Childhood Rejection and Depression

Posted on September 29th, 2011 by admin

The original cause of depression is to be found in infancy and early childhood. When a small child is rejected (which can occur in a number of ways) by his/her parents and other caregivers, he/she enters later childhood with an affection deficit disorder. This deficiency of acceptance and love cannot yet be put into words–only experienced emotionally as feeling unlovable and defective, with accompanying feelings of insecurity (anxiety) and sadness (depression). The child senses that there is something wrong (bad) about him/her and that he/she is different from others (inferior). Why else did his/her parents and others reject him/her? The child’s simplistic mind incorrectly reasons and concludes that he/she is totally to blame for the rejection–that the fault lies entirely within himself/herself. The reasons for rejection may have nothing to do with him/her as such but instead with the parents’ background, problems, predicament, temperament, mental state, etc. This, however, is beyond the of comprehension of the guilty child, who furthermore considers the godlike parents as incapable of error or wrongdoing, leaving him/her alone to assume full blame.

Ideally, every child should be accepted and loved unconditionally by parents and others in his/her immediate family. This immunizes the child emotionally from low self-esteem and from feeling unlovable. Unfortunately, this does not always happen; and, consequently, some children develop a predisposition to depression later in life. Because of early life rejection, a deep sadness and desire to be accepted and loved unconditionally develops within the heart of the child and is carried forward into adolescence and adulthood. And it is unconditional acceptance and love that he/she continually and desperately seeks from other people for the rest his/her life. Later, as an adult, he/she repeatedly tries to obtain from significant others (parental substitutes) the unconditional acceptance and love that was not provided by parents and other, important people during childhood.

Now somewhere along the way, the rejected child discovers that he/she can elicit a favorable reaction (praise and other signs of approval) from his/her parents and others by being good. This translates into being the kind of person that his/her parents and others want him/her to be and doing what makes them happy. He/she realizes that although his/her parents and others may still not love him/her unconditionally, they appear to love him/her conditionally–that is, as long as he/she does what pleases them. So, the child settles for second best, which is perceived of as being better than nothing. Being loved conditionally is not what the child truly wants, but it is better than being rejected utterly. The fear of rejection and abandonment is so powerful that the child will do anything to prevent it. And this marks the beginning of the formation of a dependent, people-pleasing personality, which becomes the signature style of relating to other people for many years to come–perhaps, for the rest of his/her life.

Later, when this person reaches adult age, he/she must make a critically important decision: whether physically to separate from his/her parents or stay with them. He/she is forced to decide whether to become autonomous and make a successful transition into adulthood or to stay with them, be dependent on them, and remain as an adolescent or child behaviorally. For the people pleaser this is an agonizing decision, unless his/her parents encourage and allow him/her to leave. If not, the good child has to choose, independently, between disobedience (badness: seen as rebellion) and obedience (goodness), producing an excruciating mental conflict. The final choice made is really obvious. Without outside support, overwhelmed by fear and guilt, the good son or daughter will surrender his/her will and choose compliance–with serious consequences for personal growth and psychological health. And the result of making the wrong choice at this crucial time in life is the beginning of a process of extreme self-denial, self-rejection, and self-repression, leading to mental depression, which can last far into the future.

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