08 Oct Depression and Relationships: Can You Be Real with the People Around You?
You’ve had a rough day and you’re ready to let out some steam with the next person who asks, “How are you doing?” Instead of getting a reassuring, validating response that acknowledges how you’re feeling in the moment, you receive a response like, “You’re not the only one suffering. There are tons of other people out there who are going through worse situations than you are.” All you needed was a friend to talk to; you already started therapy to work on your issues with depression, but your next appointment isn’t until next week, and you just had a really bad day today. The last thing you need is another person telling you how negative you are. You were just trying to be real about how you feel, but your words landed on critical ears of one who only thinks you are emotionally draining. Is it any wonder why people suffering from depression become more socially isolated?
How would you respond to a comment like this? If the above-mentioned scenario describes the majority of interactions with people in your current social circle, it’s time to set boundaries while you work through your depression with your therapist. Healing takes time and having the right support in your life during your treatment program is essential to your health! You need people who will validate your feelings when you’re feeling down. Evidence-based therapy has a way of awakening (unpleasant) emotions that you’ve been trying to subdue through drugs and alcohol, and now that you are dealing with your issues in a healthy way, it seems that the floodgate of emotions can feel very overwhelming to process all at once. Some days you’re good, but other days you just need a healthy outlet, and oftentimes these outlets are in the form of friends and loved ones who are supposed to understand you.
Not everyone experiences depression the same exact way. There are various levels of depression, and sometimes you may not even suspect that someone has depression until it’s too late.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.”
Au contraire! The age-old adage does not prove true with relationships. Words have the power to uplift or tear down, and if you are in the wrong company, your chances for full recovery of depression can be drastically compromised if you don’t learn how to set up boundaries to protect yourself.
You are working hard to regain a meaningful life; in addition to weekly counseling appointments and therapy, you also need friends to help be your guide and support between appointments. The last thing you need to do is to isolate yourself socially while you are in treatment, yet it is so tempting to hide when you feel like you can’t be yourself around certain people.
Who are these unsafe people?
The complainers never mention anything positive, but they constantly pump negativity into the conversation whenever possible. Sometimes they might dominate the conversation by not letting you talk, or they turn the conversation back to themselves while completely ignoring your suggestions or compliments. Oftentimes these conversations last for at least a few hours as they complain about every single situation and every single person in their life. The dialogue is really a monologue because the “conversation” is all about them. By the end of the day, you feel completely drained and emotionally depleted.
Shut you down when you’re just talking about what’s on your mind. Right when you open up about a bad day, they find an opening and compare you to a thousand others in third world countries who are suffering way more than you are, and you should “count your lucky stars” because you live in America. They constantly compare you to others who are in worse situations so that you feel bad about your own troubles.
Reduce you to the size of an ant. With their words, tone, attitude and glances, they manipulate their way into your insecurities and make you second-guess your self-worth and value. They are the drama queens and martyrs who love to remind you of all the things they’ve done for you, how they have sacrificed for you, and how you owe them.
Tell you you’re crazy. They make you feel like you’re the irrational one, and they take zero responsibility for the ways they have hurt you. A classic example is when you express how some actions or words have hurt you, and they somehow find a way to turn it back on you and make you think it’s your fault, and you actually end up believing that you are the bad guy. Your attempt to resolve a relationship conflict somehow backfires. You walk away bewildered.
Breaking old habits with new boundaries
If you can identify any toxic relationships in your life right now, you know you’re not supposed to react the way you used to prior to addiction treatment. The energy you spend in trying to regulate your emotions (i.e., not overreact) around toxic people outweighs the energy you use when you’re doing fun activities that you enjoy. You used to lash out and fight back with abusive words, but now with therapy, you try to respond rather than react, but if it’s a toxic situation, even the right response doesn’t always give you the results you want. If you are hesitant about having boundaries, set them up anyway and practice self-compassion. Here are a few tips:
Own your feelings and validate yourself.
Do you feel triggered by a situation at work, school or home? Take some time to write down what you’re feeling. These are your emotions, and you have every right to feel what you feel. Don’t try to minimize your feelings whether they are good or bad. Just be in the moment and allow yourself to process what you’re thinking and feeling, because you are worth it.
Don’t let others define you.
After you have processed your emotions privately, allow yourself to “freely be” around others without seeking anyone’s approval. If someone else makes you feel like you are overreacting or that you’re being “too sensitive,” don’t allow their comments to negate what you are feeling. Everyone is entitled to their own emotions, and we all deserve to be heard and validated. People are entitled to their own opinions, but their opinions do not define you.
Try to resolve conflict before you distance yourself.
People are bound to disappoint us because no one is perfect. Isolating oneself constantly is not a good habit but running away from problems is not the solution either. If you are tempted to lash out or withdraw from certain people because of their words or actions, first of all give them the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time, we are unaware of our own shortcomings and we fail others without knowing it. Be gentle and have a face-to-face conversation with the “offender.” Be patient and give them second chances to change their ways. Sometimes relationships require more than one conversation to effect change in the dynamic.
Get a mediator.
Family counseling sessions are a great way to include loved ones when things get stuck. You keep having the same fights, but you live together. No matter what, you can’t see eye-to-eye and arguments seem to spiral out of control. Your counselor would be the best mediator in these situations. A third-party therapist can give you guidelines specific to your relationship and walk you through the process.
If all else fails, create space for healing.
As mentioned before, sometimes even doing the right thing won’t give you the results you want. If you have toxic people in your life and they don’t “get” what you’re trying to communicate, it’s time to step back and allow yourself psychological distance from emotional pollution. This may mean minimizing the amount of time you spend around certain people, but if you must stay in touch with them, find ways to limit your interactions. Working on your recovery goals is very important for your well-being, and you can discuss with your counselor some of the best ways to cut out relational toxicities without giving in to old habits like social alienation which contribute to depression.
Where to find healthier circles of support to fight depression
Individual and group counseling sessions are available at New Method Wellness, a premier drug and alcohol rehab center in San Juan Capistrano, CA. In group counseling sessions, you will meet other people who are on similar paths as yourself, and oftentimes the camaraderie that forms among group members results in lifelong friendships! You may also meet alumni of the program who have “been there, done that,” and they can help you work through difficult situations as you progress in your journey. The bonds you form in the recovery community are unlike any other; nothing is more powerful than the bond of transparency and vulnerability, especially from others who actually understand what you’re going through with your depression. When you witness the transformation in yourself and in others, you will experience a level of invigoration you’ve never felt before.