Do You Walk With the Charlie Brown Posture of Depression?

by Jul 25, 2018

Charlie Brown

Perhaps one of the best loved cartoon characters is Charlie Brown. His ability to capture our heart lies in his simple honesty, which resonates with our own life experiences and enables us to smile, perhaps because we feel less isolated.

Do you remember Charles Schulz’s famous cartoon below where Charlie Brown demonstrated his “depressed stance”?

Charlie Brown explained when you are depressed; “the worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high”.

Why? Because you’ll feel better! His conclusion, “If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed,” you need to take his “depressed stance”. Though it seems silly, we laugh, for we identify with Charlie Brown.

I wonder. Have you ever stood or walked like he demonstrated? I have. Though science hadn’t come out on Charlie’s “depressed stance”, he was saying something important.

If you’re tired, discouraged, feel like a failure, or are in pain, you tend to droop. Your body reveals you feel depressed as your head lowers, your neck shortens, your shoulders droop and move in towards the body, and your hands hang at your sides.

Reinforcing Depression

I experienced a severe depression in my late twenties. Charlie’s stance felt right, for it reflected the depth of despair within my soul. When a dear missionary friend prayed the bondage of darkness be broken, hope quietly flowed within my heart. Energized, I could stand erect.

A few years later after being in a car accident and required to wear a back brace, I learned most movements triggered sharp pain. To prevent pain, my shoulders hunched forward. Instinctively as my body compensated for that misalignment, my neck and head moved towards my body in a protective stance.

Bear with me, this is important. As I slouched, my lungs were compressed, diminishing oxygen flow and causing a build-up of carbon-dioxide. Decreased oxygen flow to my brain caused diminished clarity of thought. Though initially it felt better, it stressed my body as it starved my organs of oxygen.

I can almost hear you thinking, but slouching feels comfortable and requires less energy. Sadly, studies show poor posture reinforces depression, lack of energy, poor alignment, and pain.

I began to write this article because I’ve learned an amazing truth. If you take what scientists call the turtle posture, with your head bowed forward, your shoulders drooped and hunched forward, and your neck pulled in like a turtle, something happens within your limbic system that causes your emotions to plummet.

I thought, no way!

So I decided to experiment. Uh! It is true. It really did alter my feelings – which plumeted to the floor as my shoulders drooped! I felt like I was bowed under a heavy burden, which created feelings of being sad and depressed.

I think you are with me. Poor posture isn’t advisable. As a preteen, Mom made me walk with a book on my head to improve my posture. Yes, I have to admit it. I carried on the practice with my children, not knowing the scientific reason posture was important – just that good posture looks nice.

Now here is the fascinating part! Science says Charlie’s posture is also the posture of shame! I’m not talking about being ashamed of doing something horrible that hurts others. I am talking about the niggling feelings of not being good enough that causes us to feel there is no hope.

It makes sense Charlie carried both depression and shame, for he often expressed he felt like he was a failure. Maybe that’s why I love Charlie Brown; you see, for decades I also carried the heavy burden of shame.

While I don’t endorse Arrested Development this video is a perfect example of what I’m talking about!

A few years ago it dawned on me, shame is a false identity poisoning one’s life. Shame gains false authority in its attack on us as a byproduct of abusive acts and unkind words. Often abuse occurred during childhood when someone older and trusted, someone with authority over us did something against our will. Perhaps a parent, a teacher, a grandparent, an elder sibling, or even peers who overrode our boundaries and hurt us.

Violating a child’s personhood by overriding healthy boundaries steals his or her dignity and dumps shame onto him that rightfully belonged to the shameful deed done against him or her.

If you were that child, the shame doesn’t belong to you. Nor are you shameful! Shame was displaced onto you, it overrode your will and caused the eradication of your true identity, your true personality, dignity, confidence, and your sense of worth. That heavy burden left you feeling unlovable.

I am sure you will agree with me. That was a lie! One reason we know it was a lie is if Charlie’s shame made him unloveable, we wouldn’t care about him. Instead, we all love Charlie Brown! We don’t see him as being shameful.

What does this have to do with poor posture? Shame is the betrayal of trust and steals safety. When there is no safe place to hide, it forces the child to find a place to hide where he or she can somehow be safe.

In an effort to survive, instinctively he tried to be invisible. The neck was pulled in as the arms drooped, the shoulders hunched forwards, and the head was pulled downwards in an effort to make himself smaller, just like a turtle who withdraws his neck to hide his head inside its shell.

So what’s the catch? Feelings of being shameful lied to you. It is true. You were not safe. But as you began to withdraw and hide, shame locked you under its power and dictates who you are. But you are not shameful!

There is a wonderful antidote to living under the sentence of shame. The Heavenly Father loves you. Jesus died at Calvary so you could be born again. Jesus knew no sin but became sin so you might become righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Isn’t that exciting?! The moment you are born again, your identity is inscribed in the precious Book of Life.

It gets better. Jesus took all shame upon Himself. For the joy of gaining you as His brother or sister, He despised the shame poured onto Him (Hebrews 12:2) and died to set you free from the heavy burdens you are carrying.

But there’s a huge problem.

Shame wields power because we feel naked. In our nakedness, even if we are Believers in Jesus Christ, we have become skilled at the turtle posture, skilled at hiding, and skilled at providing our own protective covering to help us feel safe. But that leaves us poor, naked, and blind.

The Laodiceans were skilled in this same behavior; Jesus said they had stopped feeling and were neither hot nor cold.

He spoke some very sobering words. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Stick with me here, so you escape this dilemma.

Jesus said, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so you may be rich, and white garments so you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so you may see.” (Revelation 3: 17-18).

To move out of the turtle posture feels frightening, but the reality is you can’t cover your own nakedness.

Dear heart, you have nothing to lose. Ask Jesus to help you. In tenderness, the Holy Spirit will cover you with the precious blood of the Lamb, even as He delivers you from the spirit of shame. Let Him anoint your eyes with salve and set you free from the lie holding you captive.

My dear friend. Jesus is the antidote to living under the sentence of shame. Jesus alone saves; only His blood can cover your nakedness.  Let Him take your shame setting you free from the Charlie Brown posture.

Rejoice! In Christ you are enabled to stand erect, with dignity and poise because the nakedness caused by shame has been removed, and moment by moment you may be covered with the beautiful robe of righteousness of our Beloved Lord Jesus.

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