A person we love or look up to has the capacity to redirect the trajectory of our lives. What they say to us becomes what we know, even if what they say isn’t true. If what they say or convey is negative, how we feel about ourselves is undermined.
Sadly, many of us grow into adulthood with a list of childhood truths that can include many false and incomplete truths. Families, for good or ill, give us our first lessons about ourselves. We learn to view ourselves through their eyes. The family, and the individuals in the family, tells us about our place in the world. These lessons over time and into adulthood can fade from our memory, but they continue to run in the background of our lives, often without conscious notice. These are “truths” we base our lives around, and negative ones are the background messages that can poke and prod our emotions.
People who are depressed may have picked up some of the following “truths”:
Learned Invisibility – “If I don’t want to be hurt, I shouldn’t stand out.”
Over the years, Scott developed a pattern of becoming “invisible” around his mother, forcing himself to merge his identity and personality into hers. What she liked, he liked. What she didn’t, he didn’t. If he had a different feeling or reaction, he did not express it. He came to understand that this was the tactic used by his father, who seemed to click himself off whenever Scott’s mother entered the room, retreating to the television or newspaper. Scott continued this pattern by aligning himself with other, more dominant, personalities as an adult, living his life hiding in the shadows, anxious and depressed.
Learned Helplessness – “Bad things happen, but they’re never my fault.”
Susan grew up in a family of victims. Nothing bad that ever happened in her family was considered to be their fault. If a bill was late, the post office was to blame. If the car broke down, the mechanic was to blame. If a job was lost, the economy was to blame. Employers were never fair. Workers never did the job right. Teachers were biased. Neighbors were mean.
Susan learned to externalize blame for every bad thing in her life. She perceived herself as powerless to control the bad things that happened. All she could do was complain about what befell her, including being depressed. She went from professional to professional, trying to find the “fix.” She felt even more victimized when she found fault with every solution offered.
Learned Worthlessness – “What I do is never enough.”
Tim’s father let his opinion be known early and often that Tim would never amount to much. If he did well in school, he still wasn’t smart enough. If he excelled in sports, he could always be better. If he did well in business, he still wasn’t savvy enough. His father’s high standards had a way of creeping up, tantalizingly out of reach.
Tim’s father may have written Tim off, but Tim didn’t write his father off. Instead, Tim developed a pattern of demanding perfection. Only through perfection could he hope to obtain his father’s blessing. Tim stubbornly refused to believe his father had no intention of giving his approval.
Learned Impatience – “I am in control of what happens to me.”
At fifty-two years of age, Amy was used to controlling her life. As the head of a department in a major company, Amy gave orders and expected immediate results. She told people how high to jump, and they did. Those who didn’t measure up to Amy’s level of expectation didn’t last long. Amy was finally at a place in her life where she felt like everything was working the way it was supposed to — her way. Then she suffered a major health crisis. Amy felt betrayed by her body, and each physical setback pushed her closer to the edge of depression. She was afraid that if she didn’t recovery her physical strength soon, she never would.
Amy relied upon a pattern of pushing through life’s challenges, using her intellect and forceful personality. These were things she’d always counted on. These were things her family had taught her. Make a decision. Fix whatever was broken and move on. Amy was supposed to be in control of what happened to her. The reality of Amy’s recuperation was not living up to this perception, which she found deeply disturbing. If she couldn’t count on this, what could she count on?
The intentions of adults may not be to pass along negative messages to children, yet that is often what happens. Children tend to mirror what they see around them, good or bad. Without ever being told, children may develop a working model for life influenced by the suspicion, insecurity, perfectionism, self-centeredness, frustration, or oppressive behavior of influential adults. This model produces feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness, all of which suffocate optimism, hope, and joy.
You may have a background where negativity or even abuse was evident in your family. Or you may look back at your childhood and conclude your family can’t be a source of your depression, because you don’t remember any negative or abusive experiences.
As much as parents and adults try to minimize the damage done to their children through their own mistakes and faulty behaviors, it is not possible to completely eliminate negative influences. A careless comment or unkind remark can be enough to plant in a child’s mind or seed that grows into a false perception.
If you are struggling with false perceptions in your life and feeling depressed, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. The Center has been voted in the Top Ten Facilities for the Treatment of Depression in the United States. There is compassionate and meaningful depression therapy available, and it addresses the mind, body and spirit. Call us at 1-888-771-5166 to speak confidentially with a specialist.