When we are depressed we feel we have no power. We feel no strength within ourselves and think it is almost impossible to find a new way of dealing with people that will help us in beating depression. One of the main reasons for this is that we have not confronted the authority in our life.
This means that we are allowing someone else to dictate our behavior, thoughts or feelings. It means that someone is doing or saying something and we are obeying them. We are bending to their rules although we don’t want to. We are compromising our integrity, and ourselves, doing things and behaving in a way that is not right for us.
This ‘authority’ may be someone who is in your life right now, such as a spouse, friend, a work colleague, teacher or neighbor. Conversely, it may be someone from your past to whom you are still attached, such as a parent or sibling. You have become conditioned to believing that another person knows what is right for you.
You may continue to play family games when you go back to your parents’ house and smile as if everything is OK, even though it’s not. This can lead you to thinking there’s something wrong with you. You may have to press that frustration down so it won’t escape and overwhelm you.
If you are feeling very depressed, put some thought into who you are obeying right now.
Are you listening to someone who gives you information about yourself that you believe? Is someone telling you that you can’t go for your dreams? Are you telling yourself that you have no rights as a parent and therefore cannot have any personal life? Is someone telling you that because they give you money, gifts or favors that you have no right to confront them? Is someone beating you up and you believe it when they tell you that you deserve it?
These and many other questions are worth asking yourself because there is an answer here.
HOW TO CONFRONT THE EXTERNAL AUTHORITY
Now that you have become aware that you are following orders, how do you confront your own misplaced obedience?
You could simply talk to a friend and receive valuable responses that might help you recognize your situation in a way that you can’t see it now. However, if you feel very anxious about discussing your situation, you may need assistance from a trained professional who can help you see that your thinking is contaminated. Some reworking of the way you see your situation will help you to get a more level view and decrease your anxiety. This will then raise your confidence about dealing with the authority.
However, this doesn’t have to be done face to face.
Confronting an authority can be acted out in the safety of a therapist’s room by allowing yourself the opportunity of saying to the therapist what you would really like to say to the authority. The very act of expressing your fury or sadness out loud will open you up to dealing with your depression and you will find yourself encountering new experiences that will add to your personal strength.
The action you take with the authority as a result of talking it through may be simply to respond in a new way. One thing to remember – unless you break the law, there is no authority that can dictate to you. If you believe otherwise, you are misguided.
Once you have a clear idea of what you need to do or say to confront the authority, you could take action face-to-face, on the telephone or by writing; you could do it directly, through a legal advisor or with a mediator. Any route may be scary but it’s the exciting scariness that comes before change and you can use these opportunities to your full advantage.
Be aware that if you are depressed you may see tackling an authority as a backward step but it is not; it is a real catalyst for change and the first time you do it is always the hardest. If you stretch yourself you will give back to yourself the greatest gift of all – your personal power.
When we talk about confronting the authority, we are not talking about a screaming match in which we hurl abuse in between trying to make a point. No, we are talking about approaching it in a way that we would expect a favorite teacher or someone whom we admire to approach it.
Imagine them making your point to another on your behalf. Think what they would say and write the words down, as they would speak. How would they sit or stand? What would their face look like? What would their gestures indicate? Go through the conversation you imagine you will have and mimic such a person. Practice the conversation with someone who can listen and ask the question, ‘is this unreasonable?' You will discover that 99% of the time, what you are saying is reasonable and measured.
We tend to overestimate the power we have in another’s life. We feel that confronting something or someone is going to throw the whole world into disarray. This is a normal part of the nebulousness of depression. We are afraid of being honest for fear that our feelings will overwhelm others. We labor under misconceptions.
As I have opened up and told people things that I thought might kill them, they have hardly batted an eye- lid – often the response has often been, ‘Oh, I knew that anyway.’ Depression distorts reality but as the depression lifts so our focus becomes clearer.
There is nothing to do except be aware of it.
Here is an exercise to help you confront the external authority:
Learning to say 'No, Thank You'
Many people get depressed when they compromise themselves and allow others to bully them into doing things they would rather not do. We give in to others because we are frightened about the consequences of saying ‘No, thank you.’
When we neglect our own needs we become empty and even resentful of others. The irony is that when we outline our limitations to people making demands of us, we feel much better about giving and sharing at other times. Some people I know have recovered from depression by simply learning to say 'No, thank you' when they are being asked to take on too much. It is terrifying doing this for the first time if we are not accustomed to saying no, because we get guilt feelings for standing up for ourselves.
However, it is our right to make an honest assessment of our responsibilities at any time and, if we feel uncomfortable taking on more, we should let others know our limits. Here are some tips to get going:
Stand in front of the mirror and say 'No, thank you' to yourself until you’re bored
Now stand in front of the mirror and say 'No, thank you' to yourself as the person you want to face
Practice the conversation you need to have as you imagine it out loud with you saying 'No, thank you' at the right moment
Practice with little things – even if you want to say yes to someone, simply say ‘no’ until you’re used to it
When you are ready, go to the person to whom you wish to face and just do it!
Yes, it’s scary at first, but no more so than going to a party where you don’t know anyone. If the thought is terrifying, then take a look at the possible outcomes of your actions. If you are petrified, then you are creating some archaic scenario from earlier in your life. As an adult, you are entitled to say ‘No, thank you’ to anything you don’t wish to undertake if it does not feel right for you.
If you are going to confront the authority, you also have to be clear about your goal. Your goal needs to be about you and how you would like to feel. It needs to address what you need to get off your chest, how you want to change your behavior in another’s company, and how you want to lessen the negative effect that someone has on you.
A simple example of confronting an external authority:
Your goal may be to stop allowing yourself to feel humiliated when a colleague talks to you as though you were a delinquent teenager.
In this scenario you know that you react like a delinquent teenager, sticking two fingers up behind her back as she leaves the office or sinking into a ball of shame so that you hang your head for the rest of the day. So, you need to prepare yourself to approach the whole setup with a different frame of mind.
Practice your preferred response in the mirror or with a friend until you get the right feeling in you. Next time the colleague comes in with the patronizing look on her face, draw yourself up tall, perhaps stand up as she comes in, and respond to her in the way you would imagine a prime minister, for instance, to respond – with authority and firmness.
Watch with interest the way your colleague changes. Accept the change with grace because you have forced it. Note the difference you feel as she is slightly on her back foot – she is used to dealing with you in one way but you have now changed your reaction to the way she speaks to you.
She may not even be able to put her finger on what has changed, because you are saying the same words but in a different way. But you know what has changed and you will soar with confidence at your courage in responding to her differently.
What your goal doesn’t need to include are things about the other person. For example, this exercise is not about destroying that person, humiliating them or trying to get them to say or do something you want them to do. You don’t need to confront your colleague by telling her that you are sick and tired of being treated like a child and that if she doesn’t do something about it you are going to report her. You shouldn’t start a whispering campaign or send anonymous letters – it has been known! That is not a clean or progressive course of action.
HOW TO CONFRONT YOUR PARENTS
This is a huge topic and one that is difficult to sum up in the space available here. When I talk to people about depression, so many people return to the subject of one or both of their parents. I estimate that, of the people I have spoken to, 80% of them feel entangled with their parents and are stuck. For the purpose of simplicity, I would recommend two courses of action. You should take one or the other.
1. Confront them indirectly
If you know you are struggling with a parental relationship, but it is not possible, for whatever reason, for you to talk to them, find someone else with whom you can let out your frustrations. Most people would choose to take this route. Once you have established what your normal pattern of behavior is in their presence, you can take measures to change it.
You will begin to see how you still act as a child and issue the same demands. They follow your command and behave in the same way they did when they were responsible for you. But things have changed, and you have to take the lead to put the changes into place. It is not up to them to change the patterns until you ask them.
The goal is to change your current behavior when you are with them in the same way that you would confront any other external authority as outlined above.
Your first step is to identify what it is you need from them and then take measures to get your needs met elsewhere elsewhere. If you need to go to their house for the night, get some home cooking and your washing done, you are setting yourself up to be treated likea teenager. For the good stuff you receive from your parents, you must pay a price – and this is to stay in the old pattern.
Get a washing machine or start using the launderette and learn how to cook your own nice meals! You then need less from your parents and you will be able to confront them indirectly as you would your work colleague, as outlined previously.
Your behavior will gradually change and, although the change will startle them, they will adjust. What you want to achieve is you feeling better about yourself in their company. This does not entail them changing, this is about you changing.
Bear in mind that it’s rather like the family members being represented as bobbles on a nursery mobile. The balance of the mobile is delicate because if one bobble moves the rest are affected and all the bobbles on the mobile will move accordingly to keep the mobile balanced. When one person gets off, the mobile will bounce around for a while, before the mobile eventually settles down and forms a new shape.
This is what happens when a family member puts some changes into place and forces a different dynamic between the members (the bobbles). New relationships will form and everyone will need to adjust.
2. Confront them directly
The second route to take is to confront your parents directly – a choice taken only by a minority of people.
This is for those who are too depressed to ‘play around bashing the cushions’, because that does not do justice to what they suffered. This route involves huge personal risks because it is about confronting a perpetrator who still feels all-powerful. The point of the exercise is to diminish the power that person holds. It is not an exercise in trying to ‘get them back for what they did to me’.
If you decide to take this route, make sure that you first seek professional support from a therapist or mediator and ask them if they think it would be a good idea, presuming that person would know the details of your family history.
If a trusted therapist feels it would be beneficial to your recovery, you may like to consider the following suggestions for how to go about it. You could meet your parents on neutral ground, in a hotel, with a mediator, or, depending on the nature of your problem, at a solicitor’s office. It would be respectful to let them know beforehand that there is something from your childhood that you need to bring out into the open. You may want to outline it in a letter beforehand.
You must be prepared to confront them without telling them how ‘they’ feel or who ‘they’ are. Instead, you will need to conduct the exchange from an ‘I’ perspective. This is the way of lessening the possibility of conflict, because if we tell another how we feel rather than how they feel, there is nothing to argue about.
For example, if I say to someone, ‘You’re always criticizing me,’ their response might be, ‘No, I’m not,’ and then the whole question of whether or not they do is up for grabs. But if I say, ‘I have never felt as if I have done the right thing in your company,’ that is unarguable fact and cannotbe disputed because no one else can know what we feel.
You may want to express your hurt and anger towards them, but don’t act it out. Only discuss your tender feelings if you feel strong enough for any response you might get. Only go through with the exercise if you accept that you will not get them to change and they will probably deny what you are exposing. Don’t do it in the hope that they will fall at your feet and beg forgiveness. Do it in the knowledge that the self-healing will come as a result of you expressing yourself, not in the response they offer.
If you receive a loving response, then that is your bonus. Don’t fall into the denial of ‘maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought’. Do it only if you are prepared to lose a relationship with your parents, even though your hope is to build a better one.
Two points to remember:
1 People are entitled to treat you how they want and say to you exactly what they want as long as they are not breaking the law. This is their entitlement. You, on the other hand, are allowed to respond to their words and actions in whatever way you choose as long as you are not breaking the law. This is your entitlement. As you practice this, you will come to realize that you have no control over other people’s behavior but you do have the power to change your response to others. In fact, your response is the only thing you have any control over.
2 By the same token, it is no one else’s responsibility to change you. There is no point in waiting for someone to come along to make you do it. No one is there to sort out the way you approach others. It is not anyone else’s fault that you aren’t doing it for yourself. It is down to you to make these changes. The fast-track tool to help you make these changes is to confront your own internal authority.
HOW TO CONFRONT THE INTERNAL AUTHORITY
The internal authority consists of the polluted messages that you bombard yourself with. These messages are a hangover from earlier days and are no longer valid. They contain incorrect information and need to be challenged and updated. The only reason they have such a hold on you is because it has become a perpetual habit to listen to them. All you have to do to get rid of them is to replace them with a new message. To break a life-long habit, you simply need to be firm with yourself about this.
This is how to tackle the internal authority.
Listen carefully to the ‘polluted’ message – you will know what it is because when you hear it you will feel ashamed. Catch it and study it. Think back to when you first heard it. Who said it to you? Think hard and you will find the answer. You will realize that you are obeying it even though it comes from someone for whom you may have no respect or love.
If they were obeying you after many years, wouldn’t you think it was a little strange? You are responsible for taking the correct course of action to remedy these old messages.
No one is making you do what you don’t want to do. Next, write down the message on a piece of paper. Then put a line through it and write the antidote next to it. Stick it on the wall where you will see it all the time. If this is not possible because others live with you, then draw a picture or write it in code.
As you read it, the new message will filter into your consciousness and you will find yourself adapting to it. All you are doing is changing a thinking habit – albeit a very ingrained one. In a few days the new message will be taking over from the old one.
Some examples of antidotes:
I am stupid
I am not stupid; I passed my degree with honors
I am frightened I will go broke
Take that fear and, just for this next five minutes, let it go
I will never get my music deal
I may or may not get a music deal, but whether or not I get it, I can still be happy
Just reading these through as you notice them stuck on the wall will remind you that you have an old habit that needs to be replaced by a new one, and what new thinking needs to be put into place to make a change. It really is that simple.
I recommend you stick with replacing one old message at a time. Remember you must have a new message to replace the old one – you don’t want to leave a vacuum.
As you practice this, you will notice that when the Post-it note on the wall bores you it will mean you have registered the new message. Now it’s time to move on to the next old message.
You will find each note stays on the wall for a shorter time. It might start off as two weeks and you will move it to two days. Your assimilation will accelerate in the light of new experience. Don’t make it any more complicated; that’s as simple as it needs to be.