Many people have been inspired by lyrics to songs such as The Greatest Love of All (I like George Benson, 1977). On the surface, these are anthems of self-determination and self-respect. However, the ideas are easily distorted by the filter of the depressive brain. They become a weapon used primarily against oneself, often resulting in isolation and loneliness.
ATTACK #1: I depend on me, therefore I don’t need you.
Over time, depression and anxiety condition us to anticipate rejection. This frequently results in the development of coping mechanisms which may seem helpful, but actually increase our negative mindset. The fear of rejection leads us to deny our desire for relationships. The lie here is “I’m not very likely to reject myself, so I’ll simply be content to be alone with me.” However, denying ourselves relationships with others IS rejection of ourselves, as it denies us the experience of caring for and being cared for by others.
ATTACK #2: I do not love myself; therefore I cannot be loved by others.
Do you know someone whose life is an endless quest for self-improvement — constantly trying this new thing or that – all in an effort to affirm their own worth? This chronic self-dissatisfaction often leads to dissatisfying relationships: “If I don’t know who I am, how do I know if you are somebody I will want to be with?” This attack is rooted in perfectionism: in the belief since one has not quite become the person they hope to be, they will delay having relationships until they are closer to perfect and more worthy of love.
ATTACK #3: I have not learned to love myself, therefore I cannot love others.
The root of this attack is abuse in its various forms. The victim of Attack #3 has learned love is something which must be earned or won, and is easily denied or lost. Love which has been withheld in the past seems unattainable in the future. These people wonder, “Is there any love in the world? Has there ever been?” It can seem difficult to counter-attack when you feel as if you’ve missed the love train. However, you CAN reverse the lie.
Nobody has ever found a definition of love which all the world can agree on. The only thing there really seems to be any consensus on is that in its purest form, love is good. Many people with depression can tell you that it is sometimes ONLY love for somebody else which keeps them going. Love for children, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, pets, you name it – that love drags MILLIONS of depressed people out of bed every single day. Does this sound like you? If so, please don’t stop just because of some misguided societal standard of worthiness or somebody else’s definition of what love should be. Instead, keep it simple.
Before going to bed, try writing down some of the ways you showed love to others throughout the day. These don’t have to be grand gestures or overt displays of affection — just little acts of kindness. Count them – no matter how small they seem. The next day, try showing yourself a little of the same courtesy you show others.
I’m not sure where the following saying originated, and an internet search turned up countless sources, so I’m going to go with Oscar Hammerstein:
“Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – Love isn’t love ‘til you give it away.”
There is nothing wrong with giving love away before you receive it – perhaps THAT is the greatest love of all.