Depression: When Suffering Fails to Pay Off

Tammy: “I remember that the only time my mother paid attention to me was the time I caught my finger in the screen door.”

Therapist: “That recollection may have instilled the attitude that ‘suffering pays, happiness does not.’”
Tammy: “Well, doesn’t suffering pay?” If something bad happens, shouldn’t we look forward to someone making it up to us?”

Therapist: “That is how you remember it from childhood, but life is not like that. Some people have carried into adulthood the mistaken expectation that their losses, setbacks and disappointments are not their fault, and that it is up to ‘the authorities’ to make the appropriate ‘restitution’ for their ‘pain and suffering’.”
Tammy: “That seems fair.”

Therapist: “But it isn’t. ‘Fairness’ has nothing to do with this carryover expectation from childhood. People with these attitudes have their own self-serving definition of ‘fairness’ and they protest when they don’t get what they have come to expect from life. For example, some people seem to make a career out of suffering. They milk these disasters for all they are worth.”
Tammy: “Isn’t that a payoff?”

Therapist: “The money, pity, and sympathy that derive from these misfortunes are all negative payoffs, that is, we pay too high a price for them. They cannot make us happy.”
Tammy: “Don’t people know that they are paying a high price for this negative attention?”

Therapist: “No, they don’t. They aren’t making efforts bringing about their own unhappiness. They are merely behaving in accordance with their mistaken convictions about life. These convictions are consistent with their self-contempt.”
Tammy: “It must be very depressing to go through life believing that happiness ends in disaster and that one’s only hope of a payoff is through suffering.”

Therapist: “Yes, it is. And that is one reason so many people are depressed in spite of their success. They have assumed that material, vocational or marital success would make them happy. But, for them, happiness has within it the seeds of its own destruction: it ends in disaster. Even the ‘threat’ of happiness in the future makes them nervous. It is as if they were ‘allergic’ to happiness.”
Tammy: “No wonder we don’t understand why we are depressed. We can’t ever find out all by ourselves. That makes our frustration worse.”

Therapist: “Yes, it does. We become depressed about being depressed. We blame ourselves for our failure to pull ourselves out of it. For example, when our suffering fails to pay off, we are angry at life for not fulfilling our expectations. This resentment compounds our overall feelings of depression, powerlessness, anxiety and worthlessness.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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