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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Feeling Depressed: Influenced by the Attitudes and Opinions of Others?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 21st 2006

Did you ever run into a person who responds to everything you say in the most negative way possible?

 

A woman was at her hairdresser's getting her hair
styled for a trip to Rome with her husband. She
mentioned the trip to the hairdresser, who responded,
"Rome? Why would anyone want to go there? It's crowded and dirty.
You're crazy to go to Rome. So, how are you getting there?"

We're taking Continental," was the reply. "We got a
great rate!" "Continental?" exclaimed the
hairdresser. "That's a terrible airline. Their planes
are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they're always late.
So, where are you staying in Rome?"

"We'll be at this exclusive little place over
on Rome's Tiber River called Teste."

"Don't go any further. I know that place. Everybody
thinks it's gonna be something special and
exclusive, but it's really a dump...

This humorous E. Mail continues in this way until it ends with the customer making a sarcastic remark to the hair dresser that totally deflates him. As with most humor, this E. Mail reflects some basic problems many of us have in dealing with others. Here is a hypothetical example:

Hypothetical Case:

A patient came to my office for the usual psychotherapy session complaining that she felt depressed for the first time in a very long time and did not know why. Our therapeutic exploration revealed the fact that she had been talking to friends last night about a plan she had to seek employment in a retail store. This is something she felt very excited about because she not only loves clothes but the entire field of women's fashion. Such a job would be a precursor to her returning to school for a BA in fine arts. However, her friends responded to her enthusiasm with negative advice. They turned up their noses at the idea, telling her that she would earn a small salary and be extremely unhappy doing such work. Their advice was that she seeks employment as a waitress!!

Prior to the conversation with these friends she informed her mother that she was divorcing her husband. She explained that the marriage had always been extremely unhappy and she could not tolerate the rest of her life in a loveless and miserable marriage. Her mother was extremely critical, telling her that she ought to be "grateful" for her husband because "he was willing to marry her in the first place.!!!" To add insult to injury, the mother explained, in the calmest and most benign way possible that "if her present husband could not stand her what makes her think that any other man would be able too?!!!"

The only amazing thing about this episode is the fact that, while it is fictional, it is does describe some of the types of situations patients have brought to the office over many years of practice. In these types of situations patients did not understand why they felt depressed. It was interesting to me that these individuals were depressed rather than angry about the negative responses they were getting from friends and family.

The fact is that any of us can be vulnerable to the responses we get from others. The fact that you have gone through a difficult time in your life when this happens only means that all of us are more vulnerable during times of crisis than at other times. The real challenge is to be aware of the effect that the comments of others have on us. Being surrounded by negative people can cause anyone to feel negative. Many workers report that the way they feel about their job is very much influenced by the attitude and feelings of colleagues. Many school teachers have reported to me that if they are working in a school where the faculty attitude is depressed and "burnt out" it is hard to resist experiencing the same feelings.

Why Would Family or Friends be Critical?

Logic tells us that family and friends want to be helpful and, when they criticize, only have our best interests at heart. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. People are motivated by many forces, many of which they are unaware. For instance, the couple who advised the woman in the case above may have felt jealous of her willingness to venture out into a new career. Her mother may have feared her independence, wishing her daughter to remain unhappy, depressed and dependent on her mother for the rest of her life. This mother would not be the first parent who feared abandonment because her children were declaring their right to be autonomous. In addition to these, there are many other factors that might motivate people to react negatively to the ideas and plans of a friend or relative.

So, What To Do?

Every individual has a right to focus on their wishes, dreams and plans. The opinions and feedback of other people might or might not be helpful. The fact is that the only way to learn the truth is to venture out and learn for ourselves. I recently pointed out to a patient that the only way to know what the salary would be for a certain type of career was to investigate by interviewing and asking lots of questions.

The point is that there are times when our depression is the result of reacting to the attitudes and opinions of other people. It is important to resist this by being aware and by learning to acquire information for out selves, independent of friends and family.

One thing that can be done is to gently but firmly let people know that while you appreciate their concern, you will find out for yourself.

If this does not help, try some of the cognitive-behavioral techniques described in a variety of self-help books that are on sale in most book stores.

What are your experiences with this type of thing. You are encouraged to write in about your opinions and experiences.

 

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Well said! - - Jul 22nd 2006
    What you said makes a lot of sense. My husband has been depressed since he left his dream job to go work for his family\'s business. That was years ago. I am normally upbeat and bubbly and he has always wanted to lean on me emotionally when I\'m up and ignore/abandon me when I have legitimate needs (like emergency surgery!). After trying to love enough for two and be faithful to my marriage vows, to make sure that my kids have a nice quality of living/education, I have decided enough is enough and I need to divorce this man. I am frankly terrified of what he might do, but my life is legitimate, too, and it\'s not all about him. Really. I can\'t allow his negativity and depression make me and the kids that way and we can\'t keep enabling his problem, which he refuses to confront. Thanks for the shot of sanity and support!

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