DEPRESSION: WALKING IN THE SHADOWS [PART 3]

REVIEW:

            In last month’s issue we examined the correlation between our thoughts, feelings and actions.  We used an example to show how our feelings many times follow our thinking, and these feelings have a real influence on how we choose to behave.  Since this is true, it is very important to our psychological and spiritual well-being to try to see life as accurately [realistically] as we possibly can.  Our perceptions of situations are how we see life.  If we are wrong we generate feelings that are wrong for the situation and we probably act inappropriately.  We have all seen individuals [and probably ourselves] perceive a situation wrong and overreact.  We might think or say “I wonder where that came from”.  The question we need to ask in this article is “is Sue’s perception of herself, in light of an older sister who is popular, correct?”  If it is incorrect then she may be suffering needlessly.

            Consider a segment of a counseling session with Sue.  I will go back and pick up several of the preceding interactions to offer a more complete picture of what is happening in the session.

 

Sue    

I was never as good as my older sister.  She was so outgoing and attractive while I kept to myself.  I would sometimes hide when a stranger came to our house.  I was so shy and admired my sister’s ability to talk to anyone.  I wanted to be more like her but I just couldn’t.  Mom used to tell me that I should be more like my sister and this made we feel worse.  I just couldn’t be something I wasn’t.

 

Counselor     

Can you describe your feelings when you concluded that you couldn’t measure up to your sister?

 

            I had provided Sue with a list of emotions to help her get as many of her feelings as possible out in the open.  Many people have trouble sorting out and even recognizing their emotions.  Recognizing the emotions that we feel is the starting point for understanding where we are emotionally and is the first step in trying to understand what is causing these feelings.

 

Sue    

I felt sad, discouraged, depressed, helpless, hopeless, and frustrated.

 

            Understanding how one feels is a necessary step in an exercise that I call “Finding the Truth” [FTT].  This exercise will be used to help see how Sue perceives situations that cause her conflicting and painful emotions.  Many times these perceptions are unrealistic, that is, they are a distortion of what is really happening.

 

Counselor

Can you remember a time when these feelings were particularly strong?  As you experienced these feelings, what were you thinking?

 

Sue

Well, I was thinking how different I was from my sister and that I would never be able to be like her; I would never be as good as her.

 

Counselor

Would your thought be: “there is something wrong with me, I have a flaw that makes me less than normal.”

 

Sue

Yes, something like that.

 

Counselor

What else were you thinking?

 

Sue

I can’t do anything right.

 

            I was writing down her responses but I made a special mark by this statement so that I would remember to bring it up shortly.

 

Sue

I also wondered why God made me this way.  No one seems to think I am OK.  My mother is always on me about how I act, comparing me to my sister.  There are times that it hurts so much I don’t know if I can stand it.

 

Counselor

You say that you “can’t do anything right.”  How much do you believe this, 0 being not at all and 10 being that you believe it completely?

 

Sue

I think maybe an 8.

 

Counselor

 As I look at you it seems that you are well dressed and adequately groomed. 

 

Sue

Well yes, I am able to get up and get dressed and groomed.

 

Counselor

How did you get here?

 

Sue

I drove my car.

 

Counselor

So you passed a driving test and are able to drive by yourself?

 

Sue

Well yes, I do know how to drive and I haven’t got any tickets, yet.

 

Counselor

How did you get your car?

 

Sue

I have a job over the summer and have saved my money.  My dad helped also.

 

Counselor

So you are able to hold down a job along with going to college?

 

Sue

Yes, my parents want us children to work when we can and earn some of our own spending money.

 

Counselor

You must have earned reasonably good grades to allow you to go to college?

 

Sue

Well yes, I did do well in high school.  I earned mostly A’s and B’s which made it easy to get accepted into college.

 

Counselor

Sue, I am really getting confused, could you help me out?

 

Sue

Sure.

 

Counselor

You told me you have a lot of negative thoughts about who you are as a person.  You stated that you “couldn’t do anything right”, but I have asked you about a number of things in your life and you seem to be doing well with them.  How can that be if you “can’t do anything right”?

 

Sue

Sue just stared at me for several moments with a confused look on her face.  “Hmm,” she said as she looked straight into my eyes, “I wonder if I am seeing this correctly.  From what you have said, it seems that I can do a number of things right."

 

Counselor

I wonder if you are being realistic about your abilities and maybe about how good you are.  How much do you believe the thought “I can’t do anything right", now.

 

Sue

Hmm, maybe a 5.

 

Counselor

There is a big difference between a 5 and an 8.  Five is almost ½ of 8.  It seems you have changed your perception considerably on this subject.  Can you make a more realistic statement than “I can’t do anything right”?

 

            We worked on how to rephrase this belief more realistically and came up with this:  “I can’t do everything right but I can do a number of things well”. 

            This session had challenged some of the beliefs that Sue had formed about herself.  She wasn’t quite as sure now that she was seeing things correctly.  The belief that she was inferior was still there but it was weakening when confronted with the truth. 

            One characteristic of long held beliefs is their endurance.  They have been around for years and they don’t go away overnight, but if one is open to examining them in the light of reality and truth, and is persistent, they can slowly be eroded over time. 

            Sue was leaving this session with a small glimmer of hope.  She would go over what we had talked about in the days ahead.  The doubts she was now entertaining, about her long held beliefs regarding her inferiority, would continue to grow as she looked for better, more accurate, beliefs.  We will continue to work on her unrealistic beliefs in following sessions.  Stay tuned.