Perfectly hidden depression. What is it? It’s depression that’s deeply disguised by a facade of perfectionism. Perhaps you feel something in your gut; there’s a sense that something is wrong. But if you search the symptoms of depression, nothing you find describes how you feel. Which in turn causes you to chastise yourself for even looking, creating shame for yourself that you then attempt to overcome by layering on more demands of yourself to achieve.
But the undeniable fact is this: you adapted to painful circumstances, either within your family, your culture or your home, by keeping pain buried within. And now, it’s become an almost unconscious camouflage you present to the world.
In fact, “wonderful” isn’t always good enough for you; you strive for perfect. Or at least, perfect-looking.
What the holidays look like when you’re a perfectionist…
So what do the holidays look like with someone whose life has to look well-controlled, whose appearance must be impeccable, where goals must surpass any and all expectations?
Whatever you did last year, you feel you must outdo. Whatever expectations you traditionally meet, all of them must be met again. If someone asks you at the last minute to help out with the school party, you don’t hesitate. You’re there. You’re the person who at the end of whatever holiday you might be celebrating, you smile and say, “Wow. That was the best.” But in the shower, you shudder at the thought of the next task that must be achieved superbly. The next birthday. The next job review. The next vacation. It goes on and on.
There’s also comfort; maybe an undeniable solace, and even pride, that your life and that of your family seems full. You like being a giver, someone who looks out for others, and is capable of providing for them. And you look out for them well.
But it’s the intense pressure you feel that minute by minute, erodes any chance of letting down. Relaxing. Not being “on.” You may not even know what to do when there’s “nothing” to do.
Discovering that joy is found within the present …
Yet there’s something missing in all of that busyness.
The tremendous effort, the worry that things won’t get done, the need for everything to be perfect, ultimately drowns out any true joy. Because joy is spontaneous. It comes from deep within and spills into the present, in a wild torrent or a warm glow. It can’t be planned or even always predicted.
Joy gives life to a moment in time.
If you’re erecting a daily facade of what you believe looks perfect, you won’t know joy because you don’t know how to be purely in the moment.
You’re always playing a role, instead of being who you are. You’ll be “the hostess,” the “son-in-law,” “Andrea’s mom,” or “Jeff’s boss.” Instead of being yourself and allowing whatever happens to happen, you’ll try to intentionally craft your persona and joy will only arrive as some muted version of itself, as you watch yourself play out your duties.
And that’s what life can become. One duty after another duty after another duty.
But you can stop.
You can breathe in the moment. You can decide to be present. You can realize that your value is not all about what you perform or accomplish. You can connect with whatever pain you have, perhaps slowly at first, as you begin to understand that in acknowledging it, working through it, tremendous relief and freedom can be felt. It’s scary. Exhilarating. At times painful — as the reasons for your hiding are confronted and you lend yourself compassion and self-acceptance.
You can trust that whatever you do — wherever you put the Christmas ornaments, whenever you serve lunch, however you decorate the house, all of it will be imperfectly perfect.
You can stop being who you think you’re supposed to be, or what role you’re playing, and be who you are.
Joy is waiting for you around the corner.
You can hear more about perfectly hidden depression and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
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Originally published December 23, 2016; updated and republished on November 6, 2021.