Hello, friends. This is a nice Q&A episode where I answer some interesting questions from listeners of the podcast relating to feeling bad when you feel good and are enjoying yourself, plus dealing with feelings of jealousy when someone commits suicide.
My question is about self care and how to stop the feeling of guilt that I get when trying to do things for myself. I have discovered in therapy that I view happiness for myself as a reward and not something I deserve for just being a human like everyone else. My therapist has tried to get me to engage in some activities for myself that are supposed to make me happy regardless of if I feel like it’s deserved that day. I do feel happy in the moment but then it’s alway followed with extreme guilt after or the next day. The more joy I get from the activity the more guilty and depressed I usually feel. How do I stop this cycle and just feel happy. Thanks again for all you do.
This is a really good question and one that I relate to! First off, it sounds like your therapist is doing a good job. What they are doing is called behavioral activation – essentially trying to wake your dopamine receptors back up to get you used to feeling good again. This is pushing you to challenge one of your assumptions, which is that you have to earn rewarding activities or self-care. That self-care is contingent upon performance in your life. I think half of this battle is coming to the intellectual understanding of what you believe to be true and then the other half is finding the right tricks to put that into practice. What I mean is that you might use something like the best friend trick to highlight the flaws in your assumptions. Imagine your best friend or someone that you care about in the same situation as you. Would you believe that they only deserve to engage in pleasurable activities or take care of themselves when they’ve hit a certain performance level? Probably not.
You can also think about it logically – with the way that your brain works, are you ever really going to be satisfied with how much you’ve gotten done or how well you did on a given day? If not, then linking your pleasure or self-care to that makes no sense. It’s an always moving goal post, which could result in you just never doing anything nice or taking care of yourself. You don’t have to believe that you deserve to enjoy things. This is important. You’re not working to prove the opposite of what you currently believe to yourself. Instead, you are trying to de-couple the two altogether.
Your self-care and your productivity should not be linked in the first place. The amount you got done is irrelevant when it comes to doing something nice for yourself each day. In this way, you don’t have to say “oh you don’t be so mean to yourself. You did the best you could. You deserve to have a beer and read for half an hour on the porch.” Instead, you can work to start recognizing, “Oh I’m doing it again. Me affording myself the basic self-care of taking a break from the day has nothing to do with how much I got done. This is a constant but I’m judging it like it’s a reward.” It’s also potentially more productive. I’ve talked about this before, but many times taking breaks or being good to yourself is actually the most productive thing to do. It might not seem like it because you are spending time doing something other than work or tasks that you feel like you should be doing. But if you think about it, would it be better to work for 12 hours straight while completely burned out and hating it. Or would it be better to do some self-care, feel refreshed, and work for 6 hours in a more focused and intense way?
In the first situation, you probably would be prone to mistakes and the work that you do would be pretty shitty in quality. In the second, you may actually be putting in better and more efficient work. A task that would take all day while miserable might take an hour or two when refreshed. So in some ways, it might be the most responsible thing to do and it would make a little more sense to feel guilt when you DONT engage in self-care because you know you aren’t giving yourself the best shot.
The second part of the battle I was talking about earlier is to find the right tricks to put this into practice. So when you can conceptually agree that you should be making time for yourself, now you need to get yourself to do it. This is an area where you and your therapist can work together. Maybe you need to be scheduling activities into your calendar or using the 5-minute trick to get started. Whatever it takes to get yourself to engage in self-care. Stick with it. In a very real way, you might be training yourself to feel good again. This is an odd feeling that you can expect to come up. You are going to feel guilty, you are going to feel weird about it, and you are going to have to resolve to do it anyway.
I would also try to take note of the ways in which self-care is beneficial. For instance, if you journal, I would make a point each time to try to notice where your self-care actually helped you. Sure you have guilt and such, but you might be able to recognize that you would be even more burned out and perform poorly the next day if you hadn’t done that. So similar to tracking gratitude, you can start to train your attention to notice those areas where you are actually benefitting from self-care.
The last thing I will say is really regarding your work in therapy. It feels to me like you have the assumption that you don’t deserve to be happy. Your core assumption is that you are not worthy or allowed to be happy. In addition to adjusting the top-level stuff and practicing new habits, it may also be beneficial to dive a bit deeper in therapy. There’s a term I use a lot with my clients which is “who said that?” When you have that voice in your head telling you that you don’t deserve to do something nice, who is saying that? It’s you obviously, but is there another voice in there? Perhaps a parent or a teacher from the past who taught you that self-care came after productivity etc. Looking to the past to understand how these patterns developed can provide deeper insight that helps to fuel your current efforts.
Hello Duff, I am a new podcast listener and have been grateful for your podcasts. I have suffered from depression and anxiety pretty much the majority of my life. I tend to have suicidal thoughts though have never made an attempt nor plans. Recently, someone from my hometown committed suicide. I immediately felt bad for the situation but quickly became envious. Am I a bad person for feeling jealous that this person committed suicide? Do you have any explanation for why I am feeling this way and ways to avoid this pattern of thinking? Thanks.
Thank you for your question. First off, I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. I know it’s hard to keep going when it’s been the same thing for so long. I’m glad you’re around to write this message. I’m also happy to be talking about this because a lot of people are like you and live with suicidal ideation.
I think that a lot of people fly under the radar with their ideation and those around them would never even know. When it doesn’t result in attempts or hospitalizations, it can be a quiet, private struggle. It’s also super common for people who have been depressed or struggling for a long time to not be actively suicidal but kind of ambivalent about life. I think that’s where you’re at.
You are absolutely not a bad person for feeling jealous or envious about this person for taking their life. I think that you’ve resolved to staying alive and continuing the fight, which is great. But its also exhausting. A lot of people in your situation have feelings like “if I were to die in my sleep tonight, that would be a relief”. They would never do it to themselves, but they would welcome the relief of not having to fight anymore. So I think that you feel this person’s pain and you hurt for their hurt. That’s where the initial feelings come from. Empathy. You know what it’s like. But then you have envy because they now don’t have to feel the pain. It’s something you are not going to do and are unwilling to do, but there’s a pang that happens to know that someone like you is on the other side of it.
I liken it to hearing about someone who left their whole family and went to live an entirely new life. Something that most people who have a family wouldn’t actually do, but hearing about someone who has might bring up pangs of jealousy because man wouldn’t it be nice to not be responsible for other people and just have some freedom again.
You are allowed to have your feelings. You are allowed to have mixed feelings about it. You can be jealous and you can still resolve to stay. If this has peaked your own ideation, you might want to talk to your support system or do some safety planning. Spend some time connecting to the reasons that you have decided to stay. I think that pushing away the feelings of jealousy and feeling guilt about them will be counterproductive. It makes total sense why you would feel that way. And still, there are reasons that you are here. So I would encourage you to acknowledge the desire for relief and reconnect to those reasons that you are still here. Maybe you could make a point to help someone else as well, which can be a helpful way to shift the focus off your own direct problems.
Again, I’m glad you’re here and I don’t think you are a bad person.
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