Melancholy - what is this concept in psychology?

The word "melancholia" usually causes associations with rain outside the window, a checkered rug and a glass of hot grog. Well, or cocoa with marshmallow, if we are talking about a staunch opponent of alcohol. Melancholy, "Spleen", "get ink and cry ...". And the concept is, in fact, quite from the field of psychology.

From ancient Greece to modern psychiatry

For the first time the term “melancholia” (melancholia) was introduced by Hippocrates. He explained this state by an imbalance of body fluids - this was a very popular medical theory in those years. Melancholy, according to Hippocrates, was caused by an excess of bile. For many centuries it was this concept that was unique, there were no other options for explaining the cause of the oppressed mood.

melancholy itSigmund Frey, the founder of modern psychoanalysis, wrote a whole work devoted to this state, “Grief and Melancholia”. Now the word has become just colloquial, has changed its meaning. Melancholy is sadness, sadness, despondency.But this is just a mood that is in no way a cause for concern. Previously, this word also signified depression, which is now distinguished as a separate pathological state of mind, which requires correction, in contrast to melancholy.

Freud - the pioneer of psychological analysis

Sigmund Freud believed that melancholy is associated either with the loss of a loved one, or with the loss of an intangible object, attachment to which is comparable in strength to love for a person. It can be a birthplace, honor, work, etc. That is, he viewed such a state solely as a psychological reaction, apart from physiological aspects.

Of course, according to Freud, depression, melancholy associated with libido. He was the first psychiatrist to recognize the crucial importance of sexuality in a person’s life, but his attention to this aspect of human relationships is at times excessive. Perhaps this was a consequence of the lifestyle adopted in those years. Puritan stiffness led to sexual dissatisfaction, especially with regard to women who were deprived of the possibility of “illegitimate” detente, for example, visiting the representatives of the oldest profession.And, as a result, the patients of Dr. Freud showed psychological problems that were necessarily complicated by sexual dysfunction. Such a statistical compilation could affect the research results of the scientist.

Melancholy as a sense of loss

According to Sigmund Freud, melancholia is a disease associated with the loss of a loved one or any intangible value of exceptional importance and, as a result, the inability to realize the libido associated with these objects. In the light of Freud's theory, the phrase “love of country” acquires a special, incomparable meaning.

cure for melancholyA patient suffering from melancholia, subconsciously aware of the need to abandon libido, but also unconsciously resists this as an unnatural process for the human psyche.

True background

Melancholia is a condition that is accompanied by self-abasement of the patient, auto-aggression, contempt and self-loathing. The patient speaks about himself in a very unfavorable manner, pities those who are forced to communicate with such an unworthy person, sometimes injure themselves, or even decide on suicide attempts.Freud viewed such manifestations as aggression suffered. In fact, the patient’s rejection is not caused by the patient himself, but by the person or object that has been lost. Here are just a reason, knowing that loss is something important, valuable and deeply loved, suppresses manifestations of discontent and aggression. Until the end to cope with emotions can not, and then the subconscious simply switches them to another object - the patient himself.

Dangers of deep depression

That is why black melancholy is a dangerous condition for the patient. With this term, the doctors of the past denoted a deep depression leading to thoughts of suicide. The desire to punish oneself, to destroy oneself is in fact the desire to avenge a lost valuable object, to punish it for betraying it in the form of disappearance.

sadness and melancholyThis approach is somewhat one-sided, it does not cover conditions caused by purely physiological factors (postpartum depression) or the circumstances of unbearable severity (various post-traumatic syndromes). But in some cases, indeed, it is precisely the reasons described by Freud that explain such phenomena as depression, melancholia.The description of this state given by the father of modern psychoanalysts is extremely accurate. Depressed mood, immersion in oneself, in one’s own feelings, detachment from the outside world, self-dissatisfaction, self-hatred, insomnia, and apathy are all classic signs of this kind of disorder.

Fight against depression

The cure for melancholia, according to Freud, is first and foremost a careful analysis of the causes that led to this state, and the patient's awareness of the true realities of the disease. Freud believed that melancholy was the result of a certain narcissistic orientation of the personality. In a sense, it manifests itself as a loss of self-esteem, self-love. The patient willingly scolds himself, draws the attention of others to his shortcomings, real or imaginary, sticks them out. But the real loss of self-respect is experienced not so demonstratively. A person who is disappointed in himself is not at all inclined to inform everyone of this. Therefore, in reality, the basis of melancholy and depression is, nevertheless, not dissatisfaction with oneself, but discontent with an extraneous object, it is in fact being scolded and reproached.

depression melancholiaThe task of the psychiatrist is to find together with the patient an opportunity to restore the integrity of the personality, to bring about reconciliation between the person and the lost object that caused such a storm of feelings.


The state opposite to melancholy, Freud called mania - joyful uncontrollable arousal, similar to the state of intoxication. A person who wins a huge amount of money will also “lose himself” - he will behave inadequate to circumstances, unnecessarily affective and intrusive. It will be caused, in fact, by a similar circumstance - the past life of a lucky person will also be “destroyed” by a gain, as the life of a melancholic - a loss. But the melancholic person lost the pleasant, necessary factors of his life, and the person who was in a state of mania, on the contrary, got rid of difficulties and worries.

melancholy melancholiaHere only a logical question arises: "What about the state of frustration that sometimes comes after such major gifts of fortune, when a dream come true that just leads to depression and an awareness of one's own uselessness?"

Melancholy and depression beyond concept

However, this is probably nagging. Freud did a great job, for the first time described the importance of many mental processes that had not previously received the attention of medicine.It is impossible to expect from him a detailed, fully exhaustive answer on any question related to psychology or psychiatry. Depression, melancholy are serious psychological problems that can lead to extremely unpleasant consequences. Freud did a great deal so that society would pay attention to it, ceased to consider such states as mere whims or depressed.

melancholy is a diseaseOf course, followers in the study of melancholia, studied it in more detail, classified and typed. They have developed many effective methods of psychological overcoming of such a state; they have created chemical preparations that allow overcoming pathological depression. Not all forms of depression are treated only by conversations with psychologists, and often the patient needs medication in the form of antidepressants. But all this would have been impossible if melancholy were still considered to be just a bad mood.

In classical art

Such a state as melancholia attracts the attention of not only specialists in the field of psychology and psychiatry, but also creative people. Many descriptions that can be included in medical textbooks,available in classic literature.

For example, the experiences of the characters of Dostoevsky are often reduced to melancholy. The condition of Anna Karenina, so thoroughly described by Tolstoy, is precisely the oppression complicated by the use of drugs — morphine. This was the reason for the suicide of women. Tolstoy was not a psychiatrist, and then melancholy was not isolated as a separate disorder. But he knew people and understood the stages of development of despondency in a young blossoming woman showed with surgical precision. Exactly at the same time, Flaubert achieved in Madame Bovary. The sluggish depression of the protagonist, who broke off with the beginning of the novel and flared up again with its ending, led to a tragic denouement.

In modern literature

The state in question is not deprived of attention and modern writers. Ryu Murakami has a novel, Melancholy, a thoughtful story of the seduction of a woman. This plot is the basis for describing the experiences of the hero, analyzing the emotions he experiences.

Ray Bradbury is the author of the collection The Cure for Melancholy. True, there is little said about the disorder itself, Bradbury is not the author, who is characterized by melancholy.But as a means of sadness, the stories will be good, it's true. And the author does not follow the path of classical opposition: “Sad? Laugh. No. Bradbury is much thinner. His stories, beautiful, bright, full of love for life and people, allow not just to be distracted by five minutes to laugh. They give a piece of warmth, inner energy of the author, allow you to cope with sadness just as fire allows you to warm up to cope with the cold.

In the cinema

Lars von Trier paid much attention to the considered state of cinema. He shot his own film “Melancholia” on the basis of personal experiences - the director had an idea during a course of psychotherapy aimed at fighting depression. The leading singer, Kirsten Dunst, was also treated for depression; she used this experience in the work on the role.

melancholy reviewsThe film Trier "Melancholia" tells about a personal disaster against the backdrop of the apocalypse. A young woman is experiencing a difficult break with her fiancé; she cannot cope with her overwhelming sense of frustration in life and despair. But the days on which her depression falls are the last days of human existence.A planet moves to Earth, called the scientists “Melancholy”, this collision will destroy all life, a catastrophe is inevitable. A clear allusion is suicidal melancholy that destroys humanity. In combination with Von Trier’s specific, slow style, this made the film ambiguous. For some, he was too simple, and the associations he caused are too obvious. To someone, on the contrary, what was happening seemed too pretentious and far-fetched. That is why the opinions of the audience about the film range from "brilliant" to "boring", from "delightful parable" to "slurred nonsense." But, despite the heterogeneous reviews, Melancholy was highly appreciated by critics. The film was awarded prizes of the European Film Academy, the Cannes Film Festival, the awards "Saturn", "Golden Eagle", etc.


Another film dedicated to this disorder is “Incredible Melancholy.” The art-house film about a girl who is genuinely tied to an old, cracked dummy-like doll. The girl is lonely, and this doll replaces her close friend. But the heroine meets a young man and draws her warmth to him. It just turns out that the doll also has feelings.In this film, a lot of melancholy. And it is not clear who suffers more: a boy, a girl, or, nevertheless, an unfortunate doll that has become useless.

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