The Strengthened Ally
I successfully acted in every textbook example of how not to treat someone with depression. Not just depression, but anyone close to me with an internal struggle or a relational conflict even.
I kept doing the same things over and over again and expecting things to change. Yeah, I’m familiar with the Einstein quote. Thanks, though.
I’d walk away from a conversation or a conflict completely defeated and uncomfortable about the way it went and the way I behaved.
I blamed, I accused, I shut-down, I lashed-out, and I continued to wonder if loving is supposed to be this difficult. Eventually, I even gave up.
What I failed to realize is that I did not love with an open and understanding environment that my partner needed. I wasn’t giving my partner much support at all.
What to do When Someone You Love is Depressed by Dr. Mitch Golant has helped me to grow as an individual, giving hope to those who comfort the hopeless. In fact, it explains that when continuing to act on such destructive behaviors as blame, anger, and neglect, it is natural to give up on ineffective actions.
I learned that you have an important role in the life of your loved one (any loved one), and I’d love to share what I learned with another person. Whether your loved one is depressed, sad, angry, apathetic, or just in a funk, your support means the same significant amount.
The best and most effective tool I have come to understand at a beginning level is empathy. Once understood, it feels like a power used for the good of your loved one. This tool is called Mirroring or Validating. It helps with understanding your loved one’s feelings without reacting personally. Instead of responding to hopelessness by negating or dismissing their emotions, a more powerful approach includes validation and reassurance that those feelings are temporary and that you will both work through it together. Many people are afraid of being alone. By understanding without reacting personally, you establish your role as a strengthened ally and a symbol of permanence.
Your Loved One: I’m alone.
What not to say: No you’re not. You have me and your family. How do you think that makes us feel?
What to say: I know it feels that way right now. Together we’ll get through this loneliness.
Of course, this skill takes practice and mindfulness. In order to practice, keep a journal of what phrases you find yourself reacting to without validating, called triggers.
Another simple way to comfort your loved one includes the power of touch. 93 percent of communication is nonverbal: our tone, facial expressions, and body language. Many depressed people report that they feel grateful just being hugged. Simply sitting in the same room as them is enough to provide reassurance of your remaining presence through their struggle. The book encourages allies to not personalize rejection.
As a strengthened ally to your loved one, you must understand and educate yourself on depression. Any step they take toward helping themselves must be celebrated. Encourage any of their efforts and never reprimand those they have not tried. Remember that there is not one single universal treatment for every person feeling depressed. Everyone is different and requires their own unique methods whether those treatments include therapy, pills, vitamins, exercise, spirituality, family support, personal enrichment, or wellness retreats. Encourage a discussion with your partner on trying any of these methods together when your partner is ready.
Remember also to take care of yourself. Maintain productive hobbies and keep up with your own social support. In order to take care of your loved one, you must take care of yourself as well.