Sep 19, 2012

Melancholy, guilt and sexuality - a WTK report

Ever felt so melancholic about the ill-fate hunger serves to countless souls and stomachs across the world? If yes, your melancholy could have possibly been caused because you took an extra serving of dessert at a friend’s party a few years earlier. This is hypothesised as per a gentleman named Christian Heinroth’s (1773-1843) views on melancholy as a psychic disorder. I shall be talking more about his theory in this post later. At least my mind can easily digest that there can be some reason in his proposed relation between the dessert and hunger. What it cannot easily gulp down is another gentleman named Shlomo Sigismund Freud’s view that an intensely repressed sexual instinct could have prompted you to take the extra serving of dessert that night. The world knows this gentleman better as Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) – the father of psychoanalytics.

Err... I have been reading an interesting and very heavy (size-wise and content-wise) book called ‘Sigmund Freud & The science of psychoanalytics’ recently. I know it sounds a bit weird but I can assure you all of my mental health while writing this post. It is a passing reference to Heinroth and his work in the book that stimulated this thought in me that has emanated as this article. Yes.. now you may understand what the WTK means. If you can bear with this kolaveri, read on further. 

At a time when the scientific world was starting to analyse the human mind more systematically, Mr. Heinroth, a physician, took to analysing melancholy as a psychic disorder and tried to unearth its causes. (For those who are curious, Freud’s early studies were on hysteria) Melancholy is an intermediate state between worry and depression and hence can be labelled as an entry level disorder. Heinroth argues that all human melancholy has only the sense of guilt as the root cause. In most cases, this guilt is hidden somewhere in the unconscious mind and the patient cannot identify it at all. This thought made me think hard on an insomniac night.

Image: Courtesy Muxan Opena

I listed down a set of reasons why man becomes worried and tried to see if there can be some sort of guilt causing it. If I tried to find an explanation, guilt somehow fit into most cases of worry. But in some cases like I am worried because India lost the match from a winning position I was not able to see any guilt, unless I had to force-fit a guilty feeling for having moved from my superstitiously advantageous chair while watching the match. Superstition failed to convince me and I was thinking deeper. Then it hit me!

I had been thinking ‘worry’ and not ‘melancholy’. Heinroth would have charted his theory by observing patients and not normal people. He had seen melancholy as a disorder. So I have to list down reasons strong enough to make me melancholic and potentially a depression patient. Now, I was able to see a clearer vision of how guilt comes into play. I was able to draw a 4-quadrant structure of human guilt that might lead to melancholy.

1.       I did this
2.       I did not do this
3.       I do not know how to do this
4.       I could do nothing about this

I was able to fit most reasons for melancholy into this framework. Please note that this framework is not Freud’s or Heinroth’s. This is an original interpretation powered by my MBA-schooling that has trained me to draw a framework and a grid for literally anything. Well, the marks were in the framework diagrams, you see :P

The first two reasons were most obvious and self-explanatory. Man does many stupid things when he is upset and feels heavy sorrow and despair later for having done those things. Alternately, man fails to do certain things when he should have, due to fear, lack of courage etc. and then repents the missed chance all his life. Some men say that every woman they courted in their life caused guilt and sorrow by the first reason and every woman they did not ask out for a date made them worry by the second reason. By logical extrapolation, fear, defeat, anger and other similar emotions cause guilt and eventually melancholy in this way.

What about jealousy? I might constantly compare myself with Abhishek Bachan and feel melancholic that I could not marry Aishwarya Rai. I might be jealous when my colleague gets a promotion. The more personal the problem becomes, the more the agony is and the more the scope for the unconscious guilt. Can there be some sort of guilt that I did not study Integrated Circuits well enough in college and hence I am never able to outperform my colleague? Possible. Seems some or the other form of guilt is probable too in this angle to deal with incompetence, jealousy, uncertainty etc.

The fourth grid becomes more complicated. This deals with things beyond our control. If India loses in cricket, I may not be deeply affected. But if a close friend dies in an accident? Both are things beyond our control but with varying impacts on human mind. The difference between worry and melancholy gets more pronounced here. If the cause is truly beyond control, it will only be a worry and it will pass away with time. The recovery time may vary but definitely there is recovery. For such an event to be haunting to the extent of causing psychic damage, I could see two reasons. One is a direct cause and another is a direct witness. If it is a direct cause, point no. 1 in my framework applies or if it is a direct witness, point no. 4 in my framework applies.

Can all sorrows of man be categorised into any one of these 4 forms of guilt? The more and more I think, it makes much sense to me. Please tell me if you can think of a problem outside this perimeter.

If the problem can be easily narrowed down as above to a mere four possibilities, can solutions be easy too? Rational thought says if guilt is the causing factor for melancholy, man can be made happy by curing the guilt. A guilt should be rectified or justified by therapy to remove melancholy. So, solution is a 2-way process.

1.       Identify the underlying guilt
2.       Rectify or justify what caused the guilt and free your mind

Not so simple :P The underlying guilt is well-archived in the unexplored dark corners of the unconscious mind. The mind is more like facebook in one sense. One can never truly delete data from it. If you make a voluntary effort to delete a memory, it only occurs on the surface, giving you an illusion of deletion. In the case of human mind, all such consciously deleted and discarded data get dumped in the unconscious (or the sub-conscious). Psychiatric therapy is designed to accomplish this step – identification of the underlying guilt – through techniques like hypnotism, counselling, free association etc.

What we can learn is that the framework and the solution also hold good for day-to-day worries cased by some sort of personal guilt and can be rationally applied to get rid of the sorrow and to live happily. More like the aspirin we buy in the pharmacy without any prescription to cure daily headaches. If and only if the problem goes out of hand, let it be a psychiatrist’s headache!


PS – The puzzling theory of Freud: Freud tried to uncover a governing emotion for all human thought through his study. He says that all human emotions, actions and behaviour are controlled by an underlying feeling of sexuality and aggression in the sub-conscious. He means, literally ALL human behaviour! If you have read/seen The Hitchhiker’s guide to galaxy, in short, Freud tells that maybe 69 is the 42 that man is chasing for an eternity!

That should explain the link between the extra serving of dessert and the repressed sexual instinct. Of course, the man is a big-wig and there should be some logic in his argument for him to be celebrated. May be I am too ignorant to understand it properly. May be there is a sexual explanation for my choice to read this book or to write this article too. May be! But this is one of the most curious ‘may be’s that I have come across. 


  1. nice article of the ways to remove guilt/negative emotion that i read was something as described below:

    A) If something happened in the past and there are three possibilities such as :
    i) You know its your mistake....then accept it..even apologize..tell have learnt a lesson and note it down..your guilt gets transformed to learning
    ii) You are guilty that something happened but you know you are not the know its some one else...your guilt gets transformed to anger...anger being more superficial than guilt is easier to have two confront the person and ask him/her to apologize..or else you accept the person knowing there isnt a hope for a change...guilt here gets transformed to anger which moves out to be either confrontation or acceptance...either way it is dealt with..
    iii) something bad happened and you know it wasn't anyone's fault (grid -4 of your article) are faced with a question..could you do anything about it? if its yes..then you go back to (i) made a mistake of not avoiding are guilty..write it down as a lesson and do not repeat it...what if you couldn't have done anythin? Then you are as helpless as anyone else..hence its a situation/momentary phase..and like all phases it will pass here your guilt gets transformed to helplessness which gets transformed to either a lesson learnt or patience to wait for the situation to get over...
    B) This is to do more with worry rather than guilt...what if sumthn hasnt happened yet..but you anticipate it would happen in the are scared coz you don kno how to deal with it when it you tell yourself "everything would be fine"..."you would sail through as you always have"...for that moment your worry/fear gets transformed to confidence/faith...if it happens as you had wanted it to...your faith grows stronger...if it becomes a mistake and falls in the go back to (A) and categorize and help yourself!!!

    1. Hi bro .. Great to see the article making a sound connection with your thoughts and provoking you to think further and develop the concept.. You have really given a good protocol for what I said in 2 words - 'rectify or justify' .. Kudos