Alexander Lowen on “protest”

In preparing for the upcoming Living Ubuntu Summer Body Group, Finding Your “No”: Healthy expression of negativity, protest and anger, I found the following passage in Depression and the Body about the role of protest in grieving.  It explains how this helps alleviate depression, and opens us to pleasure and love.

If no anger is felt at a loss, no real grief can be experienced and a proper mourning will not take place.  It is the nature of human beings to protest their pain and not to choke the protest off masochistically.  It seems strange, then, that our culture so admires the individual who can bear a loss stoically, without showing any emotion.  What great virtue is there in the suppression of feeling?  Such behavior may reveal that a person’s ego dominates and controls his body, but it also indicates that some important aspect of his humanity is missing.

The depressed person has lost his ability to protest his fate. …they cannot say ‘Why’ in a loud and convincing voice.  The inability is easily rationalized.  ‘What’s the use of saying why?  Nothing will change.’  True, nothing will change on the outside…. Mourning has no such purpose.  It is an expression of feeling and it enables life to go on.   When the expression is inhibited, the flow of life is restricted.  This will eventually lead to further suppression of feeling and ultimately to death in life.  Depression is a living death.

One has only to observe the sheeplike behavior of the mass of people to realize that the tendency to depression is endemic to our culture….

…As the meaning of life is constantly eroded by the loss of pleasure in living, people will become increasingly depressed.  At the same time they will engage in more frequent and larger protests, hoping to find in social action the meaning that escapes them on the personal level.  As a momentary release, participation in a mass protest serves to prevent one from becoming depressed.  This means, however, that the person… must live in a state of continual protest to avoid depression….

I am not against social protest for a legitimate cause.  The basic problem, however, is the loss of pleasure.  Most protestors do not seek to restore their capacity for pleasure but aim, rather, at gaining power.  If they do gain power, they will find it has no value in terms of pleasure….  If they fail to achieve their aim, which is the more likely alternative, since the forces that shape the social situation are often beyond the control of individuals, the road to depression is wide open.

A protest, to be effective for the individual, must express his personal sense of loss.

…the depressive tendency is overcome when [one] gains the ability to reach out for pleasure.  This involves more than a psychological attitude.  The muscles of the throat, jaw and mouth must be relaxed if a meaningful movement is to be made.  The arms must be free and not restricted by chronic muscular tensions.  These tensions develop out of fear of expressing the anger and rage a loss provokes.  Therefore, not until the anger and rage are released are the muscles free to open the person to love.

… [the] aim [isn’t] to… adjust to a life-crippling loss.  Rather [to] overcome the effect of the loss by restoring [the] body to its natural state of loveliness…. [By protesting the inequities of life, one] will also gain the courage and the ability to reach out anew for life, unafraid of the pain that may attend the opening of one’s being to love.

From Depression and the Body: The Biological Basis of Faith and Reality by Alexander Lowen, M.D. Pg 154 – 158.

Alexander Lowen is a world renowned psychiatrist and the creator of Bioenergetic Analyis, the revolutionary therapy that uses the language of the body to heal the problems of the mind.  He has authored 14 books including Narcissism, Betrayal of the Body, Joy, Bioenergetics, The Way to Vibrant Health, Pleasure, Language of the Body and Honoring the Body.

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