A few of my patients have recently discovered a key component to mental health: giving to others. This probably sounds trite, but, trust me, giving to others has a BIG, RESOUNDING impact for us all. Yet, it is not always as simple to do as it sounds.
Many people struggle to find some way out of depression and anxiety. It can be automatic, if you are depressed or anxious or worried or paranoid, to become consumed with yourself and your perspective. There is an element of narcissistic self-focus in each of these states. Ironically, though, this kind of self-focus drives us deeper into our depression or anxiety or worry or paranoia. It does not help us to get out of it.
A patient said to me lately that he wants to start thinking about other people’s needs instead of his own. He has been realizing, through our work, that his psychology keeps him so preoccupied with himself that he isn’t available to connect with others. He spontaneously suggested that he might benefit from finding ways to help other people instead of spending his time ruminating. We talked about the multifaceted benefits of this plan. He would get some relief from his self-preoccupied thoughts. The other person would feel cared for. He would have moments of connection. He might build a meaningful relationship. Or, if not, the other person would feel better and would hopefully treat others better in return. All of this sounded like a good antidepressant to him. How can I do this, he asked? It sounded great, and yet he anticipated many internal road blocks. This is not his usual way of being, after all.
There are many blogs and articles out there that tell us we should be grateful for the lives we have; we should stop being so self-absorbed and greedy. They usually contain lists that highlight ways we ought to change our thoughts and behaviors to live in a state of acceptance and gratitude. I agree that these are good ideas. The problem, though, is that it is not so simple for people to just change. It’s not so simple to just decide that you want to be different, and then immediately to make it so. It’s not so easy to one day become a man for others, without doing some preliminary work.
It’s my opinion that we are freer to help others when we feel better about who we are. When our own emotional needs are met (from deep within ourselves), we have a lot to give. When we can accept ourselves more fully, and when we feel more comfortable in our own skin, we are more genuinely available to those around us. When we’re emotionally full, we’re able to fill others. And we’re less sensitive, less easily hurt, better able to roll with things, and more genuine. The goal is, ultimately, to get to this state.
But you gotta start somewhere. And giving to others can, in itself, be the start of a positive cycle. Good interactions help us all. So, give it a try…get out there and make someone’s day. They’ll feel better, you’ll feel better, and there will be a good ripple effect from all of that. The more you give and connect, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more you give and connect. And the less preoccupied you are with yourself. And if you find it too hard, then spend some quiet time working on yourself for a while. Then give it another shot.
See if it works.
©2013 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.