NEVER SAY THIS to Depressed, Anxious (Pollyannaish Invalidation)

Uploaded 4/5/2024, approx. 18 minute read

You feel the urge to help, to afford some sakur, to be there for that person.

We are great believers in the power of words, that is the philosophy behind talk therapy.

We believe that if we were just to say the right thing, things would get better.

And usually, this is actually true, but you need to know which things to say and which things to never say.

Because if you were to say the wrong things, this would exacerbate the situation, make the condition worse, deepen the depression, render the anxiety debilitating.

You need to know what to say, and you need to know which sentences and utterances and thoughts to avoid, which cliches to delete from your dictionary.

Anxiety, depression, life crisis, they are not easy things to get through.

Above all, you should respect the individuality, uniqueness and idiosyncrasy of the person you are trying to help.

We are all once in a lifetime creations.

There has never been anyone like you before, and there's never going to be another person like you after your long gone.

You are a wonder, a miracle, and we all experience our lives differently.

It's difficult to communicate or to access the subjective experience of sadness, of helplessness, of hopelessness, of depression, of anxiety, and you need to respect these differences.

You need never impose yourself, your point of view, your judgments, your opinions, and even your experiences on another person.

And this is the topic of today's video.

What to say and what never to say when you're trying to help other people.

Stay tuned.

By never ending ill-tempered rants aside, the truth is that most people are well-meaning.

Most people are empathic or empathetic.

Most people would like to somehow solve the wounds, afford sakur, extend a helping hand, and extricate others from the shadow of the valley of death, depression, and anxiety.

When we come across someone who is in the throes of a life crisis, someone who is given up, someone who is depressed and anxious and fearful, sad, it is an instinctive, reflexive reaction to somehow say the right thing, reverse course, help the drowning person, the overwhelmed person, help himself, her or her out of this seemingly intractable situation.

This is, this kind of altruism is again almost biological.

We can't help ourselves in the vast majority of cases.

And this is doubly true when the person in question is a family member or a good friend or even a neighbor or a colleague.

There we feel a kind of obligation to help.

And yet, when we do try our best to assist, to afford sakur, to somehow ameliorate or mitigate the anxiety and the depression and so on, very often we say the wrong things.

These sentences, these utterances are automatic.

They're embedded in the social fabric.

But they're counterproductive.

When you say the wrong thing to someone who is depressed, the depression deepens and darkens.

When you say the wrong thing to someone who is anxious, the anxiety escalates and takes over.

When you minimize or invalidate someone else's experiences, they tend to become either aggressive or self-destructive.

In all these cases, this is not the outcome that is desirable.

This is not what should be done.

In today's video, I'm going to discuss the wrong way of going about helping people in depression and anxiety, the things you should never say to them.

My name is Sam Bakhnin.

I'm the author of Malignant of Love, Narcissism Revisited, a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of CEAPs.

As I said, well-meaning people, empathic people, often make things worse when they try to intervene or interfere or extend a helping hand or be there, serve as a kind of presence.

You need to know what you're doing.

This is not extemporizing.

This is not improvisation.

You can't tackle mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety as an amateur, however gifted.

So sentences like "get a grip", "move on", "snap out of it", "get over it". These are the wrong sentences because they minimize the experience of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness of the person you're trying to help.

It's as if not getting on, not moving on, not getting a grip, not snapping out of it and not getting over it are choices.

As if this person is somehow spoiled or pampered.

As if this person who is literally submerged and immersed in an ocean of depression and anxiety which is unfathomable, which is endless, profound.

As if this person is choosing to be like that, as if it's some kind of a manipulative ploy using the depression and anxiety to control other people.

In these sentences, "get a grip", "move on", "get over it", in these sentences there's implied criticism.

Criticism which is unfair, counterfactual, counterproductive, hurtful.

Because again, what you're telling this kind of person is you're pampered, you're weak, you're spoiled.

Another type, another class of sentences which are really, really seriously bad and should be avoided are the sentences which minimize the experience of the person you're trying to help.

Sentences like "I've had the very same experience and look at me, I survived, I overcame" or "you're not the only one, many other people have had this experience" or "nothing that has happened to you is unique" or "you're just one of many" or "the world is like this".

All these sentences imply that the circumstances that have led to the depression and anxiety, external circumstances or internal circumstances that resulted in perhaps grief of some kind, breakdown and meltdown, depression, anxiety, that all these experiences are actually nothing special. They're very common, they're typical. They don't warrant any special attention or cry for help or perhaps treatment and anyone who claims to have an experience that is unique or idiosyncratic is lying because this experience is common.

Minimizing the suffering person's experience, invalidating the suffering of the person, the torment incumbent upon mental health illnesses and conditions. This is a really bad thing. It's cruel even to a large extent.

Every person's experience is unique to that person. Experiences cannot be compared.

This is not a competition as to who has suffered more and don't make it one. If you want to help, help a specific person in the specific circumstances with his or her specific suffering and extend a helping hand which is not demeaning or debasing or critical or conditional. A helping hand which is truly and perfect, a helping hand that says, "No human experience is alien to me. Yes, I've been there before and I know what you're going through, but I can never understand fully your particular, your unique, your personal, your individual experience.

The best I can do is offer you a bridge to myself. Expose our commonality as human beings and maybe there is comfort in company and maybe there's not.

Do not become grandiose when you're trying to help others. Don't get offended or insulted if your help is rejected or ignored or is proven to be useless. Help is not a transaction. Help is not a form of narcissistic supply. Help is not about making you great again. Help is about restoring another human being by making clear that this suffering person is being seen, is being attended to, that you care about him or her. It's about the other person, not about you as a caregiver or helper. You're not a rescuer and you're not a savior.

Another type of sentence which is really, really bad is, you have your whole life ahead of you. It is never too late. You're relatively young. Time heals or wounds. You are 45 years old, you're not dead and so on and so forth.

These are really bad sentences because they imply that with patience and endurance and perseverance and resilience, the depression or the anxiety or the adverse life circumstances or the crisis can and will be overcome. By implication, this kind of sentence says you're overly pessimistic, you're wrong, you're weak, you're not resilient, you're not strong, you are not realistic.

The last thing a person who is embedded in a crisis, a person who is experiencing a collapse of his or her own world, internal and external, the last thing they need is another bout, another round of criticism. They don't need to be told that their perception of reality is distorted and it is distorted. It's true, but they don't need to be told this. This does not, this should not be pointed out to them while they are in the throes of depression and anxiety because it would enhance the depression and anxiety.

So there's a question of timing. You need to weigh and consider what it is that you're saying. Is it the right time to say it? Is it the wrong time to say it? Is it the right thing to say? Is it the right person? Because you need to tailor your messages, you need to customize them. Your messages need to resonate with a specific person you're talking to. Do not use canned messages, cliches, because this implies that you don't really care about the other person. If you use cutouts and all kinds of cliches, then it means that you don't want to invest an effort in truly seeing the other person, discerning the other person's condition and then investing time and effort and resources in tailoring and customizing your response. It implies that you don't care.

At any rate, time does heal many wounds, but not all wounds. And when a person is experiencing a crisis, whether this crisis is real or anticipated or even imaginary, whether this crisis is the outcome of adverse circumstances or developments, whether this crisis is internal, the outcome of mental illness or mental health problem, that's immaterial. When a person is experiencing a crisis, there's no past and there's definitely no future.

A crisis is a state of being 100% present. A person in a crisis cannot contemplate the past because the past is painful and hurtful and the past has led to the crisis. The crisis is the outcome of the past, so there's a rejection of the past. And a person in crisis cannot contemplate the future because he or she is hopeless. There's no hope. There's no horizon. There's no dream. Broken dreams litter the landscape. There's no fantasy even. Even fantasy defenses crumble.

So what's the point in telling someone, you know, if you wait long enough, things are going to improve or it's never too late or there's a long life ahead of you. Or what's the point in telling, in saying all these things? You can't get through to the person with these kinds of arguments and you're very likely to antagonize the person, push him or her deeper into anxiety and depression and a feeling of guilt for having rebuffed you and rejected you.

The worst sentence you could say is there's really no need to be anxious or there's really no need to be depressed. This kind of sentence, which is extremely common, is the trifecta, is the mother of all wrong sentences.

When you say to someone there's no need to be anxious. There's no need to be depressed. What are you saying? You're saying you're not perceiving reality properly.

So something's wrong with you. You're saying you're minimizing the threat or the pain or the sadness or the negative emotions or the envy or the anger. You're minimizing them. You're saying I've reviewed your situation, I've observed you and I think you're wrong. I think you should not be experiencing this negative emotions or at least you shouldn't be experiencing them to this extent and with this intensity. It's again a form of criticism.

And another thing this kind of sentence implies is that something is wrong with you with your mental apparatus. Something is wrong with the way you react. Your reactivity is wrong. Whereas most people would not have reacted with depression or anxiety. You do. And there's really no need to be anxious. No need to be depressed.

In short, you're mentally ill. You're mentally disordered. You're mentally problematic.

So you're reacting this way with depression and anxiety when there's no need to and therefore something is wrong with you.

Minimization, invalidation, humiliation, also implying that there's something wrong constitutionally or fundamentally with a person.

This is by far the worst conceivable sentence to say.

Anxiety, depression and trauma are subjective experiences. They're not objective facts.

Ten people are exposed to the same experience. Two of them are traumatized. Eight of them are not. Ten people undergo the same life crisis. Three of them develop depression. Seven are happy-go-lucky. Ten people are facing the same threat. Five of them become anxious. Five don't.

It is clear, therefore, that trauma, anxiety, depression are individual, subjective, mental experiences, not objective facts and not objective ontological outcomes of things, of events.

People react differently to the very same circumstances, stimuli, triggers, cues and information.

Why do they react differently? Because they're genetically different. There's a genetic predisposition, probably. Because they have a different temperament. Because they were brought up differently. Because they've had a different type of childhood. Some people have had adverse childhood experiences.

Because they've had a different life trajectory. They've been exposed to different events and mishaps and fortunes. Not two people are alike, which is why psychology is a pseudoscience. Not two people are alike.

And you can't, you can't hurl, you can't throw at people sentences, which are cookie cutter sentences, cliches. And you can't expect these sentences to work identically on everyone. You need, if you really care about someone, you need to get to know them a bit. You need to observe them and you need to see them in the most in the deepest, most profound sense. You need to connect. Empathy is about connection.

And then, having garnered and gathered and harvested all this information, you can tailor your response in all intended to help them. You can tailor the advice, and the support, and the help, the compassion, the pity, and the empathy that you offer.

And if you don't, you're likely to make the situation much worse.

When someone is going through a difficult period, you need to validate their emotions and reactions. You need to understand the enormity of what they're going through in their own eyes. As far as they are concerned, their experience is unique, has never happened before to anyone else, and they're right about this. They're right about this.

Because experience is individual and idiosyncratic, it is not replicable or repeatable. My sadness, my depression, my anxiety is only mine. And there's never been anyone like me and it's very unlikely that there will ever be anyone like me again. I am unique. I am idiosyncratic and therefore all my experience is a one time, a one off.

You need to have respect for the complexity of humans and their condition. So when someone is going through a difficult period and seems to be stuck, unable to move on, you need to validate their emotions and their reactions and you need never minimize and you should never compare them to other people. Never commit these mistakes.

You could say, I understand what you're going through. I understand that you feel that it is really bad. I understand that you consider your reaction to be justified. I hope things get better for you somehow, sometime. I'm here to help in any way I can and you deem appropriate. You're in the driver's seat. Tell me what I can do for you.

All other types of responses are wrong. If you invalidate someone's thinking, someone's judgment, someone's opinion and someone's actions, you're gaslighting them. You're saying something is wrong with you and with your perception of reality and with your thinking and with your acting. You should substitute my thinking for your thinking. Your thinking wrongly, my thinking is right. Your misperceiving reality, my perception of reality is the correct one.

That's why you are depressed and anxious because something's wrong with you.

If you were to emulate my example, you would be in a much better state.

There's some grandiosity here, some haughtiness and arrogance in making such a statement. You're not in the position to substitute your experience for anyone else's experience. You cannot enter or access anyone else's mind. You need to rely on their self-reporting and you need to trust them when they say that it's really bad, that it feels hopeless, that they feel helpless, that they are lost, they don't know what to do. You need to accept this. It's a threatening message. People feel threatened. They want to run away and so they try to counter the message, undermine it, challenge it by saying you're wrong. It's not helpless. It's not hopeless. You're wrong. You're not helpless. You're wrong. You're wrong. It is a defense mechanism. You're rejecting the bad news because you are weak. You cannot tolerate the fact that bad things do happen to good people all the time. It's too terrifying to contemplate this or to countenance it. You can't accept the innate indifference of the universe, the fact that evil exists and manifests and proliferates. You can't accept these things.

So when people come to you and say, "I've had the most horrible experience. I don't deserve it. I feel hopeless and helpless. I feel the world is unjust. I don't know what to do." Your initial reaction is to reject this message, to say, "No, you're getting things wrong. Your view is absolutely mistaken. You're just, you know, something's wrong with you. I've gone through similar experience. Everything was fine.

Or you shouldn't be that anxious and that depressed. You're exaggerating." And so you're minimizing. You're invalidating people. That's not the way to help.

And if you are always optimistic, that's invalidating. That's minimizing. To be constantly optimistic, always on optimism, almost malignant optimism, is the wrong way to go about it because it's delusional and it's divorced from reality. There is place, of course, for optimism because it is true that people who are depressed, people who are anxious, are not perceiving reality correctly and appropriately in the vast majority of cases. Not in all cases, by the way. In some cases, their perception of reality is pretty accurate.

If you have a stage four terminal cancer and kriyatic cancer, yeah, your perception of reality is correct. But even though the majority of people in need, people who are sad, people who are broken, people who are traumatized, even though in the majority of cases, these people have impaired reality testing, they're misspeceiving reality. It is not your job to point this out to them. Their reality testing will be restored once they are no longer depressed and anxious. Pointing out to them, pointing this out to them right now will make them only more depressed and more anxious.

And when you're constantly optimistic, the message you're broadcasting is you are wrong. You're wrong about your perception of reality. You're pessimistic, but you should be optimistic. You're pessimistic because you are misspeceiving reality. Something is wrong with you. Is this a message you should send to someone in need, to someone who craves affection and compassion and empathy? That's the message.

Something is wrong with you. You are misjudging reality or misspeceiving the world. Everything is going to be fine. You're depressed and anxious and there's no need to be.

Is this a message? Isn't this even even, I would even say it's a humiliating message, a cruel message.

Go along. If you want to help someone, you need to walk in their shoes and to follow their path. They need to guide you and lead you, not the other way. They know themselves better than you. You should listen to them. You should see them by being silent most of the time.

The capacity to listen, to truly listen, not to hear. Hearing is a biological function. Listening is a determinant of wisdom. You need to listen and you need to see and you need to be patient and you need to accept. You need to be accepting and you need to let the other person go through the motions and the transformations that they require in order to heal, in order to recover, in order to restore themselves.

You're there and you're available and you are caring and you're loving and you're empathic and you're compassionate. Everything is true but you're not over-winning. You're not domineering. You're not criticising. You're not minimizing. You're not invalidating. You're not being dismissive. You're none of these things. None of these things is good for the mental health of the person you're trying to help.

You need to be there as a combination of secure base, someone who is there and is safe to talk to, in a mirror, allowing the person to get a grip of reality through you when he asks you to.

And when someone feels hopeless and helpless, you just listen. You don't always need to respond. There is this tendency to... it's as if there's some expectation that you must respond somehow. You must provide a solution. You must solve the problem. You must reverse the condition. You must... and this is a saviour complex. It's a rescuer complex. It's not healthy. It's not your job to save or to rescue or to heal or to fix. It's not. Your job is to be a friend, a good family member, a good neighbour, a good colleague and above all a good human being, a fellow human being. Fellowship, companionship is the only thing you can safely contribute to a conversation, a therapeutic conversation with someone who is depressed and anxious.

They feel alone, lonely, atomised. And here you are sharing their journey with them, sharing the burden. And that's what you should focus on. You're not in the position to change anything. You shouldn't attribute to yourself powers that you don't possess. You should not take on tasks and obligations that no one asks you. You should not develop expectations and you should not expect and accept expectations. This is not what it's all about.

Friendship is about listening, companionship, sharing, caring and being there.

End of story. Leave the rest to therapists, medical doctors, priests and pastors. It's not your job.

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