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3 Subtle Ways Depressed People Self-Sabotage

1. They personalize their depression symptoms.

Key points

  • Depressed people struggle with self-criticism daily and can therefore benefit from self-compassion.
  • Many depressed people wrongly personalize their symptoms, interpreting them as evidence of being weak.
  • If depression affects one's consistency with taking action, tips on forming habits are less helpful.
Anthony Tran/Unsplash
Source: Anthony Tran/Unsplash

If you're struggling with depression, the last thing you need is someone pointing out your flaws. It's likely that your own mind already does that incessantly, amplifying your self-criticisms day in and day out.

However, the following suggestions aim to foster self-compassion and understanding. Take a moment to explore them and see what resonates with you.

Here are three common mistakes people make when suffering from depression.

1. You personalize your depression symptoms.

Remember: Depression doesn't make you weak or worthless. You hold as much intrinsic value as any other human being. You're not depressed because you're a weak person. You don't deserve to be on the scrap heap. You aren't less than your colleagues and teammates because you're less productive than you would be if you weren't depressed.

Culturally, we're sometimes fed the message that the only people who have value in society are the people who are getting up at the crack of dawn to lift weights, and then spending 12+ hours a day creating "Shark Tank"-style companies or writing code.

However, for humanity to truly thrive, we need everyone to work on the goal of a healthier, kinder world. Whatever challenges or idiosyncrasies you have, this includes you.

There are various ways to contribute, some of which may be feasible despite your depression symptoms, at least on certain days. If you personalize your depression symptoms and interpret them as evidence of you being weak or worthless, this will only dim your light and make it harder to use your strengths on the days you're able to.

For instance, today, I collected coffee grounds from my local Starbucks for my compost pile—a simple, yet meaningful act.

Try being more self-compassionate about your depression and limitations. See if it makes small, healthy, prosocial, constructive actions seem more doable.

2. You don't think about what support you need to function optimally.

Humans don't achieve much without support. We achieve things by working together. Someone grew the salad greens Elon Musk and every other billionaire ate for lunch. Someone wrote the books they learned from.

Whatever you can't do alone with your depression challenges may be possible with the right support. Try a thought experiment in which you imagine you had the world's best executive assistant, sous chef, or physically capable helper. In a magical ideal world, imagine the support that would make the things you'd like to do feel possible. What kind of assistance from someone else would help you let your light shine?

Once you've thought about this, reverse engineer what's actually possible. For example, maybe your depression makes it too hard to try using a new tool by yourself, but hiring someone to come to your house for a two-hour personal lesson would make it possible for you to try it. You might think you should be able to get started by watching YouTube videos or the like. However, depression can induce mental humps that people need help to get over, especially when it comes to trying new things that feel intimidating.

When you identify a type of support you need, don't get hung up on why you need that support. That can easily turn into rumination. Accept that you do need it, and move on.

Support can come from sources other than people. Although there isn't yet research on the topic, I've outlined some potential ways in which people with depression may be able to use AI chatbots to alleviate challenges related to focus and concentration, among others.

There are lots of ways people with mental health challenges could benefit from support to resolve various inequities, like the inequity that people with mental illnesses tend to pay more for utilities.

3. You ruminate about what you're not doing.

Consistency can be very hard for someone with depression. We're often fed the message that the only way to succeed is through consistent habits. We're told we need to maintain habits through perfect habit streaks and not breaking the chain.

It's absolutely true that habits reduce the self-control needed to perform behaviors. The more consistently you study, go to the gym, ride your bike to work, or do anything else, the easier it will be to do that no matter what emotions you happen to be feeling. There's plenty of research showing this.

However, that messaging can sometimes imply it's the only way to succeed. If your depression affects your consistency, that may not feel helpful.

Instead, try this: Think about what you did rather than what you didn't do. Instead of thinking about the six days this week that you didn't meditate, think about the one day you did. Instead of thinking about the body parts you didn't work out, think about the one exercise you did. Instead of thinking about the days you didn't practice a hobby, think about when you did.

Depression can be viewed as a disability, much like any other. It has associated challenges and limitations that may vary from day to day or month to month. Just like any disability, it's possible to adapt and work around its effects. By doing so, you can lead a fulfilling life, embrace your strengths, and make meaningful contributions within your capabilities. Remember, you deserve to live a good life, irrespective of the obstacles you face.

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