Why do the depressed fail at relationships? Communication breakdown. A Stanford psychologist identifies 4 telltale signs
For most of us, depression won’t be a life-threatening issue — but it will threaten the fabric of our marriages and relationships.
The latest research shows that fully one-fifth of all of us in the U.S. will suffer clincial depression at some point in our lives. As the Great American Recession . . . that began in December, 2007 heads into its second year, we may be heading for the highest concentration of mass depression since the United States became a superpower.
It’s not that depression in its own right kills relationships, suggests Wiveka Ramel (right) , a star Stanford psychologist. It’s that depression neutron-bombs communication, which in turn, does-in the relationship. The rule applies equally to work partners and intimate partners.
Given the deep penetration of depression in these times, we are each bound to have someone in our circle who is suffering from the affliction — maybe even ourselves?
Her premise: depressed people inexorably seek out relationships that verify their negative view of themselves.
No one consciously wants pain, so this happens on auto-pilot. The depressed person’s secret self-image often sounds like this:
A) I’m a failure.
B) I don’t deserve attention, affection, acceptance or success.
C) If Barack Obama’s mantra is, “Yes, we can,” the depressed person’s goes, “No, I can’t!” He or she is wracked by self-doubt and a sense of hopelessness.
If that isn’t bad enough, Ramel pinpointed four patterns of communication that are guaranteed to generate negative feedback:
- A depressed partner avoids conflict, shies away from clearing the air or acting assertively, and engages in “blame maintenance.”
- Even while he or she privately believes that they have failed to live up to expectations, they excessively seeks reassurance over the smallest things.
- When you do give them positive feedback, they discount it because it doesn’t correlate to their low self-esteem and unlovability
- After a while, the partner or friend of the depressed person will reciprocate that rigidity with a negative view that discounts the afflicted even when he or she does display self-motivation.
Unfortunately, all of these behaviors combine into a vicious cycle that reinforces the subject’s depression, and deepens their isolation. “Common themes across these processes include inflexible views of self and others,” says Ramel, “and rigid preferences for predictability and familiarity at the cost of inquiry and expansion of self-view.”
Or as Franz Kafka (left) said: The sick drive away the healthy; and the healthy drive away the sick.
From meditation groups and one-on-one therapy to church socials and AA meetings, personal connection is the best buffer against depression, says Ramel. These settings promote self-motivation; compassion for oneself and others; and psychological flexibility.
What’s cool about Ramel, who is from Sweden, is that she did her doctoral degree in clinical psych but she is thoroughly Buddhist in her approach.
Her favorite fix for a relationship depressed by depression is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It invites the depressed to amplify his or her values, expand their capacity for compassion, diffuse circular-thinking and rumination — and clarify ways of landing on reality.
Here is a scientific study that Ramel co-authored on one flavor of ACT: The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Cognitive Processes and Affects in Patients with Past Depression.
Since we at Soul’s Code declare that everyone’s a guru, turning around depression can be even simpler: hang out with friends and invest time with people who value you.
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