The False Self Depression Syndrome

Depression has many causes and can be more like a sign of an underlying problem then what is typically regarded as a medical disorder (like diabetes or cancer). Depression rarely occurs in a vacuum and the underlying reasons for your depression may not be clear. One less obvious, yet common, reason for your depression may be due to living your life out of a false sense of self.

False-Self-ImagePeople wonder why they become depressed. Sometimes the causes are very clear, like the loss of a loved one, getting fired from a job, a relationship breakup, or even losing one’s home to foreclosure. Many times, however, depression seems to come out of the blue or it slowly creeps up on you, building so gradually that you never notice it until you wake up one day and say to yourself: “how did things get so bad?” Contrary to the common view that depression is just a “chemical imbalance” (meaning your neurotransmitters are somehow out of whack), depression is usually caused by something, even if you cannot immediately identify the reason. In fact, depression has many causes and can be more like a sign of an underlying problem then what is typically regarded as a medical disorder (like diabetes or cancer). Depression rarely occurs in a vacuum and the underlying reasons for your depression may not be clear. One less obvious, yet common, reason for your depression may be due to living your life out of a false sense of self—what I call the “False Self Depression Syndrome”.

All too commonly depression is a symptom of essentially being “out of touch” with yourself. In this sense depression is an inner sign that things are not going so well. You may be depressed because you have lost focus on your life or path, on what is important to you, on your true, authentic self. Your depression may be inviting you to take a look inwards. Are you leading the right life? Are you being true to yourself? Are you too often ignoring or avoiding painful thoughts or feelings and not dealing with them? Are you checked out due to alcohol or other drugs? Are you getting so caught up in the latest, greatest, modern fad, that you do not know who you are anymore? You may be living life through a false self! It is easy to form a false self because many social situations demand that you stuff your true feelings (especially anger, sadness, fear, & embarrassment) and present with socially acceptable ones (like being humorous or happy). For instance you may be furious with your boss but cannot really let him or her know because it could jeopardize your job. So rather than yell, you smile or crack a joke, when on the inside you are hurt and angry. Gradually you build a false self and depression creeps in.

A false self may have formed early on in childhood to protect yourself or fit in with your family and can lead to depression. Perhaps if you showed anger, you would get hit or punished. Or if you showed sadness or grief, your feelings were minimized, ignored, or belittled. Or perhaps nobody helped you develop your own interests or hobbies, and you conformed to what your parents wanted or demanded. Overtime you learned that it is easier to choke down your true feelings and “pretend” not to be hurt or angry. Or you learned to let go of passions and interests because your parents did not approve. Maybe if you grew up with neglect you never even formed interests to begin with. Eventually you lost touch with yourself, your dreams and passions, as well as certain basic feelings. You were not allowed to have them and in an effort to fit in or protect yourself, you created a false self—a kind of mask or false identity to fit in. The “true self”, the part of you that experiences your real feelings, strivings, hopes, and dreams, got lost in the shuffle and finally you became depressed.

In this way a “depressed self” gradually formed as you identify more and more with your false self or persona (a false mask you show to the world). If you adopted a false self at an early age, you may have forgotten that you ever had a true self to begin with! In a nut shell the true self is covered up by the false self –your true needs and feelings are ignored causing you to become depressed! When the false self takes over, you need to make changes! You need to be honest with yourself and connect to your true feelings. Authentic living and genuine feeling is a powerful antidote to this form of depression.

Here are four things you can do to reconnect to your true self. First, be as honest as possible in your interactions with others and refrain from hiding out behind a false mask. Get into the practice of telling people how you really feel. This is especially important with significant others but you may find you can be more honest and assertive with your communications at work as well. Be real and stop pretending. Second, begin some practice that allows you to be fully present and in the moment, examples include yoga and meditation. These activities have a grounding effect and allow you to get centered and more in touch with yourself. Simple mindfulness based meditation where you focus on the in and out of your breathing is an excellent practice. Just take 5 minutes a day and focus all your attention on the simple in and out of your breathing, gently pushing away distracting thoughts and reengage with your breathing. A variation of this meditation involves using imagery and healing statements to reconnect (click here for a description). Third, engage your creativity—painting, molding things with clay, drawing, music, creative writing or any other practice that stirs your creative juices connects you with your insides and allows the real you to emerge in creative, spontaneous ways.

Finally, give serious consideration to seeing a well qualified, experienced therapist. Living a false self is no joke and many people need professional help getting back into their true selves. Reconnecting with your true self can involve encountering painful feelings and you may need a professional to help you tune into yourself and work through the pain. In this regard, as a psychologist versed in many different methods of helping others, I may be of assistance to you. Please feel free to call if you or a loved one need help reconnecting or tuning into an authentic, genuine sense of who you really are. I provide an initial phone consult at no charge.

Dr. Eric Ryan
Dr. Eric Ryan is a psychologist in private practice in Santa Rosa California. He is currently the Training Director for the Post Doctoral Residency Program at Kaiser Psychiatry in Santa Rosa and was previously the Chair for the Anxiety Disorder Best Practices for all of Northern California Kaiser Psychiatry.

 

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