Unless we suffer from some personality disorder i.e. narcissism, as human beings, we have the capacity to self-assess and be introspective. This process occurs in both positive and negative ways. In the negative, we easily indulge in self-blame and self-criticism that can not only be harsh and incorrect but also psychologically destructive. We attack ourselves, trying to find the problem within and “fix it”.
Earlier this year, I went through a very difficult relationship. From the day I met him, I idealized him and put him on a pedestal. I did all the right things in light of my heightened emotions; I took my time to know him over two months as a friend before jumping in. I asked questions about his relationship history, his friendships, his values.
The relationship seemed amazing and full of promise. I felt he was “the one” for me. Two weeks later, completely out of the blue, he cheated on me, left me for someone else and then came back a week later full of apologies and declaring what a grand mistake he had made. It was one big mind fcuk and I was left reeling given only a week before, I had been stable, confident, happy and secure, excited at the prospect of a future with him.
There was nothing I could do about him cheating, I had no control over that choice or his choice to sleep with another woman. I had taken time to know him, I knew his habits, his colleagues, his life…yet I had just discovered his character. Instead of taking all of this into account and absolving myself of blame, treating myself with kindness during a very difficult period, I was self-critical.
I blamed myself.
I questioned what I could have done differently. I went through all of our conversations since we had met to find clues as to why? Did something I say or an action put him off? I’d never been so unkind towards myself. Whilst I had taken him back whilst all these questions spun around constantly in my mind, I still blamed myself for his mistreatment, and it was a relief to hear he wanted me, he chose me, and whatever it was I had done to cause him to cheat and leave no longer mattered.
A month later, I discovered he was still communicating with the same woman (after promising he wouldn’t). Following that revelation, something inside me broke as I fought him for respect, decency and to be put first. It was ugly. After numerous arguments over a 2 week period, he agreed to finally cut ties with her. We started over. Again.
My self-criticism grew stronger, harsher and I started to get terrible anxiety whenever I was near him. I didn’t know what new revelation would come next. I tried to be perfect to prevent being hurt again. I could barely function at work, my sleep became heavily disrupted and I was no longer eating or exercising. I became a shadow of my former self. He seemed happy and kept trying to reassure me that he was now fully committed, that he wouldn’t hurt me again. But how could I believe that? I had beaten myself down for months and started to direct some of my anger onto him.
I started to get suicidal thoughts and at that point I reached out to a therapist who completed an assessment and diagnosed me with severe depression. The therapist also asked me a key question; Why was I was so afraid to end the relationship if it was causing me so much pain?
I’d been beating myself up about my shortcomings and perceived worthlessness rather than interrogating the environment that had caused it! I had been thrust, unknowingly and unwillingly into situational depression.
Situational depression is known medically as “adjustment disorder with depressed mood.” It often resolves in time, and talking about the problem can ease the recovery process.
Clinical depression, known medically as “major depressive disorder,” can develop if the individual does not recover. This is a more severe mental health condition.
One story I told myself is, “I am inherently less valuable than the other woman, and my ex, who is trash, is a good metric to value myself by.”
Instead of telling myself, “I should not have overlooked some red flags, he has a terrible character!”
I based my value on his treatment of me, and subsequently being in the relationship with someone who had hurt, and continued to hurt me, led to a further self-devaluation. It was no wonder I felt depressed! I finally reached breaking point after another negative incident and decided to leave. It was the best decision I have made for my mental and emotional health. It took me months to realise that I was not worthless.
My main fault was that I had tried so desperately to grow a healthy relationship in infertile soil.
Sometimes we try to attribute negative feelings to our own perceived inadequacies. We twist and turn ourselves inside-out to rectify a situation which isn’t caused by us or within our ability to change.
Situational depression is real and should receive its rightful attention and intervention. Before labelling yourself with numerous mental health disorders, first inspect your surroundings and the people you interact with on a daily basis, particularly those that can impact our mental and emotional wellbeing. Once you leave an unhealthy environment, the fog lifts and you will find that you can breathe again. If you have found yourself in an untenable situation that is causing you severe distress, take a deep breath and make plans to leave. Your life literally may depend on it.
Once you do leave, indulge in some aggressive self-care, take time out to heal from the experience and understand that YOU ARE VALUABLE. Don’t ever let someones mistreatment of you make you think otherwise.