People living with depression are some of the strongest people in the world. They are constantly fighting an internal battle that others often misunderstand. Sometimes it feels like you are treading water just trying to stay afloat. Other times it may feel like a thousand pounds are weighing on your back. Some people feel hollow inside, others feel full of broken pieces. Common symptoms include sadness, despair, loneliness, exhaustion, hopelessness, shame, and even self-blame. Anybody who experiences depression can likely tell you that the feelings of guilt can be particularly overwhelming.
Where does the guilt come from? Often, feelings of guilt are a symptom of the condition itself, possibly caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. But there are also many social experiences that can contribute to self-blame as well. For example, a friend or family member may have insisted that you would feel better if you just “tried harder” to find joy in your surroundings. Someone may have told you to get out of your house more, pick up a new hobby, call a friend to cheer up, or pamper yourself in some way. While coping skills can be helpful, an overabundance of simple suggestions like these can invalidate the pain that you are experiencing and may cause you to believe depression is a result of not trying hard enough. This is untrue for most people with depression. In fact, most people are trying everything imaginable to feel better. There is not a simple solution. If there were, you probably would have already found it. Depression is a complex condition that often requires the support of a mental health professional.
When coping with these uncomfortable social situations, it’s very important to realize that friends and family members may not understand what you are experiencing. There are numerous misconceptions about depression and it’s not realistic for us to expect everybody to be fully educated on the subject. Their suggestions may be harmful at times, but people usually have good intentions. It’s usually not worth harboring resentfulness toward others. Instead, try to remember that not everybody will understand your depression and set social boundaries with anyone contributing to your sense of guilt.
To further alleviate guilt, remember that depression is caused by a variety of factors, most of which have nothing to do with your personal character. Neurotransmitters, genetics, environmental factors, childhood experiences, attachment patterns, social systems, and many other factors can contribute to depression. None of these are a reflection on your personal character or inner strength.
Decreasing feelings of guilt can also start with challenging your mental flexibility. Are your inner thoughts rigid or flexible? When your thoughts are too rigid, you may be placing unrealistic expectations on yourself to “get better” too quickly. If you are unable to meet these expectations, your sense of self-blame may be exacerbated. It’s important to be gentle with yourself and practice flexible thinking so that you are not setting yourself up for further frustration and self-blame.
Self-acceptance is another skill that can help with self-blame. Practice accepting yourself completely for who you are, without criticism or judgment. Nobody is perfect. We all have limitations of some kind. If depression is one of yours, that’s okay. Being angry about having depression will not help you heal from it. Instead, focus on accepting yourself as a complete, wholly-integrated person. Depression is a part of you, but it is certainly not all of you.
Depression feels terrible, but it’s not your fault. At River Oaks, we want you to know that it has nothing to do with your character or personal attributes. Depression is a legitimate mental health condition – not something that you asked for or wanted or decided upon – and like most health conditions, it is treatable with proper care and support. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please reach out to us. We would be honored to work with any individual seeking support.
Written by Lauren Presutti