's life was the prospect of heaven. Everything else he already had (mental freedom, etc). So he went from good life + heaven to good life + death. It didn't add up. I went from Terrible, conflicted, depressed life + possibly heaven to good life + death.

 

So many of the things he said were so easy to argue with too....but even though I was able to "trump" his logic, it still didn't help him. A perfect example would be my brother's insistence that the possibility that nothingness after death is extremely depressing, and renders this entire life completely meaningless and pointless. He would also like to add that leaving a legacy is also pointless, because all other human beings will also die. I find this to be an example of something that I can deal with, or would be able to if I were not judging the depressingness value of this statement by my brother. First of all, I don't believe that thoughts like this are worth thinking about (at least at first) - which brings me to another point I want to make that I think is relevant. When I was leaving Christianity, it was because I had decided that finding my way out of that mental mire was something well worth doing, and I wanted to know the truth. Sure I had thoughts that depressed me, but these thoughts took second seat to the actual logic, reason, etc I employed to make parts of Christianity look absolutely ridiculous to myself. To me, I was willing to set aside the emotional implications of any of the arguments either for or against God in favor of finding the truth. I don't think my brother ever got to this point. I still don't think that he thinks very deeply about why Christianity may be wrong - he seems to spend the vast majority of his time thinking about why it would be depressing to live without Christianity. To me, this is the wrong order. Also remember, he did not seek to leave Christianity in the first place....he was proselytized by a friend.

 

I would also like to say that I believe that if something is a necessary conclusion, there is no point in being depressed over it. Don't ask me "but is it depressing to believe that there is nothing after death?" First ask me "Is there good reason to believe that there is nothingness after death?" I don't think we can be sure of anything like that. In fact, there very well could be a possibility that there is something after death. I just don't believe that that something has anything to do with any of the world religions, but I believe that it could be possible. If I come to the conclusion that there is nothing after death, then I can see about accepting that conclusion. I believe that things become easier to accept if you have good reasons to accept those things. I'm perfectly willing to just happily live this life, and then find out what happens when I die when I die. My brother, on the other hand, still has it stuck in his head that unless his soul lives forever, there is no point to the temporary joys this planet has to offer. Brainwashing? Problem is, still, I am slightly depressed over my brother's reaction to these things. I have to admit though, I am already starting to feel better just getting all this out.

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Before I say anything, I have to tell you that I'm an only child. I'm sure a lot of this is particular to your relationship as siblings, so take this as coming from someone who may never have had to deal with some of what you're experiencing.

 

Now, I have debated Christians before, and many of them were depressed about the prospect of atheism. Yet that never affected me. Why am I affected by my brother's depression? Because I have chosen to make my brother (as an individual who has been raised in the EXACT same fundamental christian household as I have) as a fairly accurate indicator of what is, and is not depressing. I have this strange feeling that unless I can take my brother with me all the way - hold his hand all the way through deconversion, and convince him to accept things in exactly the same way I have accepted them, I do not deserve to be happy. Instead I deserve to make his depression my depression - because it COULD be the feelings I really should be feeling.

 

This paragraph in particular looks like it's from a comedy monologue where the speaker is delving way too much into the issue. I take it you recognize this strange feeling as irrational, but you're not committed to dismissing it emotionally.

 

I don't think depression itself is something that should be judged as appropriate through what you deserve from others, as first and foremost, it's not a choice. If you lost a family member and other members of the family were making jokes at the funeral while you were feeling somber, that doesn't make them any better or worse, it simply means that their minds have different ways of processing the grief.

 

I see no obligation to be depressed about anything. Or angry, or jealous, or anything harmful to oneself. Just because having those feelings can be used to effect positive change doesn't mean you can't do without them or that you should fret not having them. I don't see an obligation not to have them, either.

 

What you should be mildly concerned about, as far as comparing yourself to others, is the voluntary ways you deal with your feelings and allow them to affect other areas of your life. Be aware of what they cause you to act and what you do to welcome them or shut them out. But I personally would want to compare that to how I dealt well with things in the past, then to the society in general, and then to those I admire before I considered people close to my life situation. So I take the inverse route to what you've taken. Not saying you're wrong, but I find what you speak of to be too insular.

 

Again, no brothers or sisters here, so all I can offer you is Spockian logic. I hope some of it makes sense.

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I tend to be rather unemotional about, well, most things, and very seldom do I show much emotion. It's just a part of who I am, and I am well aware that most people do not operate the same way. With that caveat, I must admit that your post in general seemed rather odd to me. I would never consider that I should be depressed because someone else is, and I definitely would never consider allowing their emotions to affect my emotions, especially in the scenario you are describing.

 

In all honesty I can't offer any advice on what to do because I can't think of ever even coming close to experiencing this - my only advice would be to stop worrying so much about your brother's emotional state and overcoming the idea that you should somehow reflect that in yourself. The thread title seems to ask if your emotions should reflect those of the people around you, and I would go with a resounding NO. We are each responsible for our own emotions, and allowing one's emotions to be swayed by other people I personally view as weakness in people - that's how things like the Oakland riots and such even happen. If your emotions are leading you to be depressed, then you have to deal with what is causing the depression, but I do not think you should be depressed simply because someone else is.

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