Personality Traits and Depression
I’ve been a very self-contained person from an early age. When I was two years old, my parents separated, and my father moved out. If you don’t have much experience with young children, you’re probably thinking that it was good that he left when I was so young. If you, however, have children or have spent a lot of time with them, you know that even at that age, they feel the absence of a parent keenly.
Two weeks later my father came back to pick some things up and (unwisely) stayed the night. My mother said that when he left, I went to the screen door to watch him go down the walkway, and then I turned around and went back to playing.
When I was growing up this seemed normal, but once my son had passed the age I was at when my father left, I said to my mom, “Wait, didn’t you think something was wrong with that?” A normal reaction from a child to the departure of a parent who had been absent for two weeks would be some kind of outburst. At the very least, you would expect the child to question what was happening and very possibly attempt one of those leg-clutching death grips that children that age are so good at.
My mother wasn’t concerned by my lack of response, partly because I was fairly even-tempered in general, and partly because it was a relief, as she had been left with no financial resources and two small children (my sister was a month old). But this was the first incident I can point to that demonstrates my lifelong aversion to making a fuss or being demonstrative. Losing my father did have an impact on me but no one, including me, had any idea until about twenty-five years later, when I entered therapy for the first time. I was so good at locking my feelings away that I didn’t even know they were there.
From about the age of seven, I spent my childhood and young adulthood in a fog of the chronic, low-level depression called dysthymia. Because depression does not run in my family on either side, I’ve often wondered why I was vulnerable. Did it have to do with losing my father to the divorce, moving quite a few times before I even entered elementary school, or did it have more to do with my personality? Did locking my feelings away in an effort to make things easier for my mother (possibly because I was afraid she’d go away too) make me vulnerable to depression?
Do certain inherent personality traits or ways of looking at life make you more vulnerable to depression, or do they co-exist with that vulnerability?
Two personality traits are frequently associated with depression:
- Being a “glass half full” type of person
- Being a ruminator, i.e., someone who mulls an issue over, often to the exclusion of moving forward and action
We don’t know which came first, the personality trait or the depression.
However, the good news is that there is something you can do to avoid letting these personality traits run your life. One type of talk therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can teach you how to counter negative and unproductive thought patterns.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.