If you have ever had a period of clinical depression, or if you have struggled throughout your life with chronic depression, you know that this is more than just a period of sadness. Depression is well named. It pushes down on a person, it makes the world full of shadows and it sucks energy and hope from the world.
There is no point asking a person with depression to just go out and improve their self-esteem. It is like asking a blind man to just go see for a change. If it was as easy as being told to like yourself more, people with depression would love to have gone and done that months, years, decades ago.
Having a personal mantra of “You are a good person and you are worth it” is likely to torment a person with depression more than it offers them comfort. So, if the answer is not an improved self-esteem, what is the solution? The solution is self-compassion. People with depression are keener to be more kind than most. They feel like a bad person, after all, so they move around the world desperately showing compassion to all and sundry.
So, rather than saying to a person with depression “You should say nice things about yourself in your head” you should ask them to offer the same compassion they give others to themselves.
Here is an example to help. Let’s say a depressed female friend is particularly low because she failed to complete enough work and things have been left undone. The previous week a work colleague had done the same and our depressed lady had said: “Hey, don’t worry, you had hard clients today, you did a great job despite those barriers.” So, this week, with the same scenario, our depressed lady should be encouraged to show the same compassion to herself.
Here is a more extreme example, but not at all unrealistic. A depressed man looks on at a person on TV who is crying because they have been sentenced to a jail term. The person crying had made a bad choice in a single instant and now would pay with her freedom. Our depressed man feels great sympathy for the crying convict: “Just one simple error” he mutters. But, then, on spilling coffee over the carpet, he berates himself for his stupidity. “Just one simple error” you remind him.
Self-compassion is the ability to give yourself the same forgiveness as you would hope for someone else. Self-compassion will not halt the forward march of depression. However, self-compassion will allow people with depression the space to forgive themselves for things they did not intend to do.
Now, it is highly likely that your depressed friend, who you just encouraged to read this article, will suggest that self-compassion sounds like avoiding responsibility. It will make them the sort of person who never accepts their failings.
Here is what you say back: If I lived life the way you live life, would you speak to me so horribly? If the answer is no, then you should not speak to yourself in that way either.