Secondary gains for acting depressed

Jump to my addition in response to comments

This is an extract from my coming book on depression. I am posting it because I need help. Please read it, then leave a comment at the bottom, listing one or more rewards you have noticed (for yourself or others) for acting depressed.

Every problem has some benefits. Depression is no exception. This is not to say a sufferer deliberately pretends, or makes matters worse. All the same, there are payoffs.

This is best illustrated with physical pain.

Fiona was a 43-year-old mother of two. She had suffered migraines for many years. As part of a complex attack on the problem, she analyzed her family’s reaction to her suffering. She found that when she had one of her headaches, the children didn’t squabble. Usually they did. Husband and kids took over almost all the household tasks. At other times, she needed to argue and cajole to get them to do their fair share, even though Fiona had a full-time job.

She didn’t develop a headache in order to gain considerate, caring attention from her family. Nevertheless, it was a fact that this was what she always got when a migraine struck her, and never when she felt well.

Part of her cure was to reengineer family dynamics. All four members of the family signed a contract, involving the fair distribution of household tasks. Husband and kids agreed to “reward mom for NOT having a migraine” instead of rewarding her for having one.

Fiona also learned how to identify the triggers for her headaches, to spot early warning signs. She then took analgesics before the pain struck, and used relaxation techniques to short-circuit the mechanism of a migraine. But removing the secondary gains was a big part of her success.

OK, can you think of possible payoffs for acting depressed? A payoff is the reward that might come your way, e.g., getting out of something you’d rather not do, receiving sympathy, or being able to withdraw from a situation. Once you have gathered enough information, you can then re-engineer your life to get rewards for defeating the problem rather than rewards for suffering it.


What I wrote in my book, thanks to the several helpful comments:

After I wrote this section, I posted it on my blog, with a request to my friends to suggest rewards for acting depressed from their own lives, or those of others. This was very educational for me. I only received one explicit suggestion. Margaret Goodman wrote, “Some people… can be rude and cruel and then claim that the depression made them do it.”

Instead, there was a collection of strongly felt descriptions of what depression is like from the inside. Jean, a friend and colleague I deeply respect, put the problem with my request the most clearly:

    Problem is, depression constricts your thinking. It is almost impossible to see outside the box of despair. If the depression were mild, or intermittent, it would be possible. But a full-fledged clinical depression, no. It would take a compassionate, tactful, and patient outsider to point out the benefits. Hopefully you, in your book, will be that person to many others. The only benefit I experienced from years of unremitting depression was validation that there was truly something wrong with me.

She runs this blog.

I have got rid of my depression decades ago. Now that I look back, I can see the secondary gains it used to get for me. But I have to agree with Jean. If someone had asked me to spot them back then, I probably would have been unable to do so. All the same, getting out of that box, and seeing my behavior from the outside, would have been a great tool for liberating me.

So… Do you know anyone else who is struggling with depression? Suppose that person came to you, asking for advice on spotting secondary gains.

Here is a small selection of the kinds of things you would look for in helping your friend:

  • “Oh, I can’t do it” means I can get out of trying.
  • Self-harming and suicide attempts have people notice me, for once.
  • I’ve slept in again. Oh well, no point going to school this late.
  • I just couldn’t get to sleep last night, then I kept waking up. Sorry, I can’t concentrate.
  • Wearing my sad, hopeless face usually induces Mary to do kind things for me.
  • Acting grumpy gets others to tiptoe around me, which gives me a sense of power.
  • When I lock myself in my room, I usually get out of my household tasks.
  • Saying “Oh, I am so tired!” often results in Jim doing most of my share.
  • Those wretched girls don’t bully me when I spend lunchtime sitting in a quiet corner somewhere, doing nothing.
  • People leave me alone when I stride up and down just to get rid of energy. (This is “psychomotor agitation” in the list on page 15.)
  • A sure way to get reassurance is to cry and say it’s all my fault.
  • When I fail at something, I get confirmation that I was right: I truly am hopeless and useless.
  • I don’t have to put up with all that empty chatter and socializing when I choose to isolate myself.

If you can spot patterns like this in someone else’s life, I reckon you can spot some in your own.

This then you gives enormous power: the ability to see yourself from the outside at least to some extent, and for a time. Each occasion you manage it, you grow.
The next step is, there are probably people in your life who know you well: those you live with, or used to live with, those you spend many hours with at work, and so on. Some of them are people you can trust to be kind. Ask such people to help in the way I’ve described for your analysis of someone else’s patterns.

Your helper might spot that she has a pattern of being kind to you when you are unable to eat much dinner. Be thankful for that, but also, the two of you can use this new insight to ensure the kindness will not be tied to lack of appetite in the future.

And the next step is, “What else may I be doing to fish for kindness?”

You have climbed out of being a helpless prisoner in the box, and are now an active agent in reengineering your life.

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Secondary gains for acting depressed

  1. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you, Margaret.
    Lawyers in court, and media apologists, will of course use any fact to try to excuse the inexcusable.
    When I was still depressed, it sometimes gave me the excuse of “Oh, I just don’t have the energy for that!” to get me out of volunteering for something I was more skilled for than other bunnies.
    🙂
    Bob

    Like

  2. Margaret Goodman says:

    I have been diagnosed with a mild to moderate depression and have, as far as I can remember, received no benefits for having the depression. However, I have noticed that some people who claim to be depressed have received some benefits. They can be rude and cruel and then claim that the depression made them do it. A number of the white male terrorists, also known as serial killers usually using firearms, in the United States have had their behavior explained by saying they were depressed.

    I hope that the above helps your research.

    Margaret Goodman

    Like

  3. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Barbara, for some reason WordPress has stolen the button that enables me to reply specifically to your last comment, so I am doing it here.
    You’ve told me, perhaps without realising it, that you’ve made significant gains against the monster Depression. Well done
    Many years ago, I have replaced thoughts like “Oh, I wish I was dead!” with a completely different kind: “It’s OK if I die tonight, and it’s OK if I live another 20 years. It’s how well, not how long.”
    I still would be happy not to be a human, on this crazy planet, being forced to witness all the suffering, but this is compassion for others, not sadness for myself.
    Achieving this transformation is the last part of my book, which I am working on now.
    With love,
    Bob

    Like

  4. Jean says:

    Problem is, depression constricts your thinking. It is almost impossible to see outside the box of despair. If the depression were mild, or intermittent, it would be possible. But a full-fledged clinical depression, no. It would take a compassionate, tactful, and patient outsider to point out the benefits. Hopefully you, in your book, will be that person to many others. The only benefit I experienced from years of unremitting depression was validation that there was truly something wrong with me.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Jean, that’s a very thoughtful and helpful reply. Thank you. Looking back to when I was depressed, I have to agree, and so I’ll need to revise this section. What I am asking the reader may be an impossible task.

      Like

  5. pendantry says:

    I can’t think of any ‘rewards for acting depressed’, but if you need help with this or any other writing I can highly recommend Scribophile.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      No, I don’t need help of that kind.
      I’ve made a list of about 15 rewards for depressed behaviour, but need more.
      Examples may be:
      When I look sad, people are kinder to me.
      I hate social occasions, and feeling depressed gives me a reason not to go.
      I am terrified of failing, so if I can convince myself that it’s no good even trying, then I avoid the risk.

      And so on.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. barbarakay1 says:

    Can’t speak for others, but I ignored depression for far too long. An EXTREMELY dysfunctional birth family contributed to migraines starting at the age of 5 (which were never diagnosed until I was in graduate school). Finally diagnosed as depressed when suicidal ideation was a constant companion about four years ago. I needed a support group and have since formed a loose one. I do not fear death, but no longer wish it would hurry up and claim me.

    May you have a blessed day. Barbara

    On Sat, Mar 31, 2018 at 5:54 AM, Bobbing Around wrote:

    > Dr Bob Rich posted: “This is an extract from my coming book on depression. > I am posting it because I need help. Please read it, then leave a comment > at the bottom, listing one or more rewards you have noticed (for yourself > or others) for acting depressed. Every problem has” >

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Barbara, when my book is ready, I am happy to send you a copy for a beta read.
      But think of this. Your past suffering has made you into the good person you are.
      🙂
      Can you think of some rewards you can get from other people, or from inside yourself, when you “do” depression? That’s what I need help with.

      Like

      • barbarakay1 says:

        I don’t DO depression but retreat into myself. There are no rewards as I hide and barely make the effort to even eat.

        Like

      • Dr Bob Rich says:

        Barbara, that is doing something. Please read my “first aid” essay: http://bobswriting.com/psych/firstaid.html for suggestions on how to start on the road to reversing this pattern.
        I used to see myself as locked into a black steel box with no light inside. Then, one day, I touched the steel wall in front of me, and found it to be a curtain I could push aside.
        But returning to the current topic: when you hide, what are you hiding FROM: What are you able to not-do because depression induces you to hide?

        Liked by 1 person

      • barbarakay1 says:

        Mostly I ignore depression when it rears its head and just keep busy doing what I normally do. If suicidal ideation occurs more than once in a week I get in touch with my loose support group (but ideation occurs now only when I am in a conversation like this and is more a THIS is the topic of conversation than IT WOULD BE GOOD IF…). When I hide I don’t do the volunteer work and other socializing I normally do to keep the depression at bay. I suppose the only thing I don’t do because of depression is beat myself up over undone housework and that is the case no matter if depression is mild or severe.

        Like

Comments are closed.