David Wong‘s Six Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person is a New Year’s essay for those who lack resolution – one that applies directly to treating depression.
If you want to know why society seems to shun you, or why you seem to get no respect, it’s because society is full of people who need things … the moment you came into the world, you became part of a system designed purely to see to people’s needs.
Either you will go about the task of seeing to those needs by learning a unique set of skills, or the world will reject you, no matter how kind, giving and polite you are. You will be poor, you will be alone, you will be left out in the cold.
Does that seem mean, or crass, or materialistic? What about love and kindness — don’t those things matter? Of course. As long as they result in you doing things for people that they can’t get elsewhere.
He’s talking to those paralyzed by the dissatisfaction they feel with their lives, and that includes those with Major Depressive Disorder. As Marsha Linehan pointed out, the best medicine for unpleasant emotions is often the opposite of what the emotion makes us want to do. “Opposite action” is Wong’s prescription for those who are disgruntled but inert: do something. Anything. Anything more than what you do now, that would also be useful to others. He stands with Roy F. Baumeister, whose research shows we don’t achieve because we have good self-esteem. Per the Florida State University researcher, if there’s a relationship between the two variables, it’s much more likely we have good self-esteem because we achieve.
It’s a shame Wong builds his argument on Alec Baldwin’s role in Glengarry Glen Ross as a manager who shames and threatens his sales force. Who gets motivated from abuse? Those galvanized by anxiety – the sort of highly-motivated go-getters who rarely need our help. Wong doesn’t scorn his readers for freezing in fear of rejection and failure. His point is simpler: the world values you for what you do. You can be valued more highly by doing more.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the most effective reframes for thoughts of, “I’m worthless,” are usually about accomplishments – grades the client earned, projects they completed, people they have helped. Once I’ve helped a client identify all of the reasons they aren’t garbage, I’m going to ask, “Now that we’ve settled that, what do you want to do that would make you even more worthwhile?”
@ 2013 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved