Seriously. I feel useless, worthless, empty. The only reason that I’m still alive is because I care about other people. But where the fuck are those people? I feel stupid and like I’m being overdramatic, but I’ve been feeling so terrible that it’s hard to think any other way. I’m never the first priority. And I know that sounds selfish, but I’m not even people’s second or third choice. Everyone has something or someone or some purpose. I’m just here. Existing with no real direction and nowhere that I belong.
Now, I know that I can’t just off myself without repercussions. I know that people would care if I died. I guess I just don’t really feel like people care if I live. Hear me out for a second: I’m one of those people that other people only care about when they’re dead. Like if I committed suicide, I’m sure people would come out of the fucking woodworks to mourn or to at least post a Facebook status about it. But now, while I’m living, no one is nearby. I was by myself for another night last night with nobody answering my texts or talking to me. I can’t help but feel like today will be the same. It’s so early in the day to be feeling this way, but I’m dreading the rest of today. I was genuinely hoping last night that I wouldn’t wake up this morning. Every day is a challenge because every day I feel out of place in my own mind, in my own body, and in the world around me. I don’t think I make a difference. I really don’t. Alive, I don’t think I could have any less significance. But if I were dead, suddenly everybody would notice.
That’s just the way the world works I guess.
Depression and insecurity mutates and distorts even basic thoughts, especially towards oneself. When someone who is suffering from depression or any other mental or emotional distress receives a compliment, there are a few ways that they could respond. There is always the possibility that he/she might accept the compliment with appreciation. However, more realistically, here are 5 of the common ways that a person with depression (or anyone with insecurities really) might react to a compliment:
1. Verbal Denial. A person suffering from depression might openly disagree with the person who has complimented them. They may even try to argue against the other’s statement. This can create tension because it stirs up frustration on both sides. The complimenter is frustrated because the person not only rejects the compliment, but they also make it a point to essentially call bullshit. The complimentee is frustrated because in a weird way, they want other people to think as lowly of them as they themselves do. Depression builds up a fortress of self-loathing and any positive feedback is almost like a threat.
2. Silent Denial. This one is probably the tactic that I use the most often. A depressed person might smile politely and thank the other person for the compliment while a voice screams in their head that it’s a lie. That sounds almost bitter and fake when you say it, but it is usually done out of respect for the other person. That’s one of the things that makes this response so toxic. It feels like you’re doing someone a favor by keeping them out of your internal struggle, but instead you’re mostly just hurting yourself by stuffing it all inside.
3. Nit-picking. Perfectionism is at the root of this one. Everyone knows that one kid in school that got the best grade in the class with a 98%, but wasn’t excited about it because it wasn’t 100. The 2% that was wrong seems to discount the 98% that was right. By focussing on minute negative details of something, the depressed mind takes the overall compliment or event completely out of focus. I did this quite a bit when I was in an acting company. People would tell me how good my performance was, and I was quick to fire back at them things like “But didn’t you hear me stutter that one time?” or “I forgot one line of my monologue,” as if that ruined the whole show.
4. Redirection. This is ultimately changing the subject because the compliment is too uncomfortable. A person with depression can very quickly become overwhelmed by a positive affirmation, so they change the topic to something negative. For example, say Jimmy tells Susie that she has pretty eyes. Instead of responding to that comment, Susie brings up her weight or something else that she dislikes about her body. Redirecting is basically saying “Okay, but look at this thing that is worse than that.”
5. Table Turning. It’s always easier to give compliments than to receive them. A lot of people with mental health issues are pros at seeing strengths in other people while they struggle to see anything in themselves. Table turning is flipping the script so that the attention goes to the person giving the compliment instead of the person receiving it. Instead of acknowledging or accepting a comment about how good I look, it’s far easier to say “But look at you!”
So how do you stop the struggling people you love from rejecting your compliments? First, slow down. You can’t stop anyone from doing anything. Because you are the only person you can control, it’s up to you to make your compliments more easy to accept, and a compliment that is accepted is so much more meaningful than a compliment rejected. Here are 4 things that you can do to give a compliment that will shine through the haze of depression.
1. Calm Down. “Omg you’re so pretty!” “You’re so smart!” “That was amazing!” Do you see the problems here? It’s the exclamation marks. Sure, if it’s just a random comment, be as enthusiastic as you want. But honestly, a calm compliment sounds so much more meaningful and personal. It doesn’t translate very well into typing, but imagine saying “Wow! You’re such an inspiration!” vs. “Wow…You’re such an inspiration.” It’s all about tone. Too much excitement tends to make compliments seem more shallow, so just reel it in a bit. Speaking in a real, calm, genuine tone can completely alter the mindset of the person being complimented.
2. Shrink. Sometimes compliments can feel too big, especially for people that have depression. This is kind of like trimming back your compliment, and while it does seem counter-intuitive, it can really help the chances of the other person believing you. Telling someone that they’re beautiful or that they’re a genius or they’re so good at something can seem overwhelming and unrealistic. It leaves room for the “buts” to come into play. Narrowing it down to a specific time or event can help cut out the chance for nit-picking. Instead of saying that someone is beautiful, maybe limit it to “You look good today.” And while that does open the door for “What do I look like every other day then?”, it also can feel more reasonable. It’s like to bargaining with the depression. If depression won’t let you recognize that you’re a good football player, it might allow you to recognize that that one play you ran was good. The goal is to gradually increase the size of the compliment and before you know it, you just fooled depression!
3. Persist. It might get annoying to the other person if you constantly repeat the same compliment, so you need to use some discretion here. It is understandable that if someone hears something enough times, they will begin to believe it. Thoughts form what my therapist calls “grooves” in your brain and the more you think one thought, the deeper the groove gets. The things that brought this person’s self-esteem so far down didn’t have that effect overnight, so of course it will take a while to undo the damage with compliments. You have to be in it for the long haul.
4. Personalize. It’s easy to write off a compliment by saying, “Well, she just says that to everyone.” If someone is always dishing out compliments, it’s almost less meaningful. Saying “You’re amazing” to different people is obviously going to lose some of its meaning if they catch on because it can seem like you think everyone is amazing and therefor the compliment is not valid. Tailoring a compliment specifically for a person helps combat the possibility of them brushing it off. Mentioning details of a situation in a compliment make it uniquely for that person. That can really increase the impact of what you say.
Now, I know that I’m making a lot of broad statements and generalizations, but this is all just what I’ve learned from being on both sides of the issue. I am the master of deflecting compliments, but that means that I also notice it very clearly when someone shuts down a compliment that I am trying to give.
Depression and insecurities are things that never had and may never have a “cure”. And that makes it all the more important that we help each other through it.
Photo by Joey Ressler