From my experience as a therapist, there are two kinds of depression:
- I’m really nice to others, but I’m really hard on myself
- I’m a helpless victim (aka “The world is against me,” “This is all my parents’ fault,” “The world owes me,” and “Life is hard, so I’m hard on others.”) Note: People in this position are likely also hard on themselves, but their thoughts and intentions are very self focused whereas the first person is nice and generous to the point it wears them out.
These two mentalities follow the two kinds of people I see in couple’s therapy as discussed in my post about perspective.
- We had a fight and this is what I did wrong
- We had a fight and this is all your fault
As you can probably guess, both number ones and number twos correspond with each other. For instance, the nice to others, but hard on themselves person will consider what they did wrong in a fight while the helpless victim will fully blame the other person for the fight. This isn’t to say that if you’re the person who has a fight and considers what you did wrong that you’ll also get depression, but you are at risk because of being hard on yourself. Interesting note, the most successful people have this tendency as their drive to prove themselves in some way likely has roots in their being hard on themselves. The benefit of this mindset is you can do big things, but it is something you’ll want to eventually address because it limits how much you will enjoy life. Meanwhile, if you’re the person who has a fight and blames everyone else, you’re less likely to have drive and be successful and you will very likely end up with depression because the victim mentality leads to feeling helpless and hopeless – two major ingredients of depression.
Out of these two types of people, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the one kind. Is it the “helpless victim” who blames everyone else? You betcha… it’s not. These people are likely to take advantage of well intentioned people, which makes the first category of people a major target. The worst part is when the so-called helpless victim manipulates the hard on themselves person to serve them, no matter what is done, the so-called helpless victim will never be happy and nothing will seem good enough. It makes sense that these two types of people bond as the one person wants help and the other likes to help. It unfortunately causes a very unhealthy and unbalanced relationship that eventually falls apart as the caregiver wears out. When this happens, the so-called helpless victim will likely be even more resentful because their needs aren’t being met to the standard to which they’ve become accustomed. It’s a really sad situation because the caregiver tries so hard to be good, but between the other person never being happy and their own problem of being hard on themselves, they will eventually crash and burn, which adds to their guilt and shame.
Regardless of which person you are in these two types of people, what’s really important is that when you’re down, you respond appropriately. When someone is grieving, going through a down period (we all have down periods from time to time) or actually dealing with depression, there are two main ways we can handle it:
- We can fight it
- We can wallow in it
Just reading those two options you probably have a good idea of what they look like. You can also probably guess who’s likely a strong candidate for each category of depression. My most successful clients are people who are nice to others, but hard on themselves because they have the work ethic to do what’s needed to fight depression and get better. These people are eager to learn and open to growing. They appreciate lessons like “Treat yourself the way you treat others,” and communication tools that help them feel empowered. These are the type of people who want to be at their best and would already be there if they had been given the tools sooner for getting there. This is what I was in my late 20s. I had depression mostly because I didn’t know how to be emotionally healthy. Now that I know, (knowing is half the battle – thank you G.I. Joe) my “hard on myself” attitude pushes me to do the work I need to do to stay as healthy as I possibly can. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
People who fight their depression try to create healthy habits like exercising and sleeping regularly, they seek guidance (e.g. therapy), they try new things to see if it helps, they work on being assertive and communicating properly, they clarify instead of assuming the worst of others thereby reducing hurt, they try to see the good in all things as they fight their negative thoughts and feelings that want to hold them down, and they try to forgive and follow the advice of “You got to put your behind in the past” (Thank you Pumba for that lesson).
Meanwhile, people in the second category, the “I’m a helpless victim,” are very frustrating. They don’t do the work to be better and the odds are they only want to be affirmed that life is harder for them and everyone else is to blame. I will typically only see these people one to three times before they give up because in their mind nothing will help. Being a so-called helpless victim, they are helpless to their problems… or so they think. The truth is, no one is helpless, but feeling that way is how you end up wallowing. People who wallow don’t really try anything new. They continue hiding claiming they have anxiety, they over-think about negative things, assume the worst of others, act miserable and never appreciate what people do for them, and continue doing what put them in their negative spot in the first place. These are the people who develop and continue their coping addictions like bad eating and playing video games, they bottle up emotions, they scowl at the world keeping others away, they avoid responsibilities, they lash out scaring people away, and they twist everything to be further evidence that they are the victim and everyone else is the problem. These people are what many would call a drain on society because they bring others down emotionally and possibly even financially. They are (or soon become) a dark cloud making everywhere they go (if they leave their home) feel a bit worse.
This past weekend I was at my wife’s family cottage with my family, my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her husband, Mike. For two weeks before the trip my two year old would ask about Nana Woof-Woof, which is my mother-in-law (I mentioned how good she was a couple weeks ago). Then the one day my wife, daughters, and I left the beach leaving my sister-in-law and her husband there, and my daughter who doesn’t really know them cried out for Nana Mike (a nickname that will stick forever). The next day, while she was sleeping, I headed home to work while everyone else stayed at the cottage for a couple more days. Guess who didn’t ask for me even once? My daughter wasn’t even slightly phased. Someone hard on themselves would likely beat themselves up for being such a loser and either give up or vow to work harder while a helpless victim would use this as a way to show how life is so unfair and build jealousy and resentment to Nana Woof-Woof and Nana Mike (I love that nickname). Meanwhile, a healthy person would fight those thoughts by correcting them: “I left while she was sleeping, so it was easier on her not seeing me leave (as I planned), she’s in a place full of distractions, and she’s used to me not being around all the time because I work and she knows she will always see me soon.” Am I doing enough as a dad? Yes. Does my wife confirm this and I’m not just blind? Yes. Years ago when I wasn’t healthy, my negative thoughts would’ve taken over, but fortunately I’ve learned to fight instead of wallow.
Fighting negative thoughts not only prevents depression, it helps us enjoy life more.
This week may you consider the difference between fighting your down periods versus wallowing in it.