Hope for Relationships

The whole-person approach to healing

Always the Victim

Did your family teach you to externalize blame?

Janet 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.

Incompetent and uncaring physicians were the reason Janet decided to try mental health counseling. The doctors didn’t understand what she was going through. They didn’t listen to her complaints. They minimized her symptoms and misdiagnosed her problems. She couldn’t get better because others were not doing their part to figure out and fix what was wrong with her.

Janet developed a pattern of externalizing blame for every bad occurrence in her life. She perceived herself as powerless to control the bad things that happened. All she could do was complain at the injustices that befell her.

Janet had learned that she was not responsible, that she was helpless, a victim of callus disregards and circumstances. As such, she felt totally out of control when it came to her depression. She went from professional to professional, trying to find a “fix.” She felt even more victimized when she found fault with every solution offered. Janet came to counseling after her doctor suggested she might benefit from it in conjunction with the medication she’d been prescribed.

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In order to overcome her depression, Janet needed to recognize how much control she really did have over her own life.

Family Frames the Future

Normally, the key to how we view life originates in our childhood and formative years. Our families framed our own understanding of who we are and our belief in who we can be. Our parents and siblings set the stage for our current relationships with family, friends, and acquaintances.

Families give us our first lessons about ourselves. We learn to view ourselves through the eyes of those we love and with whom we have relationship. Each person in the family tells us more about ourselves through our mutual interaction. The family itself, as an entity, tells us about our place in this 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.

How our families perceived us, and the words they spoke to and about us, continue to echo in our self-view as the background noise of our lives, and we consequently repeat the patterns and perceptions that we held in their presence. Their comments whisper to us in the quiet of the night and in the moments of despair. What they said becomes extremely important to our current ability to recognize, promote, and sustain optimism, hope, and joy. If these learned patterns and perceptions are negative or debilitating in nature, they undercut our commitment to think and act positively.

Widening Your Circle of Support

As you recover from depression, you may find that your circle of support will not come from the members of your family. It may be necessary for you to utilize other relationships to provide the support you need. Your family may be too close to objectively view your recovery. Members of your family may not be prepared to accept the truth you’ve uncovered through this process. Don’t allow their lack of acceptance to deter you in seeking the truth.

The goal is not to protect the family—the goal is to recapture a life filled with optimism, hope, and joy. If you need to discard flawed family patterns and perceptions, it is your prerogative as an adult to do so.

If this is the case, the time will come when you should be able to include your family in your recovery. They may need some additional time to process the same information and understanding. You can give them time without apologizing for your own recovery. Those who love you will come to accept the positive changes in your life, even if you present yourself differently. This change, away from depression and toward recovery, will benefit not only you but also your current relationships.

2013 Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan For Healing From Depression, Waterbrook Press.

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., founded The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington.

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