Depression Symptoms Series: Feeling Trapped

Community Member


We have been exploring some of the symptoms of depression and here are several that we have discussed so far:

Today I am going to add a new one of feeling trapped. When I was a young adult going through the process of therapy for the first time I remember something critical that my therapist told me. He would ask me if I felt trapped. And if I said yes then this was a warning sign to him that my depression had a vice like grip on me. Once you feel you have no choices then your progress in therapy is stagnant as there is nowhere to go.

In this post we are going to discuss what causes this feeling, how feeling trapped may be experienced, and finally, what we can do to overcome this feeling that we are without choices.

What causes an individual to feel trapped?

There are many life situations which can cause us to feel that we have no options or paths toward growth. One of the primary reasons for feeling trapped is being in an unhealthy relationship. One of the most frequent themes among members asking for support on My Depression Connection is relationship problems. Some of you have asked for help in extreme cases such as "Feels like my relationship is killing me."   I do understand that feeling of fear and entrapment when you don't know how to end an abusive relationship. I offer some suggestions for getting help in my post, "How and When to Leave an Emotionally Abusive Relationship." Yet many victims of abuse do not think they have any choices left and sadly succumb to a life of being trapped as they do not see any way out.

Another type of relationship which can induce feelings of entrapment is the one where one partner feels unloved, uncared for, and neglected. Sometimes mental illness and/or depression can present an emotional barrier which can be hard to cross. We have had many questions about this topic including spouses of loved ones asking, "Is this normal?" in reference to behavior which essentially cuts off all opportunities for closeness and intimacy.

And we also have boyfriends and girlfriends asking if a break up was caused by depression as in "My depressed boyfriend just broke up with me."   Whenever I read such member posts and questions I am reminded of some of the lyrics to that Nirvana song, Heart Shaped Box:

"I've been locked inside your Heart Shaped box for weeks

I've been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap

I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black."

How many of us who have been in such a relationship wish that they could just cut out the depression like a surgeon so that we could have the person back that we thought we knew. Depression doesn't just affect the individual. It affects everyone close to that person who are desperate to see that person well again. Caretakers and loved ones can also feel trapped and depressed.

I wrote a post in response entitled, "Depression and Relationships: When Love is Not Enough"   Writer John Folk-Williams also wrote a post to reach out called, "To the Partners of Depressed Men."

Other life circumstances which can make us feel trapped include:

*Just follow the links above to find articles and resources to help with each issue.

How does one experience feeling trapped?

Depression is like that gray cloud which covers up the sun. We can't see past our internal gray cloud to see that there is light and that there are choices in our life. Whenever I have felt trapped it is like sitting at the bottom of a well. There is nowhere to go. I feel stuck as I settle to the bottom. There is no activity as any attempt to try to get out of the well seems pointless. I feel as though my actions will have no positive effect. I may get angry at my perceived lack of choices. And I pity the person who attempts to share suggestions of ways I could climb out of the well. "Can't you see I am stuck in here?" I want to scream. "There is no way out" the mind repeats. This is the mantra which boxes us in and keeps out the light.

To the outsider looking in, it seems that the person with depression who feels trapped is not trying and is giving up. It may seem like we are lazy, negative, or stubborn. But the truth is we fear trying. We fear trying because we are tired. We may fall again and get hurt if we risk change. But here at the bottom of the well, we know it well.

What can be done to feel less trapped and that one does have choices?

First of all every circumstance is different. Nobody can tell you about your life but you. We are not living your life, you are. But as a sufferer of depression and many life traumas, stressors, and unpredictable life events I want to say this to you:

You always have choices. You just may not like the choices.

This was also wisdom given to me by my first therapist. At any given time we all do have choices in life. Are they always the most desirable or pleasant choices? No, not always. Sometimes our choices are very difficult and will take much work and energy we feel we may not have. Some choices may lead to uncertainty. Other choices may have some negative consequences.

Here's the thing though, if you make no choice, this is still a choice you are making. It is a passive choice, but a choice nonetheless. There are also risks and consequences to taking no action. How long can you survive without making a conscious choice for the direction of your life? Do you wish to be a leaf in the wind or someone who takes some control and responsibility for how your life may go in the future?

I have always sought out the serenity prayer as an antidote to feeling trapped. One does not have to be religious to utilize the philosophy of this often quoted mantra:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

There will always be things in our life over which we have no control. But how we respond to life's circumstances is always under our control. There have been many instances in my life where I have felt trapped. As a little girl living in poverty with a mentally ill mother, I felt trapped. I felt trapped when I had a miscarriage and then experienced infertility. I have felt trapped by jobs which offered no growth. I have felt trapped by my depression, anxiety, and Multiple Sclerosis.

There will always be life events which seem to limit us or even disable us. The trick is to accept what we have at any given time and decide where to go from here.

Now we want to hear from you. Have you experienced feeling trapped as part of your depression? Do you feel that feeling trapped is a symptom or a cause of depression? How does this feeling manifest for you? What helps you the most when you are feeling trapped and without choices? Your comments could help someone who is also experiencing this symptom of depression.