Earlier I spoke of unrealistic expectations and their relationship to depression. When we expect something to happen and it doesn't, we feel disappointment. Sometimes we feel cheated. Anger, resentment and even estrangement may follow, leading to depression for one or both parties. When that happens, we have to look at our expectations objectively and determine whether we were being unrealistic.
For example, I personally know of at least a half dozen families in which some members haven't spoken to other members for several years because expectations of an inheritance weren't met. I also know of several instances where estrangement occurred because one party refused to give or lend money to another. I know one case in which the estrangement has continued for three generations!
When we have money, we consider it to be ours, to do with as we please; however, many people fail to realize that others have the same right. The unrealistic expectation is: If you are my relative (or even my friend) you have to lend or give me money when I ask for it. In other words, I DO NOT RECOGNIZE YOUR RIGHT TO SAY, "NO!"
In many cases, guilt is heaped upon the one who does say, "no." I know of several instances where grandparents have been denied access to their grandchildren for years as punishment for saying "no," to what they considered an unreasonable request usually--but not always--having to do with money. In such cases, no one wins; everybody loses.
A second fairly common unrealistic expectation is: I can make anyone do what I want by making threats. In this case, the person who wants to say, "no," is being emotionally blackmailed. I man I know was faced with a threat of suicide from a woman he was breaking up with. Fortunately, she did not follow through on her threat, but the man agonized afterward. If she had gone ahead and killed herself, would he have been responsible? He asked me how else he could have handled the situation.
I told him he certainly had the right to say, "no," to the woman, but I would have clarified that right by saying to her, "You are an adult. You have the right to make decisions, but you can't make me or anyone else responsible for your decisions. If you are seriously thinking of killing yourself, I am willing to find a professional who can help you, but I am not going to continue this relationship."
Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to say, "no." Sometimes the hardest thing is to accept someone else's right to say, "no."
One of the chief positive effects of learning to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings is the awareness I gained regarding the thoughts and feelings of other people. Often we think there is only one way to look at a situation properly and don't understand when others draw different conclusions. The result is usually conflict, in essence, each deciding, "I'm right and you're wrong."
I really came to understand how other people can see things very differently because of the interesting architecture of a house we once lived in. If you stood directly to the south and viewed the building, all you saw was a large garage with a steeply slanting roof. All you would know at that point was that it appeared to be a one story building with no evidence of a basement.
If you stood to the east, however, you would see two stories with a one story wing attached. Window wells told you that there was indeed a basement beneath the two-story part of the house. You could now see that the steep roof above the garage hid the second story when the house was viewed from the south. At this point, it would be easy to conclude that you completely understood how the building was constructed, and you'd still be wrong.
Standing on the north side of the house, you would see that the two levels you saw from the east were offset by half a story by two levels to the west. Now you'd likely conclude that you were viewing a front-to-back split level home. Moreover, from this view there was no sign of a basement.
Finally, if you moved to the west side, you'd see two levels to the north and one level a half between them to the south. From here it looks like a side-to-side split level home with window wells beneath the single level, showing you that there was a basement there.
It occurred to me that four people viewing the same house from four different perspectives might argue all day long about the structure of the home. They would each believe the truth was obvious, and that everyone else was wrong. Only after looking at the house from all different perspectives could they understand that everyone had seen only a part of reality, and while nobody was completely wrong, no one was completely right, either.
I came to see that, as clear as my reality might seem to me, there are always elements that elude me. It is only by communicating with others and integrating their views with my own that a larger perspective can be taken.
Complicating this process is the fact that some people have genuinely distorted views due to inaccurate information or faulty perception and it's necessary to carefully examine this possibility. But when others disagree with me, I try to see things from their perspective instead of assuming they're just wrong. I also find that often--but not always--when a person is listened to respectfully, he or she is willing to listen to my view. Even if we agree to disagree, that relationship is always improved.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.