Dealing with Depression: Emotions

The Islamic faith is not unfamiliar with tests and tribulations. This is the third in a series of articles on depression according to Islam. It is from the On Demand Course: Mental Health Workshop – An Islamic Guide to Dealing with Depression.

Allah says:

ذَٰلِكَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًۭى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ

ٱلَّذِینَ یُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱلۡغَیۡبِ وَیُقِیمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقۡنَـٰهُمۡ یُنفِقُونَ

“This, no less, is the Sacred Book: No doubt is in it: A mighty guidance for the godfearing; Who believe in the unseen, keep well the prayer, and of what We have provided them ever expend.” [Quran, 2:2-3; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

The Quran is a book of guidance for the godfearing. They are those who believe in a reality that they cannot perceive with their physical senses. That is the ultimate reality. 

The secular theories take into consideration your internal reality, your interior world, and the world that exists between your two ears. They take into consideration your circuitry and they take into consideration your exterior reality, your life circumstances, and so forth.

The fundamental thing that the religious perspective adds to this is the ultimate reality: Your connection and relationship to the ultimate reality. 

The Human and Reality

Another way of looking at this is that the human being experiences, processes and produces. We are made up of thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Thoughts occur to us, we build on those thoughts, and those trigger emotions in us. 

Those emotions then lead us to act in certain ways. For example, if a person is walking down the street and passes by a group of lads and they start laughing and a thought occurs to him, “They are laughing at me.” Then he builds on that thought, “Why are they laughing at me? Am I doing something wrong? What is going on?” He gets anxious and worried. 

“Am I dressed weirdly? Have I got odd socks on? What is going on?” That then starts to affect his behavior. “I will hunch over. Start looking around. Start looking at myself. I will not want to talk to them.” His thoughts have affected his emotions. His emotions have affected his behaviors.

That is the human. Thought, emotion, behavior. Then you have the way that that interacts with the external reality around you. There is a situation that prompted the thought, prompted the emotion, prompted the behavior. That then has a consequence in the situation. 

How Therapy Works

That may very well lead to another situation that prompts another thought, that prompts emotions, that prompts behaviours, and so you have a vicious cycle. All this happens very quickly of course. Therapists will say, “Hang on, slow down, tell me what the situation was again.” 

The patient then may mention, “This person said this and so I said that.” At which point, the therapist interjects, “Well stop, hang on, this person said this, and you did that. But there are two things in between here. That is the situation, this is the behavior but, how were you feeling when you did the thing that you did?” The patient may express, “I was really angry.”

The therapist then looks further, “Ah, okay. Why were you angry?” The patient explains, “That person said this, so I got angry.” But the therapist intervenes, “No. There is a step in between. That person said this, and you got angry. What was the thought that led to you becoming angry?” That is when you start to explore that.

The therapist will start to focus on the level of the thought, the level of the emotion, or the level of the behaviour. That is how therapy works. Bio-psycho-social and thought-emotion behavior. 

What Do Human Beings Need?

Maslow came up with a pyramid of human needs. All human beings need to ensure their survival. We need to have our survival needs met. Food, water, shelter, absence of danger, and so on.

The second thing we need are our social and psychological needs. We need a sense of belonging, a sense of community, of family, of someone who loves us and who we can love to feel accepted and be accepted and accept others in return. 

Some people need more than that. The need for intellectual fulfillment. Wanting to know, wanting to learn and develop myself. Wanting to be better. 

Beyond that, Maslow identified something that he called self-actualization. It means to have a sense of meaning and purpose, something that truly fulfills you. This is from a secular perspective again.

Islam’s View on Depression

The Islamic approach to dealing with depression. 

Allah says:

فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًۭا ۚ فِطْرَتَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّتِى فَطَرَ ٱلنَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ

“So turn your whole face and being to true religion from all falsity; And hold fast to the primal human nature from Allah Himself to know and worship Him, upon which He has created mankind” [Quran, 30:30; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld ]

God has created human beings with a particular disposition.

All human beings are united, we all experience this to greater or lesser extents because there are differences, but to greater or lesser extents, these are universal meanings. 

Catering to those human needs is very much a part of our religion. We have this concept of the aim and the purpose of the Sharia. One finds the preservation of life, the preservation of family, the preservation of intellect and the preservation of property, the preservation of dignity, and the preservation of religion.  

To put that another way, your physiological needs, your psychological needs, your intellectual needs, and your self-actualization.

Allah says:

أَلَا یَعۡلَمُ مَنۡ خَلَقَ وَهُوَ ٱللَّطِیفُ ٱلۡخَبِیرُ

“Could He who has created not know; When He is the All-subtly Penetrating, the All-aware?” [Quran, 67:14; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Your Lord knows you. Allah says:

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِیمُۢ بِذَاتِ ٱلصُّدُورِ

“Verily Allah well knows even the secrets harbored within breasts.” [Quran, 3:119; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld] 

He knows the secrets of your heart and even your very essence. Yes, He knows you better than you know yourself because He knows what He has created, how we work, and what makes us tick. He knows about our biology, our psychology, our sociology and our spirituality. 

With Salvation Comes Felicity

Our religion is uniquely catered to deal with these questions of human discontentment and human unhappiness. 

Allah says:

أَلَاۤ إِنَّ أَوۡلِیَاۤءَ ٱللَّهِ لَا خَوۡفٌ عَلَیۡهِمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ یَحۡزَنُونَ

“Verily indeed the friends of Allah need never be feared for, nor shall they grieve” [Quran, 10:62; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld] 

They are not anxious they are not depressed. You are free from harmful things in paradise. Sadness and anxiety are harmful things.  We do not seek them for ourselves. 

With salvation comes felicity. The human being is meant to return to that state of peacefulness. The journey through our lives is an attempt to try to do that most completely and holistically possible, by viewing the human being in terms of its biology, in terms of our psychology, in terms of our sociology, and terms of our spirituality.