Rosa would get angry at her friends if they didn’t show enough interest in her problems. “You don’t care about me,” she would say, or “You have a charmed life. How could you understand what it is like for me?” Rosa was falling into the victim trap — feeling that the world wasn’t on her side and that people always treated her unfairly. She would belabor her friends with complaints about her family — “My mother is a total narcissist — she only cares about herself” — and about her colleagues at work — “My boss favored Lorraine. She’s always telling her how well she’s doing.”
Rosa would feel slighted, insulted, and humiliated by the slightest thing — someone not holding the door for her, a clerk being curt with her at a store, or a friend not getting back to her immediately. Everything had the potential to hurt her feelings. Rosa was becoming an “injury collector.”
Now, to be fair to Rosa, this was a symptom of her depression. She had a negative filter — she saw only negative intention and malice directed toward her. She was “mind reading” people — “She doesn’t like me” — and focused on feeling inferior — “She thinks she’s better than I am.” Rosa wasn’t paranoid — she wasn’t “crazy” — but her friends began to wonder if she was going over the edge with her complaints.
What was really going on was that Rosa’s depression took the form of feeling rejected and humiliated — her depressed mind was telling her that no one cared. She felt isolated, unloved, abandoned. She felt all alone. Rosa was crying out to her friends, hoping that they would hear, but her cries were couched as complaints, personal injuries, anger, and rejection of help. As a result, her friends began to pull away. And this only made Rosa feel more depressed.
If you have been complaining too much, don’t worry about it for now — that’s part of your depression. It is very important for you to get support and validation — very important to get the love and care that you need. And it’s important to feel that you can turn to your friends for that support.
I’ve identified a number of problematic ways of seeking support — acting like a victim, rejecting help, getting angry at people “for not understanding,” pouting, and escalating your complaints so that they sound like reports of catastrophes. These strategies are problematic because they are likely to backfire after a while and drive people away. However, you can learn to ask for help in a reasonable way.
Let’s take a look at some simple, constructive steps to getting the support you need.
One way to ask for help is to be direct. “I’m going through a difficult time right now and I wonder if I can just talk a little bit about what I’m feeling. I would really appreciate it.” This sends a message that you are not acting like you are entitled — and it also helps the other person that you are asking for a little time, not hours. You are building a limit into what you are asking for.
Another constructive way to ask for help is to describe your problem in a way that indicates you are also thinking about solutions. For example, Rosa was able to say, “I know I’ve been upset — feeling lonely, feeling unlovable — but I am also thinking of things that I can do to help myself. For example, I’m thinking of taking a class and getting out and doing more things. And I’m thinking about using some of the techniques that I am learning — for example, how to recognize that some of my negative thinking is too extreme, too illogical.”
This gives the listener a clear message that you are not only turning to him or her for a sympathetic ear, but also helping yourself. This is a powerful position to take, since your friends want to be supportive but they may wonder if you are actually going to support yourself.
You can balance asking for help and showing that you are willing to help yourself. This gives your friends the message that you are going to be helping yourself and not relying entirely on them — they want to help but they don’t want to carry the entire load. Together you might be able to make it better. But show that you are doing your part to help yourself.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher,
Hay House Inc. www.hayhouse.com.
©2010 by Robert Leahy.
Beat the Blues Before They Beat You: How to Overcome Depression
by Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D.
Learn what triggers your moods. Figure out how to defeat feelings of fatigue, hopelessness, and worthlessness, so you can begin to feel good again. Design a plan to develop self-confidence. You don’t have to wait for someone to rescue you. You can rescue yourself.
Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D., is recognized as one of the most respected cognitive therapists in the world and is known internationally as a leading writer and speaker in this revolutionary field. He is the Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City; and Past President of the International Association of Cognitive Psychotherapy, the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. He is a Clinical Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Weill-Cornell Medical School. Robert Leahy has written and edited 17 books, including the bestseller The Worry Cure.