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Dealing with Depression/upset over situation for two weeks now

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QUESTION: hello dr.deshmukh,
my mom and i were out for an evening walk. along the way, we crossed paths with an attractive young lady, who was walking her dog. my mom asked her very nicely how she was doing, she gave no reply. i was going to say hello to her, but she didn't even attempt to make any eye contact. it would have really made my day, if she'd just said hi back. instead, we just got the cold shoulder. i know that politeness is half and half with people, but this situation has really got me down and depressed. i'm seeing a couple of counselors right now, but they aren't helping a great deal. it sounds funny, but if she'd been unattractive or another guy, i wouldn't be as upset nearly as long. i usually think of friendly attractive women to put my mind in a good place. when one turns out to be the opposite, i fall to pieces. i'm just looking for some good feedback over this situation. i don't want it taking over my life. thanks for your time!

ANSWER: Dear Greg,

Thanks for writing to me. Let me write the first part of my response from a critical thinking platform. It essentially is similar to opening up a package to see the contents inside.

First part

Starting with how the events happened, the first question that comes to my mind is, "was the attractive young lady a known face to you or your mother?" Also, is either of you known to her? In short, have you come across this young lady previously as well?

The importance of this question lies in the fact that, for a lot of people it is a matter of confidence and comfort to respond to strangers in a manner usually expected. If she is a stranger, she is still not behaving in a drastically or significantly odd way compared to how you or your mother would have liked her to. This places her in a position where she can say, "It's really fine if I do not respond to her greetings or I do not make eye contact." And if she is not disturbed with this decision/choice of hers, she won't care about what others might think anyway. And if she doesn't care about others' inferences of her behaviors, others are not in a place to influence her behaviors and choices.

It is possible she might be fighting an inner battle herself. This may be a pattern of her behavior not just with you, but with others as well. She could be trying to overcome this in her own world and in her own mind. She may also be disturbed thinking, "why do I feel scared or anxious when strangers approach me with greetings?" She may have realized then and there that she did not respond in a way liked by most people, but for her, it may have been a few seconds too late to respond, and then it would have been more awkward, and she may have decided to back off from the interaction altogether.

These are the possibilities about that very first moment when your mother greeted her. If she is a known acquaintance, then her non-response opens up a new chapter about why she would not respond to someone known to her.

Sticking to the possibility of the young lady fighting her own battle inside, it could actually be an inaccurate inference if we say she did not 'make an attempt' to make eye contact as a response to your mother's greetings. She may have wanted to, but she may have failed to do so. This thought can help us NOT commit to a possibly wrong or inaccurate inference that she never made an attempt to make eye contact. Because, once we commit to an inference of what others say or do, we are bound to stick to it and it might lead us on a totally wrong path towards understanding their behaviors. Let's not commit to the idea that she did not want to respond.

It is also possible that she is the kind of a person who doesn't care much about what others think about her behavior. And a lot of such people do actually provide triggers for others to question themselves.

In all of the above mentioned possibilities, we can see that it is counter-productive to commit to one particular inference when we do not know the facts about her behavior for sure.

Next up, I see your initiative to say hello is conditional. I am saying this with a premise that you would have responded with a hello or initiated an interaction with a hello 'only if' she responded in a positive and acceptable way. This has to be looked at with more details. Just as you did not say a 'hello' due to an absence of a hi from her, we can say that she did not make eye contact due to an absence of a hello from you. Now this argument is weak, because your mother had already greeted her and she could have responded to that one. But it still is a possibility, that she may have made eye contact and might have had a nice conversation if your hello also came out. This gives me two options to think about. 1) The probability of a hello from her would have been more if your hello was said… and 2) Your hello needs to be said '''irrespective''' of the other person's perceived lack of interest.

You may have perceived her response as cold. But if you ask around 10 more people who might have experienced a similar response, or a lack of it, you would find that not all 10 of them would think it was a cold response. Some might think a different other ways that help them NOT disturb themselves. Some of those are written there in the first paragraph about possibilities. In short, those few of the 10 would simply NOT commit to one particular inference about the other person's responses, behavior or words.

Specifically, you might have been drawing inferences when you think she was "not polite" or she gave a "cold shoulder". This is how critical thinking works. We must critique our thoughts related to an event that leads to disturbance. External events are triggers to certain sets of thoughts and beliefs, which we acquire from our passage through time and life. And some of these beliefs and thoughts might be irrational, and self-defeating.  Committing to a particular inference is one such self-defeating pattern we usually get into as a habit. It's self defeating at times because the inference may be inaccurate. And based on an inaccurate inference, these set patterns of irrational thoughts give rise to feelings of low self esteem, hurt, betrayal, disappointment, etc.

As a simple test, if we go back to that moment and ask that young lady why she gave a cold shoulder, she may even be totally surprised how we inferred that she gave a cold shoulder. "I was simply lost in my thoughts" or "I am too shy to even respond to casual greetings from people" could have been her answers to our question. And that would settle at least some of the hurt part in the mind, won't it?

Second part

Picking up from the end of first part here, I would like to hear more from you about the feelings your felt after her response. Is it similar to what I wrote as examples above? (hurt, disappointment,  etc)

Let's see the main concern here now. If you were not disturbed after the young lady's response, we wouldn't be discussing the possibilities in the first part at all. But since you have been feeling the disturbance for quite some time now, we have to go back to the basic rule of emotions and feelings. Except a few dire situations or life threatening events, all other events, situations, behaviors, words and actions are 'triggers' for us to think about those, and then depending upon the thoughts we entertain consciously, emotions and feelings follow.

Emotions and feelings (disturbances) do NOT result directly from outside events or actions. Hence, the young lady's way of responding should not be a condition for you to feel good about your day. And this applies to all of us. In this case, it is actually not the situation that got you down. It was the thoughts you chose to think about the situation, which got you down. Now I can only hypothesize for now, that you must have thought this way - "her response was not polite. It was cold. This implies something about me as a person. This goes to say she may not be interested in starting an interaction with me if she saw me from a distance. This says something about me and also about people like her. Some people do not behave in a polite way, which they should. It is not acceptable that people should be NOT polite. And what it says about me is ..."

I have left the last sentence incomplete and further thoughts for you to write in your next message. However, it is probable that generally your initiatives towards interactions depend upon how the other person behaves or responds in the first place. And this is not necessarily a problem. But in situations like this one, it may be a self-defeating thing to do. Why self defeating? Let's see. If you had said a hello to this young lady irrespective of her responses, the chances of her saying a hi back to you would have been more. That way, you would have had a better chance of feeling good for the rest of the day. But you might have acted in a self-defeating way by thinking she has to respond in a positive way for you to initiate.

I am certainly not providing you with an analytic report. Since we are not in a face to face therapy session, conversation via messages has to be this way, where we write about possibilities, hypotheses and then discuss if they apply here or something else. I hope I wrote this in a simple way for your to see the main concerns. Let me note them down again.

1) It is a good idea not to commit to specific inferences about how people behave or what they say. In doing so, by considering the various scenarios, we take the power back in our hands to manage how we feel and how much we choose to disturb ourselves.

2) It is self defeating to hold on to a set belief that your day is made if you see and talk with attractive ladies, but if they fail to interact with you in a manner you expect, you are disturbed. How can this be deal with? Probably by letting go of the need to affirm self worth / esteem / confidence based on responses from specifically attractive ladies. This is a choice you are making somewhere, to feel good and positive after a favorable response from an attractive lady. And if an attractive lady does not respond in a favorable manner, probably you tend to judge yourself negatively, in a self-defeating way, based on their responses.

I would like to hear your thoughts about some questions I have raised here. Hope this helps. Please let me know if some part of my reply is not clear.

Take care.

Abhijeet Deshmukh, MD


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: the possibility that the attractive young lady simply couldn't care less about what me or my mom think about her behavior disturbs/upsets me the most. it's almost like she was saying to hell with both of you without even speaking. it made me feel worse that my mom looked back at the lady, as she walked away. this told me she was also offended. gosh, i wish i could read her mind in order to comprehend her behavior and make good since of it all. i guess i stereotype attractive girls by thinking they should all be friendly. i'm hoping i can find a nice replacement to make me feel better. the feelings i felt after her rejection were major disappointment, feeling crushed, hurt, offended, maybe even a little shocked. when people are not polite with me i tend to think something must be wrong with me. they think i'm not cool. i'm unattractive or unappealing in some way. i hope i answered some of your questions. take care until next time.

Answer
Hello again.

I apologize for the delayed response. I hope to share some insights regarding the incidence with the young lady.

Rejection is assumed. It is also likely to be an inference based on certain beliefs you might have deep inside. Let us see if this is the case.

It appears that you might be assuming - that people, who do not respond nicely, always infer that something must be wrong with you. This could mean you have told yourself that people think good about you only if they talk with you nicely.... or ... if they do not talk well with you, they always think you are not cool. This is a possible set of thoughts always playing a role!

Here you are probably holding on to just one possibility, and you are seeing it as 'the' fact, where as it may not be the case.

How does this concept sound? - - The "possibility that she couldn't care less" does not upset you. What upsets you about it is that you may derive meanings out of it which are mostly one sided arguments with yourself. The meanings we give to things, events or words are usually a function of the beliefs we have deep inside. In this case, these meanings could be based firmly on the belief(s) you may have, such as ...

1) Good looking people MUST always talk nicely, or it means they are ...... or I am ...... or the world is ......  

2) People always MUST think of me as a nice person or a cool person, only then I will be happy, or I won't be happy.  

We have seen even the best looking people are considered un-cool by many and vice versa. Hence, it appears to be a matter of opinions. So, irrespective of the body image you have of yourself, it is not possible that people will always think of you as a nice person. But that doesn't change the fact that you are the same you.

It is not possible in reality that all good looking people will always respond in a nice manner.  This doesn't mean they will always respond like that. Even this lady would probably not respond this way the next time you say hello. We don't know for sure.

Now, if you think you need a good replacement, you are exposing yourself to another risk ... of getting more disappointed and hurt. It is not a good idea to depend on an external stimulus to feel good about yourself.

It looks like you might have to modify those two beliefs to more practical and rational ones. Hope this helps.  

Dealing with Depression

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Dr Abhijeet Deshmukh

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Hello. I have volunteered here to help you with questions regarding Depression. I intend to focus on the questions which are about how to deal with depression. Even if the depression is part of some other disorder, you can ask me about that. You can also ask me questions related to Psychotherapy for depression. I apply the principles of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy in my own life, and also help my clients/patients with those. I believe in providing my clients/patients with the best possible and evidence based information. The same applies to the online answers here, too.

Experience

I am a trained Psychiatrist working since over 9 years. I am also a certified Psychotherapist (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy).

Organizations
Indian Medical Association, Nagpur Academy of Medical Sciences, Nagpur

Publications
"Effect of Indian classical music on quality of sleep in depressed patients: A randomized controlled trial" - (Main Author) - Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, Volume 18, Issue 1 March 2009 , pages 70 - 78

Education/Credentials
I have done my MBBS from the Government Medical College and Hospital, Nagpur. Psychiatry training - DPM (Diploma in Psychological Medicine) from BYL Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai. Psychotherapy training - Primary + Advanced Certificate in REBT from Albert Ellis Institute, New York. Basic + Advanced Certificate in REBT from In Vivo - Mumbai Center for REBT, Mumbai.

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