The goal posts move

Here’s the thing about depression : it seeps deep into your fundamental self-image.

Not just the stuff we cna see (so to speak), like poor self-esteem, self-loathing, and so on, but into one’s very conception of self, and is the very foundation of one’s consciousness. Everything in our mind steams from and relates to this self-image.

Anything that threatens to change that self-image, therefore, has the potential to destabilize the entire psyche, and is therefore a threat to the individual in a very real and extremely deep sense.

This is true even of things which might seem good. Take a random teacher and imagine them getting really good at algebra, for example. You might think that is the sort of thing that can only be good. Better grades, better life, right?

But deeper down, the onflict becomes obvious. Our random teen might not ever get to be any good with algebra not because they lack the ability to learn it, but because they do not think of themselves as the sort of person who is good at algebra. 

And if that is true, then no amount of studying, prepping, or tutoring is going to change that. All that positive input is going to be stopped at the door by the teen’s sense of identity and told to go home because it simply does not fit the teen’s self-image.

And this is important : the teen has no idea any of this is going on. From their point of view. all they know is that they keep trying their hardest to learn the subject and yet they are still not getting any better at it.

That’s why I, if I was a professional tutor (and I probably could be), I would ask my student to describe their picture of someone who is good at the subject is, and then ask them if they want to be that kind of person.

That way, I could get right to the heart of the issue without wasting a bunch of time trying to teach that which they do not. fundamentally. want to learn.

I might even ask them to imagtine telling their friends they did really well on a test in the subject, and see how they feel about that.

To the human mind, absoluitely nothing is more important than identity.

I seem to have wandered astray, as usual. Back to the subject.

For a depressed person, their self-image, no matter how negative, is defended with great vigor precisely because it’s so fundamnetal to their conception of self.

It is a battle of identity just like it was with the algebraically challenged teen.

And that’s why we depressives exhibit the seemingly paradoxical behaviour of vigorously defending their negative self-image from all forces that threaten it.

We will fight tooth and nail, if necessary, to deny anything that might make us feel better about ourselves. This can be rather stressful to those close to the depressive as from their point of view, they are only trying to help when they point out that the depressive has a lot of good traits and are getting heavy, often impassioned resistance from the depressive in return for their kindness and goodwill.

Depressive Person : I’m so sick and I am in constant agony!
Non-Depressed Person : Here, have some medicine to cure it.
Depressive Person : FUCK OFF! You are the worsr person ever! I hate you!
Depressive Person (ten minutes later) : I am so sick, and I am in constant agony!
Depressiver Person (five minutes later) : Nobody’s helping,. They must all hate me.

That’s why uou get people who have everything we are taught should make us happy – money, career, family, material goods, high status, the respect of their peers, you name it – and still hate themselves.

None of that shit matters if you fundamentally consider yourself to be a sad person. At best, the acquisition of such things can provide temporary relief from a negative self-image but that soon drains away as that fundamental self-image reasserts itself and sets everything back to its level.

Hence affirmations. It might seem mindless and styupid to look in the mirror and say nice things to yourself over and over,. but it’s actually quite wise.

It’s an attempt to change that fundamental self-image and thus make happiness and positive self-worth a possibility.

Otherwise, you are the donkey chasing the carrot, and the donkey can only chase that carrot for so long before it gives up because no matter how far it travels, the carrot never gets any closer.

The goal posts move.

It’s the only way the mind has to maintain the negative self-image in the face of potentially identity-threatening positive input.

If I was a therapist  (and I could…. okay, the boat’s probably sailed on that one), it would be this fundamental self-image I would be trying to change. No easy task – as I said above, the patient will likely fight you tooth and nail over this, and so the approach would have to be oblique and subtle.

But nobody is going to be happy unless their deep self-image changes to accept the idea of themselves as a happy person. Until they do, their sense of identity – which always has top priority – will resist any progress that they make and lurk in the shadows, waiting to put things back to “normal”, until the day they die.

Take my own case. I have ample evidence that I am an extraordinary person. I have abilities the average person would sell their left arm right nut to possess. I am very bright, highly talented, and a heck of a nice guy to boot.

And yet I still hate myself and thibnk the world would be a better place without a liability like myself around a lot of the time.

To imagine thinking otherwise – to imagine believing that I am awesome, full stop, no qualifiers, no counterarguments – fills me with deep deep terror.

Because if that were to happen, I wouldn’t even know who I was any more.

And that’s the scariest thing imaginable.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.