Accepting Their Depression
When we suspect someone is feeling low it’s only natural to show concern and probe a little for more information. We’re sending out a signal that we are interested in their welfare and we want to help. Not surprisingly it can take a little encouragement to get someone to open up. After all from their perspective it places them in a highly vulnerable position. Disclosing their most personal emotions isn’t something they will take lightly. They want to know they can trust you, that what they say isn’t going to be dismissed as trivia, or even worse as a sign of madness.
Accepting the way another person feels isn’t the same as agreeing with them and neither is it about feeling sorry for them. It may seem strange but the last thing someone with depression actually wants is for someone to feel sorry for them. What they really seek is the person who is able to show acceptance. They can get criticism, sarcasm, judgmental and pull-yourself-together comments from anyone. What is less common and therefore so much more valuable is the person who values them for who they are and the struggle they are currently facing.
Listening to someone who is depressed isn’t easy and I don’t just mean the self-criticism the self-doubt and the anxiety that often comes with the conversation. What makes it hard is that you’ll want to chip in. You’ll want to challenge statements you feel are groundless, or that sound like self-pity, or that are frankly rubbish. The reason you might be feeling this way is because you’re listening to the product of the distorted thinking that comes with depression. Rational thinking has largely gone out of the window. The world is black, the future bleak and their contribution to it is largely pointless. You may feel uncomfortable being on the receiving end of disclosures you hadn’t expected, but then you invited the person to open up, so what do you do?
One thing not to do is to try and close the conversation down by tripping out platitudes like ‘I’ve felt that like that’, or ‘you’ll soon get over it’. The thing to say is absolutely nothing. You listen. If they turn to you for an answer then perhaps you could say that it’s alright to be feeling this way and encourage more in the way of disclosure. You aren’t waiting for a magic moment when you say ‘ah yes, I think I see the answer to your problem’ because it doesn’t work like that.
If challenged it’s perfectly reasonable to say you don’t see things in the way they do. They already know things aren’t right and they are looking for a solution that is unlikely to come from you. If they say everything is ‘pointless really, isn’t it?’ well no, not from your perspective, but then you aren’t in the same place as them but you can see they feel strongly about it. So while people may appear to be seeking validation or advice what they really need is time to sort things out in their own head.
Acceptance like this is far from easy. It’s what counselors spend years trying to perfect. It’s a slow and often painful path and you need to guard against impatience or being goaded into saying something simply because it reinforces their suspicions about you. Accepting isn’t agreeing but it is a form of acknowledgement that can allow an unblocking of emotion and the start of the healing process.