As therapists, we are always looking for patterns. Why do people do what they do, and is there a pattern of behavior? Patterns help us to find possible causes of behavior and sometimes predict certain outcomes. I have noticed a pattern that seems to frequent my office and I don’t think it is well-noticed nor well-discussed and worth bringing some kind of attention to it.
There are all different personality types. Some of us are outgoing and love to be in the center of many people. Some of us enjoy the one-on-one companionship of another. Some of us prefer to be alone, busily focused on projects or hobbies. There are endless combinations of personalities and uniqueness in all of us. However, there are some threads of “same-ness” in human kind and often we can be positively categorized to help understand these common threads.
Today, I focus on a particular personality type. I want to discuss this personality type because I see a repeating occurrence of these lovely people making their way into my office with significant symptoms of depression. I don’t think that what they have is a chemical imbalance, nor do I believe it started that way. These people have been reinforced by a society that doesn’t support their personality type.
I was working with a teenager who was experiencing a recurrent episode of depression after going through a “falling-out” of sorts with her teenage friends. Most of us would nod our heads in understanding as this phase of life often presents transitions with friends and and ever changing scenery. Yet, most teens don’t end up with depression when their friends move on. And, you would probably be shocked that this teen was depressed. She was lovely to talk to, had an “old soul”, and was on track to do all the things she is supposed to do for her age. Fast forward a few months to a college student who came back to school after her freshman year only to find that her group of friends had been scooped up by sororities and fraternities and left her behind. She, too, fell into a deep depression. She had a similar feel to her as my other client.
So what’s the pattern? Is it simply someone who is not as friendly or outgoing, prone to depression in the first place? These are not the only two clients I have had with similar a similar situation.
As I have continued to work with these individuals, I have realized that they have a unique personality type that doesn’t always assimilate to “main stream socializing.” I have learned to understand, recognize, and help these individuals find skills to help them navigate a difficult terrain, a society that supports something very opposite to who they are. These individuals get depressed because their happiness is based on something they do really, really well which is to have deep, fiercely loyal and committed relationships. This often presents very young when they prefer playing one-on-one but shy away in big groups. In middle school and high school years, they get “lost” often as popularity and massive friend groups become the trend. They are deeply hurt with best friend changes or breakups. College is challenging as friendships fade in light of friends pursuing long-term romantic relationships. These fiercely loyal types often get placed on the “back-burner” as friends know of their deep loyalty but don’t have time or patience for the commitment often desired from these one-on-one types. Because of this, these loyal individuals learn to fear loneliness. They fear not being a part of the group. As much as they feel comfortable in the shadows, they long to be connected to someone, to share deeply their love for other humans. They are not an uncommon group but because of their fears of being in a group, they struggle to find those of their own kind, others, who also long for deep relationships.
These individuals are magical in marriages and long-term commitments. They listen, they give second chances, they seek for understanding, and they seek for resolution. However, until they have been connected with long-term commitments, they truly struggle to “fit-in” or find a place to truly be themselves. Hence, their longing and loneliness becomes a hearty breeding ground for depression.
In my experience, classical behavior activation and medication don’t work well for them. The treatment for their depression is a particular set of skills to navigate the social scene and encourage them to “kiss a lot of frogs” in search of others who can be committed to them in friendships or long-term relationships. It takes anxiety management, social skills practice, and good self-dialogue and an understanding of their own personality to help them to combat depression.
If you are a fiercely loyal type that has found yourself on the back-burner too many times and longing for a good relationship, take heart. You are not the only one and there is certainly not something wrong with you. Find ways to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and know that sooner or later, you will find another of your kind. If you’re struggling to do this on your own, seek someone to help you. Some of my most treasured moments are helping these beautiful individuals figure out that their problem is actually a huge strength in the right circumstance.