To A Near-Disabling Extent, I Wear the Opposite of Rose-Colored Glasses
December 8, 2008 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I see the world, and all in it, as something vicious and ready to attack me, and that influences far too much stuff in my life. Help.

As a pre-adolescent and young adolescent, I was badly bullied; one bully was so out of control he went away for a few weeks to a mental health facility; in another case, older Scouts in my Scout troop did such things as shitting in my sleeping bag, as well as worse things I just can't remember. As an older adolescent, my family saw bankruptcy and foreclosure thanks to unethical actions by people my father worked with. I remember feeling so helpless to stop the world's attack of my family, trying to do small ineffective shit to try to help my family (dishes, vacuum, etc.), trying to talk Mom down from her sobs. At college, I was stuck on a geographically remote campus (30 minutes from even a diner) and while there they destroyed any confidence I had in myself.

The problem is that I expect the worst from everyone I ever interact with, and from Fate. It colors everything everyday. If we have a pleasant conversation, you're merely tolerating me. I can't rustle up the desire to form new friendships, because if we become friends, something will happen. If you're a girl, you certainly won't think I'm funny, or interesting, or cute. Ask me whether I really believe I'll ever reach any of my Major Goals, or when I last had fun. If something bad can happen, it will. When the worst happens, I take it as confirmation. When it doesn't happen, it doesn't really penetrate; I simply grimly prepare for the next shot. My rational mind can and does counterargument, but it's not a match for the feeling, it just lessens it. Occasionally.

This issue's been so stubborn it's made therapy last years: perhaps because when something bad happens in my life, big or small, that part of me seizes upon it as "evidence" it's right, reinforcing itself.

What do I ask? Well, how can I go about really disabling this thing, since it's so well-planted in my head, coming from so early in my life? It's not part of the back-and-forth thoughts I hear myself think; it seems to be part of the inherent, automatic assumptions I make about everything around me (on the same level as "the sky is blue," just assumed). Others got help breaking their lifelong self-delusions here; I'm hoping to get the same kind of advice.

I want to start assuming the best of people, and view new possibilities with freshness and the desire to explore, not thinking everything is predisposed to end badly. I'd like to be as confident in others' friendship (or maybe love) as I am in my cat's affection: feel that same peaceful security in others.

I'm at UtterlyAnonymousEmailAddress [at] gmail dot com, if needed. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm. Normally I'd say years of therapy, but it looks like that isn't making the improvements you'd like to see.

You don't mention anything about how you treat yourself, here. I would think that would be a good place to start: treat yourself very very well. Pamper yourself, and give yourself the parenting that was unavailable for one reason or another in your youth.

You should have been protected from bullies and to some degree from the financial woes of your family. For whatever reason, you weren't: make up for that double by providing excellent protection for yourself.

P.S. Don't get me started about the Boy Scouts. Your experiences were not unique.
posted by tkolar at 2:01 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is pretty far out on the philosophical end of answers to your question, but listen to Out of Your Mind by Alan Watts if you feel like your orientation with the rest of the world is out of whack.

Pretty random suggestion, I know, but some people really respond to philosophical inquiries into their situation. Others don't, YMMV.
posted by scarabic at 2:06 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Find a different therapist? Failing that, have you ever considered that you might be clinically depressed? Talking to a doctor about medication might give you the shift in perspective you need to be able to tackle this.
posted by threeturtles at 2:07 PM on December 8, 2008

This is very difficult because basically memories of fear are burned into your brain in a way that ordinary memories are not, especially if they happen early in life. Though you may not meet all of the criteria for PTSD, you have one of the key parts of it-- generalization of fear from the initial situation to the rest of your relational life.

It may help to identify particular triggers for the fear and then tell yourself that this was once adaptive (it protected you back then) but is no longer. It will take a lot of repetitions of exposure to safe, calm situations before you can be comfortable. Also, learn to recognize the physiological response and breathe or do other things that calm yourself when it occurs.

One thing that may help is "exposure therapy" which is a form of trauma treatment that involves re-exposing you to your memories but in a safe setting that will defuse them.

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy is another option. It will take some work to find people who actually practice these evidence based therapies in the way they are supposed to be done. Ideally, find an academic practitioner who studies this stuff. Otherwise, you may get people who know the buzzwords but don't do the specific techniques that work.

The main thing is to keep steering your thoughts towards thinking positively of others but don't beat yourself up for having the thoughts you tend to have. Doing that will make them resist extinction. Attempt to remind yourself of something soothing, like the cat, when you meet people. Know that you have this tendency and accept it, that it helped in the past, but isn't useful any more. Keep at it, over and over and over.

Also, I co-wrote a book called The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us about Love, Loss and Healing. You can get at most book stores. We've gotten a lot of email from people who've had trauma memories who said the neuroscience we explain in there has helped them cope, so that might be useful also.
posted by Maias at 2:08 PM on December 8, 2008 [6 favorites]

I want to start assuming the best of people, and view new possibilities with freshness and the desire to explore, not thinking everything is predisposed to end badly.

There's a problem here - you want to trade your current immature outlook based in the reality of your childhood with an equally immature but opposite outlook grounded in fantasy. You need a new therapist, because you current one may have become part of the world you perceive to be against you. And you may actually be clinically depressed, as someone else mentioned. I would consider looking into both at the same time.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:24 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Your comment is typical catastrophically and generalizing, which is something that anxious people and depressives do pretty often, if not all the time.

The cure for this is a variety of things, but the first step is understanding that:

1. Worst case scenarios are actually very, very rare, by their nature. Things fail much more gracefully in real life than they do when you picture them failing in your head.

2. Murphy's law is actually untrue. Things work more often than not. The problem is you only notice the failures and your depression reinforces these events to darken your view of reality.

3. You need to start asking yourself "How can I view this problem in a much more rational way?"

4. You need to learn how to cope with everyday risks without blowing them out of proportion.

Perhaps you need a different therapist or different style of therapy. I suggest picking up books like Feeling Good and the Phobia and Anxiety workbook and doing the exercises within.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:47 PM on December 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

I had a pretty awful upbringing, and for years felt the same way that you do. I'm a lot better now - not totally over it, but far, far from where I was 10 years ago. Maias is right, I think - it's a lot like PTSD. You've adapted to fearful stimuli, and now you can't differentiate threat from potential threat.

What did I do? I realized that I wasn't reacting correctly. I forced myself to make friends and to believe that they really liked me (even when the little voice tried to tell me otherwise). You know what's wrong - you know it's not a healthy reaction to the world - try and change what you can when you can - you'll be amazed at how much progress you can make through simple effort.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:49 PM on December 8, 2008

Lots of good advice here. As someone who suffers a very muted version of what you're describing, I don't know if you have to see your goal as always assuming the best about people. It sounds like you want to be able to do something that's actually much more healthy and enduring: not only to not assume the worst, but to be able to recognize when someone is trustworthy and how to recognize manipulative or bullying behavior. Right now your gauge is off because your brain is pulling the fire alarm in response to every possible situation. You don't have to trust everyone. You just have to become more experienced in knowing when you can trust someone, and how to protect yourself- not by guarding against everybody, but identifying the legitimately bad or dysfunctional situations from others that might be different.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:58 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you tried group therapy? Seeing that bad stuff happens to other people might help you have a little faith that the good stuff that happens to them can happen to you as well.
posted by youcancallmeal at 3:15 PM on December 8, 2008

The fact that you've been brave and honest enough to post your concerns shows that you still have faith in others and optimism about the future. People who have been traumatized often remain on "high alert" anticipating threats and danger. What others may perceive as pessimism, social aversion, or stubbornness is actually a very rational defense mechanism: preparing for the future, based on past experiences. However, when the defense mechanism actually impairs your ability to function, it becomes a neurosis -- something you want to understand, then systematically eliminate from your life.

Find a group that shares your favorite interests and meets regularly, so you can experience comfortable, long-term acceptance. Consider teaching and volunteering. In these settings, you'll interact with others in controlled environments where you'll be helping and receiving attention, acknowledgment, and appreciation. Keep lists of positive experiences -- new people you meet and like, uplifting interactions, situations you've brilliantly handled. And make sure you have ample private time during which you withdraw from the stresses and demands of your environment.

BTW, cats are incredibly astute judges of human character -- very discriminating. If you've passed the Cat Test, you can certainly pass the Human Test.
posted by terranova at 3:18 PM on December 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

There are a lot of mediocre therapists, and plenty of utterly incompetent ones. Look for a new therapist to work with you on PTSD, and CBT and explain that you have specific goals. Read Learned Optimism. Consider anti-depressant drugs, as well as anti-anxiety drugs. Carrying a couple of Xanax with me helped me a lot; I seldom used them, but it helped that I could.

For the next 6 months, don't read depressing or scary books, watch the news, watch depressing or scary movies or listen to angry or sad music, as much as possible. Watch/read/listen to funny, optimistic, positive work.

Get outdoors, get sunlight and fresh air, make sure you get good nutrition. If you like animals, volunteer to take dogs for walks; I find dogs immensely cheering. The dog park is as good as prozac.

As you look back at your life, try to look for any positive memories, like a neighbor who was kind, a good friend, a nice teacher, a holiday when you got the toy you wanted. Make a written list. When the bad memories are overwhelming, look at the list, and remember that there were good days.

A lot of adults let kids do really mean stuff. Bad things happen to a lot of people. Remind yourself that you were not uniquely singled out for cruelty, and resolve to be a person who stops such things. The fact that you see the negative patterns, and want to change them, will help a great deal.
posted by theora55 at 3:25 PM on December 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

You might investigate martial arts training to improve your confidence especially (but not in any way limited to) physical confrontations.

All kinds of good mental and physical by-products of learning self-defense.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:35 PM on December 8, 2008

Lots of bad shit is going to happen. It will happen to you. You are wise to be self-preserving. Where you err is in estimating your own ability to cope with these issues. You far underestimate it.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:54 PM on December 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Did you ever consider that your worldview might be accurate? Maybe you should work on accepting yourself as you are instead of wasting oodles of time and money trying to change.

I want to start assuming the best of people

I tried that. Big mistake.
posted by telstar at 3:59 PM on December 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

One thing I realised (and am still realising) is that the bullies and exploiters of the world are fighting the vicitimised little person inside themselves. The bullies and bullied are parts of the same subjective whole. To them, the world is shaped by the maxim "bully or be bullied". When you find yourself in such an environment and not willing to engage in it, I think it's time to find a new environment that exhibits less of these traits. It's either that, or start bullying the victimised little guy inside you.

Let me give you an example. I grew up in a place where the respected men and women were solidly built, extraverted and sort of bastardly in their outlook (but you know, with the supposed heart-of-gold under the bastardry etc). If you were sensitive and scrawny, your life would be an absolute misery and you had no hope of succeeding in this world. I moved to a bigger city and began to see a whole new way of looking at things. The scrawny sensitive guys were the respected artists and computer programmers. The solid bastards were the victimised guys who fixed your toilets. I think you need to find an environment that will help you rework the wiring in your brain.

Then when you find that new environment, do not be afraid to express your distrust and make a terrible embarassment of yourself every now and then. If the environment has the capacity to understand and forgive you without engaging in the bully-or-be-bullied mentality, you've found the right place.
posted by zaebiz at 4:24 PM on December 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

follow-up from the OP
Hi. Thank you to everyone thus far. My therapist was good enough to
dig through layers of shielding obscuring this hydra, and I trust her
as much as my mom (I literally feel my shields drop in that room), so
I'm very hesitant to get rid of her. It's not an impossibility but
it'd probably be the last thing I tried. And I am on as much
Wellbutrin as medically advisable for me. And while I respect his/her
right to feel as s/he does and don't wish offense, responses such as
telstar's aren't really helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 4:26 PM on December 8, 2008

I had a psychiatrist friend over a few days ago. She is advanced in her field and has practiced medicine for over 25 years. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for about 12 years before leaving in semi-disgust. When we get together the talk usually turns to pharmaceuticals. She has allowed to me several times that anti-depressant medicines simply don't work and we talked about why this is. After some discussion, we realized that anti-depressant meds can't work, because if they did, the cash cow that these drugs represent to the pharmaceutical industry would be endangered.

The ideal drug (from the pharm industry's point of view) is:

1. expensive
2. needs to be taken daily
3. doesn't do much of anything

Ring any bells?

Were I you, I would very much consider getting off all the anti-depressants too.
posted by telstar at 4:43 PM on December 8, 2008

As I get older, two somewhat paradoxical attitudes have grown within me:

--- That a very high percentage people are horrible bastards who cannot be trusted any further than you can throw them ... i.e., that "human nature" basically sucks and is well-represented by such things as mob violence and the quality of dialogue you see on unmoderated message boards; and

--- That the world isn't as bad as I once assumed, that dangers can be managed, and that if you just get out of bed everyday and keep trying you can do alright.

I'd like to be as confident in others' friendship (or maybe love) as I am in my cat's affection: feel that same peaceful security in others.

Except for your closest companions (spouse, parents, and a few close friends if you are lucky) you may not ever find that peaceful security you crave.
posted by jayder at 4:50 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I could have written this askme at some point in my life. I was horribly, horribly bullied in school, and that colored my outlook for a long time.

Everyone who has suggested finding an *excellent* therapist who practices CBT is right on. Find someone who is very CBT focused. I've wasted time with people who said that they practiced CBT, but really didn't. Talk therapy is less than neutral for someone as traumatized as you - rehashing old hurts will just make you live through stuff that no one should have to go through once.

Here's one thing that can help, although it will be painful: think back on your life. Think about everyone who has been friendly to you, or even actively made an effort to be your friend. You probably brushed off some of those people because at the time, you just didn't understand what friendly overtures were, or they scared you by being a little too forward. Or maybe you were just so surprised that you said a terse "hello" and didn't engage them. Or maybe you disliked them because anyone who tries to be your friend must be a loser. Acknowledge those people, and promise yourself that next time someone is friendly to you, you're going to be friendly right back.

I'm still a jerk sometimes, and I'm still scared sometimes, but what has helped me is to become an expert at something. I got really good at doing something that I love, and people come to me to ask for help and really want me to like them. It's helped me to become more confident.

Another thing I've tried to practice is benevolence. I've been working really hard to be someone who helps people, and a good force in the world. Even if it's scary. Here's a link to an old askme of mine:

And finally, think about those bullies. If you think of the people you're around now as just grown-up twelve-year-olds, you'll hate everyone. Acknowledge that some of the people who did horrible things to you did so because they were little kids who didn't really understand the consequences of their actions. Were you ever unkind to anyone when you were young? Do you regret it today? Many of the people who were unkind to you would be ashamed to remember what they did to you, and they'd be horrified to learn how much their silly kid pranks affected you.

I could write pages. In short, your worldview seem stuck in adolescence. That's not surprising - sometimes people get stuck when they experience trauma. Your work is to move on from adolescence.

I'm pulling for you - PM me if you want to talk.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:54 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sorry, one more thing:

Has it ever occurred to you that you may be right? I recall, years ago, reading about a study where psychologists did a study that included both depressed people and non-depressed people. The psychologists evaluated who was more accurate in their assessment of their life circumstances, and the study overwhelmingly showed that depressed people were right. The non-depressed people were not evaluating their situations as honestly and truthfully as the depressed people.

So, when you say, "I see the world, and all in it, as something vicious and ready to attack me, and that influences far too much stuff in my life," you may actually be onto something.

The challenge may be finding a way to live in a satisfying and healthy way in the face of your accurate worldview. But don't assume your worldview is wrong. There's a lot of true viciousness, manipulation, and violence (metaphorical and otherwise) out there.
posted by jayder at 4:57 PM on December 8, 2008 [7 favorites]

I see the world, and all in it, as something vicious and ready to attack me...

You're an egotist. (Join the club.) If everyone is ready to attack you, that means everyone cares about you (albeit in a negative way).

Truth is, most people don't give a shit about you.

The world isn't out to get you. (The world isn't ABOUT YOU.) Nor is the world out to pleasure you. It's as indifferent to you as you are to the ants underfoot. Are you trying to step on them? No. Are you trying to not step on them? No. Will they definitely get stepped on? No. Will they definitely not get stepped on? No.

We all want to be important. If we can't imagine ourselves as important in a positive way, we imagine ourselves as important in a negative way. As hard as that is, it's easier than seeing ourselves as unimportant.

I for one can GUARANTEE you I'm not out to get you. Why? Because I don't know you and don't care about you. If we got to know each other, I still wouldn't be out to get you. Because I'm not out to get anyone. I'm not eccentric in that way. Most people aren't out to get other people. I suppose I might change my mind if you killed my dog. But like most people, my main goals are to be left alone and to be liked. How would attacking you help me achieve either of those goal?

You can prove to yourself that the world is indifferent. Take some small event that can go well or be irritating, such as whether or not you have to wait for a train on your morning commute (or an elevator to get to your office). Divide a sheet of paper into two columns labeled bad and good. Each time you have to wait, make a tick mark in the bad column. Each time you don't, make a tick mark in the good column. After a hundred repeats, tally up the good and the bad and see which wins. Don't rely on memory. As you've noted, it's selective.

After trying this, graduate to more important things, such as checkups at the doctor. How many end in bad news? How many end in you being okay?
posted by grumblebee at 5:38 PM on December 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

I was bullied as a kid -- nothing quite to that extreme, but enough so that it makes me a bit suspicious of people, especially strangers. This makes me quiet. I've always been kind of amazed at certain of my friends who can walk up to anybody and start a conversation. I asked one of them about this once, and she said that by starting a conversation with a total stranger, you're kind of throwing yourself at their mercy, and most people will respond to it. I've been trying it, and those horrible high school type scenarios I dreaded haven't been happening. Taking little chances on people and not being let down has helped me become a less paranoid human being. (Success breeds success, and that sort of thing.)

What really helped me, actually, was martial arts, specifically Judo. What Judo helped me to realize was that in order to become a better human being, I sometimes have to take chances which may leave me exposed to other people. If I never take a chance, though, I will never improve, and failing at something is a lesson, not the end of the world. Judo tends to be a supportive environment, because the whole art/sport is based on 'mutual welfare and benefit'.

A word of caution, though, about martial arts -- I'm probably going to catch some flak for this, but I wouldn't recommend all of them for you. A lot of martial arts actually try to make the world a scarier place than it is, you know, with the "In the STREETS, people will be SURPRISE ATTACKING you with KNIVES and SWORDS and AXES, so you'll want to RIP THEIR FACES OFF and TEAR OFF THEIR SCROTUMS if they look at you funny." I mean, no joke, there's one guy who advocates peeing at a urinal in a certain way because people can surprise you in the toilet and slam your face into the flush handle. I don't think that's very helpful, personally.

I don't think martial arts are the only way, or even the best way; you learn to get very good at, you know, beating people up, but not necessarily other things which you might want from 'confidence'. Knowing how to throw someone to the floor really hard does not necessarily mean you'll be awesome at making friends and talking to people (if that's what you're after). I think the kind of confidence that comes from being very good at something (like you get from martial arts) can be had from other sources.

Another pretty supportive place can be improvisational comedy. The nature of the game is 'yes and' (you support your scene partner's choices), and it's an environment where you can slowly expand yourself by taking a wild stab at something.

I do believe (at least right now, at this stage in my life) that taking chances on other people and that kind of thing comes from a place of strength in one's self. It's very difficult to take chances on other people if you don't really, really love yourself first.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:43 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do one of the ninety-second mental exercises in this book.

Will doing so permanently fix the problem?

Absolutely not.

Will it give you a way to *quickly* and effectively change your feelings, so that you can enjoy the new feelings of safety, control, and positive possibilities that everyone deserves?

Yeah, it will.
posted by darth_tedious at 5:46 PM on December 8, 2008

Apart from finding a good therapist...

Have you ever been interested in taking up a hobby that involved a certain amount of risk? Hang gliding, skydiving, getting your pilot's licence? Learning to ride a motorcycle?

You'd have to find a trustworthy professional instructor. Shop around until you feel comfortable with one. It could build confidence if you to learn to trust your own judgements/abilities in situations that involve possible injury and death rather than the vague terrors of group dynamics.

I'm trying to get at the idea that some of us never feel comfortable about ourselves around other people in a social situations but the feeling of being able to trust yourself in objective situations is affirming. (ie.-I walked away from another landing, so I can be all that weak and stupid)

This is, of course, possibly terrible advice and I don't want you to get your neck broken. Your medication might rule it out.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:11 PM on December 8, 2008

Constantly reframing the situation to the ideal, instead of the worse possible scenario, will eventually change the tapes that are being played in your head as you go about your daily life. This take a lot of practice.
posted by captainsohler at 6:32 PM on December 8, 2008

Also, Telstar, I don't think your second comment is likely to be perceived as any more helpful than the first.

Yes, the drug companies are evil. But antidepressants also work for many people-- and there's lots of NIH and other non-pharma data to support that claim. The big meta-analyses that find them close to placebo simply wash out large individual positive and large individual negative effects. Anyone who has seen a bunch of people take these drugs knows that they do something and it's hugely varied depending on the individual-- it can be incredibly helpful for some, and incredibly harmful for others. If a drug is working for you, there's no reason not to stick with it.

Wellbutrin happens to be off-patent also-- so it's not expensive, either.
posted by Maias at 6:43 PM on December 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

You're an egotist. (Join the club.) If everyone is ready to attack you, that means everyone cares about you (albeit in a negative way).

Truth is, most people don't give a shit about you.

Did you even read the whole post? Part of OP's issue is that they genuinely believe the world doesn't like them and so is unable to form lasting and trusting relationships.

OP, since you seem so comfortable with your current therapist maybe it would be better to simply ask them whether they think CBT would work and if they feel comfortable trying it with you. I've never done it but supposedly the whole point of CBT is to actively change the way your brain reacts to situations, which is exactly what you want to do.

Not sure how it happened, but I am pretty much the OP's polar opposite. I tend to assume the best in people overall (with perhaps the lone exception being shitty drivers, and even then I try... mayyybe they have a very sick child in the back seat). A little caution is good; it took me a long time to consistently lock my doors for example, though fortunately I never was robbed.

The world can be a shitty place. But it also can be a wonderful place. I think it's hard, especially when you've gone through a lot of pain, to assume the best of people. But maybe you could start by assuming the, uh, "normal" of people. Which is to say, like you most people are just trying to survive and have a little happiness. We're almost all generally willing to reach out to people who are friendly and we all like making connections to new people and finding new friends. So, start with seeing people as 50/50 opportunities.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:31 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I do really believe in CBT and I think whether you can find a good practitioner or not, you need to practice the skills you want:
- recognizing the good in the world
- recognizing other's love and/or respect for you

Ways to practice thinking more positively (not necessarily foolishly optimistic, but more optimistic) include:
- keeping a gratitude journal (I know it's cheesy)
- keeping a journal to remind you of your successes and hard work toward your goals
- using a book like Feeling Good Handbook

Finally (and I think your on your way in this regard) is to have complete compassion for yourself. You have already survived some terrible things that have hurt you and prevented you from thinking positively. You have survived! You are a hard worker that cares for yourself! (shown by your work in therapy, your decision to medicate, and your insight into your life) Remember this in you work ahead. It may not be easy or instant but value the work you are doing and any successes along the way. I have confidence in you, so should you.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:11 AM on December 9, 2008

I want to start assuming the best of people, and view new possibilities with freshness and the desire to explore, not thinking everything is predisposed to end badly. I'd like to be as confident in others' friendship (or maybe love) as I am in my cat's affection: feel that same peaceful security in others.
I could have been you. Hell, I'm still you, when things get bad. It sounds like we had roughly similar childhoods. What screams out to me when you write about your experience is that you seem to feel like you should have, somehow, fixed things for your family, or somehow protected them from negative or outright predatory outside forces. Talking your Mom down from her sobs is a hell of a burden to have as a kid, and it wasn't fair.

From the sound of it, you may have started out idealistic, and then had that idealism kicked out of you by a combination of shitty people (literally!) and bad circumstances. And now you're stuck on the other side of the wall, where you can't seem to find the good in anything, no matter how hard you try. You've developed the conviction that hoping for and/or believing that good things will happen leads to crushing betrayal when the "real world" comes in and kicks your knees out.

This is an entirely reasonable reaction to your experience. In your experience, that's what's always happened: why would this time be any different?

What's different now is that you want to change. This is an enormously mature step for you: I think you should start by taking some well-earned pride in realizing that there's a different way of being. You are no longer blinkered by your experience, and you are, in however small a way, exercising control over your emotions rather than them exercising control over you. You know that it's possible to exist differently in the world, and you've decided that you want to exist differently in the world. That's a giant step: don't gloss over it.

For me, getting closer to "assuming the best of people" and "not thinking everything is predisposed to end badly" started with me changing how I thought about other people and why they did what they did. And I had to get rid of some pretty gigantic "oughts": people ought to be nicer to each other. People ought to be honest. People ought to care about the things I care about. People ought to, etcetera, etcetera. A variation on this is "why do people do things that hurt other people? Can't they see it hurts other people?"

When I tried switching over to "people are just people, and the only person whose behavior I can truly control is myself", things got a lot better. I stopped worrying about why people did things, and started spending my time working on my response to people. After a while, I started to notice that when someone did something shitty to me, I had a choice. I could, if I wanted, let that person's actions get inside my head: why are they doing this to me? What did I do to deserve this? This is a bad thing! This hurts!

Or I could, if they were doing something shitty to me, tell them to stop. And, if they didn't stop, remove myself from the situation. Giving myself that permission, to remove myself from a bad situation, was tremendously powerful for me, because I was doing something I'd never been able to do as a kid! When you're a kid, nobody gives you a choice: you're just stuck there, and you have to take it. And if you don't learn otherwise, you start to think that's just how it is.

Well, it isn't: you can walk away. If someone does something bad to you, you can remove yourself from the situation. If something negative occurs, you have agency to fix it: you are no longer a child who is being asked to do something far past their capabilities. Embrace that power: embrace the simple strength that comes from knowing that you can change your environment and your feeling about it.

Very few things in this life are "destined": most of them just are. If you grow up, like you did and I did, thinking that you have to fix the unfixable, this will be an enormous step for you, but I honestly think that it will make a huge difference for you. You can change: nothing is written in stone, and you've already made some huge steps. Keep making them, and you will achieve what you want. As someone who's a little farther down the same trail, I promise you it's worth it. It's hard, but it's worth it.
posted by scrump at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2008 [5 favorites]

Yes, the drug companies are evil. But antidepressants also work for many people-- and there's lots of NIH and other non-pharma data to support that claim.

Care to back that up with some references?
posted by telstar at 11:16 AM on January 16, 2009

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