The famous shower scene in Psycho can leave any of us feeling a bit dubious into stepping in. But when you’re lonely — when you’re hiding pain from the world, sometimes the shower is the only place where what you’re keeping secret is allowed to emerge. And you’re crying tears that you aren’t allowing anyone else to see.
When I asked people who had volunteered to be interviewed for my work on perfectly hidden depression why they had come forward (after all most were still not coming forward in their real lives…) almost all of them said, “I don’t want anyone to live the life I’ve lived. It’s too lonely. It’s too hard.”
People who are hiding their depression (from others and even perhaps themselves) are lonely. They don’t cry, or rarely cry. If they do, it’s when they are all alone.
“What do you mean lonely? Me, depressed? Gosh no. My life is so busy, I don’t have time for that.”
Maybe you’ve become accustomed to loneliness. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself you prefer it. Maybe you’ve spent so much time caring for others’ needs that you’re too exhausted to pay attention to any of your own.
You give. The world receives. And you remain unknown, in denial about what your life could be, or what you’re missing. When you wake up in the morning, you’re already thinking about others — and you may have convinced yourself that that’s okay.
But you’re missing real connection. You’re missing being known. You’re missing leaning on someone else.
No one is nurturing you. And that can feel very lonely.
So how do you turn this tendency around? How to you begin to open up to others and admit that your world isn’t as perfect as it may seem?
It isn’t easy.
You have to realize the danger you may actually be in.
Three realizations about the power of loneliness…
1) Consider yourself in the same light you consider others.
Would you really tell someone else that their feelings aren’t important? Or that it is better to shoulder immense responsibility alone, without ever talking about the difficulty of it?
When you stop and ask yourself these questions, the answer is clear. You would tell someone else that they need support — that you don’t get water out of an empty jug.
So look in the mirror, and remind yourself that you deserve the same understanding, compassion, and love that you would want others to have. Being known, even if it reveals some vulnerability, is a good thing.
2) Be honest with yourself about how the pressure you feel is emerging in your life.
Perhaps you’re secretly drinking more or taking more Xanax. You may be restricting what you eat, over-exercising, or having panic attacks. Your anxiety is rising and you’re trying to escape.
The pressure you feel can be immense. And it may easily be getting harder to control.
Let’s say you get a promotion at work. You know you should be happy about it, but all you can do is obsess about the new things that you’ll be asked to do, that you’ve never done before. You feel caught off-guard, afraid that you’ll be inadequate and your “true” self will be exposed. Your more rational self knows that others won’t expect perfection — that anyone will warrant a learning curve. But your irrational self — the part of you that believes that others expect greater and greater things with no let-up — can grab control.
3) Realize the real danger of this pressure — that your loneliness could lead you to suicide.
It’s hard to deny suicidal thoughts when they’re in your head. You can try to push them away, but somehow you begin to rationalize that the struggle is too hard — that others would be fine without you. The depression that may be covered up by perfectionism can grow more and more potent. Hopefully, these thoughts would scare you, and lead you to finally reach out to someone – and ask for help.
And yet, that is one of the hardest things for you to do.
You don’t have to be lonely. You can risk someone knowing who you really are, and how you really feel. But you have to admit, first, that you are lonely — that so much of the activity that is in your life is just that.
You may love your children intensely. You may work very hard at your job. Others know you as happy, successful, and there for them.
Please do for you — what you would do for them.
Pay attention. Try not to deny. And realize the potential danger you may be in.
You can hear more about depression and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly blog posts and podcasts, as well as free downloadable ebook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.”!
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My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression will be arriving November 1, 2019! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the 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. More to come.
Originally published on May 22, 2016 and updated on June 30, 2019.