Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Relatively

I knew I should have posted about prom week. Now I'm in trouble.

I said, only a couple of days ago,
Relativism is the one (intervention) we can’t ram at you for fear you’ll think us not empathetic. Yet we hope. . .
In other words, Give it a shot.

And you voiced objections, of course. You said, basically, that when you're depressed, the relativism doesn't click. It works when you're feeling okay, but when you're depressed you don't care about the suffering of other people. Letters From Exile said it best, Misery is relative. My misery is my misery, and it feels pretty darn miserable to me, no matter how it compares to yours or anyone else's.

Of course.

And it breaks you. As I've said before, depression, misery's first cousin, is the enemy.

So me telling you that many Holocaust survivors think relativistically probably won't help you if you can't get out of bed. And anyway. Who's to say that they're happy?

It's not something I personally would ever say in therapy, You should think relativistically. There are others in worse situations than you. But it surely comes up.

It comes up from you.

You say to me, from your position on the couch,
Not only don't I care about people running for their lives in the Congo. But I feel guilty for not caring .
So many times have I heard this. Not about the Congo, but feeling guilty for not caring about things. Mainly other people.

So. Not only do I agree with your objections, but I'll see you (your objections) and raise you. . . (Why, oh why, do poker metaphors pop out of my mouth at the most inappropriate times!?)

I'll raise you by saying, Relativism is evil. Counter-productive. Salt in the wound. It makes things worse.

And yet. (Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love, is fond of saying this, And yet. Ms. Krauss writes much like her spouse, Jonathan Safron Foer. You can just hear their pillow talk if you read their books).

And yet, if you're not suffering from depression, if you only have a low-grade fever and are a little on the down side, thinking relativistically does sometimes help. It's a cognitive behavioral strategy, and although there are surely more powerful strategies, comparing one's lot to others in worse straits isn't the worst intervention out there. When you've got nothing to do. And you're watching the news. It kind of depends upon, I suppose, where you're at. Where you're holding.

Relatively speaking.

copyright 2008 therapydoc

11 comments:

la said...

Oooh! Those two are married? I did not know that! *hears the pillow talk*

caroline said...

you say that you hear it from the other side of the couch "Not only don't I care about people running for their lives in the Congo. But I feel guilty for not caring". but when i am in a deep depression i feel guilt because my suffering is of my own creation, i have a life better than so many others in the world, yet can't get out of bed while others endure unspeakable suffering.

therapydoc said...

To say, of my own creation is too limiting, I think. Thinking systems a person sees the self, sure, but also all the other people, things, circumstances, etc. that contribute to the "suffering."

Margo said...

Did you ever finish the Krauss book?

la said...

If it's OK to jump in here ...

>>when i am in a deep depression i feel guilt because my suffering is of my own creation, i have a life better than so many others in the world, yet can't get out of bed while others endure unspeakable suffering

Does guilt help you or them? I'm betting it doesn't motivate you to leap out of bed and organise a tinned food drive. Probably it only makes you feels so worse. So when you're feeling bad why make yourself feel worse?

When you feel better, you'll do more so for now don't be so hard on yourself.

therapydoc said...

La speaks well. Thanks, La.

And Margo, I'm working on it. Have been a little tied up. For example, I had to suffer through the second half of There Will Be Blood.

Why? I'm not sure. But There Will Be . . .is the new tag line. There will be bills. There will be dinner. There will be voice mail.

phd in yogurtry said...

I did not know this was called "relativism" but now I do .. thanks. And yes, it definately has its time and place. You have prompted me to blog about one of my own personal examples of using it in my life. It snapped me out of the claws of poor-me-ism.

catatonickid said...

I think that's a good point to keep in mind - the poor-me-ism. It's so easy, for me for sure, to slip into a pity party when I think about this stuff. In fact, I deliberately do the 'comparison shopping' thing on occasion. I try not to but it's a slippery slope, and I try and be all Zen-like about it but it's not always so easy. It seems too artificial sometimes.

therapydoc said...

Poor me. Pity pot. I can't believe we haven't talked about this yet, but we haven't.

Right-o, this is the WRONG way to go.

Anonymous said...

How about the opposite? I tell my therapist - "There are people out there so much worse off than me - why am I taking up an hour of your time when you can be using it to help people who are really hurting?" or "Why should I work on making my life better - I'm so much luckier than so many other people out there", etc etc. That's a whole other problem I suppose.

therapydoc said...

When people ask me, Why am I taking up an hour of your time. . .I always say,

(a) you only get 45 minutes and
(b) that's obviously not enough or you wouldn't be coming back.

Your misery is your misery is your misery. You're complicated.

And when you're in the office, the therapist cares about no one or anything else. Ideally.