One thing I have learned from years of doing therapy is that everyone has a story to tell and is longing to be heard. For the most part, I believe we are all just people trying to do our best. What we want more than anything else is to feel a sense of self-worth and to know we are loved.
We all have different life experiences, most of which contribute to setting us apart from others, making us individuals. None of these experiences make us less, or more, than anyone else.
Unfortunately, the oven in which some are baked is the fiery furnace of depression. While this may be part of one’s life experience, it is never what defines a person.
For many of you, your life experiences may include having a dearly beloved friend or family member who is all too familiar with the oven of depression. If this is the case, you may find yourself not knowing what, or what not, to do.
What Not To Do:
Ridicule – This will only increase your loved one’s feelings of isolation and belief that they are flawed. It will increase the likelihood they will blame themselves for their depression. Ridicule tears down and does nothing to build up.
Shame – Shame sends the message that your loved one is making a mistake and is wrong for feeling depressed.
Belittle – This assumes the position that you are greater than your loved one because you are not depressed, and they are somehow less than you because they are depressed. Any room for equality is erased with belittling.
Minimize – Depression is very real and is not a figment of the imagination. Depression is not just a matter of your loved one having a bad day. The emotions that accompany your loved one’s depression may be the deepest emotions they have ever experienced.
Compare – Just as no two people are alike, no two episodes of depression are exactly alike. Two people may experience a common event but have very different responses. Do not assume that depression can be generalized, and that because you have known someone else’s depression, you now know this person’s depression.
Resist – What we resist will only persist. Resisting what already is will only make it grow bigger. Ignoring something will not improve it either. Accept what is and work with it, not against it.
What To Do:
Listen – Everybody has their own story to tell and wants to be listened to. Listening will help to reduce feelings of isolation. Do not feel like you have to fix the depression of a loved one, only they can do this. Do not confuse listening with doing nothing. Having a witness to one’s story is extremely powerful.
Validate – Acknowledge there is pain, suffering, and meaning involved in a person’s depression. Let them know they matter, have purpose, and are lovable, and that this purpose and lovability is unconditional.
Support – Let your loved one know that you are not afraid of their depression and that no matter how big it seems to them, it is never bigger than their power to heal. Nobody likes to be left alone in a dark place.
Educate – Do all you can to understand your loved one’s depression. Books, journals, papers, and online articles are excellent sources to educate yourself about the physiological and emotional effects of depression on a person. Ask your loved one to educate you about their depression, its cycles, its manifestations, and what they respond to best.
Understand – Seek and convey appropriate understanding and avoid advice-giving. Ask your loved one to include you in any therapeutic homework they may have in order to better understand them.
Accept – Work with what is; accept the place that your loved one is at while maintaining hope for healing. Embrace the reality of their situation and move forward with it.
The person you care so much for and love so much is still that same person despite their depression. Their dough is no different than yours, but they may have been baked in a different oven.
Different ovens are necessary or we would all be the same.
How else can we learn to have compassion for others?
How else can we learn humility?
One oven is not better or worse than the other. They are to be acknowledged, respected, and accepted for being different, not judged and isolated.