The hidden traits of depression: These traits might seem very normal on the surface, but there is much more to it than what meets the eye.
What may be intriguing in the exploration of perfectly hidden depression (PHD) is this question: If you don’t know how to reveal your pain, how are others supposed to identify what’s going on? How do you figure it out yourself?
“When you suffer from depression “I’m tired” means a permanent state of exhaustion that sleep doesn’t fix.”
The best bet is to identify what constitutes the syndrome of perfectly hidden depression (a term I created). What is syndrome? It’s a group of behaviors or beliefs that are found together, sort of like salt and pepper. When you see one, you find the other.
Identifying the traits of the syndrome itself will hopefully add a much-needed lens to your own camera, whether you be an individual, parent, doctor, therapist, teacher, or friend. It’s time to stop overlooking this presentation of depression — one that does not fit the criteria for classic depression, but can be as potentially harmful.
10 commonly shared characteristics of perfectly hidden depression
The following are 10 primary characteristics of PHD. They’re not all present in every person who might recognize themselves in PHD. But they’re fairly consistent.
If you identify with PHD…
1. You are highly perfectionistic, with a constant, critical inner voice of intense shame.
Having a perfectionistic streak is one thing. You try to do your best: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” Yet you can silently berate yourself if you’re not at the top, at all times. You may allow yourself one area in which you’re not proficient — for example, laughing and saying you couldn’t skate if your life depended on it. Or you can’t tell a joke. But if it’s an activity or a pursuit that is meaningful to you, it needs to appear perfect, especially if it’s going to be evaluated or seen by others. You’re the perfect parent, most accomplished lawyer, head of the class, or best friend. You consistently measure and evaluate your status, and if you’re not meeting perceived expectations, you ramp up the pressure. Inner shame governs your choices and your world.
2. You demonstrate a heightened or excessive sense of responsibility.
You’re very aware of duty, obligation, and loyalty, and can be counted on in a crunch. You’re the first to notice when something’s going wrong and look for solutions. You’re a good leader, although not the best delegator. This sense of responsibility can turn painful, as you may readily blame yourself, rather than taking a moment to understand the entire picture. This tendency can leave you vulnerable to manipulation.
3. You have difficulty accepting and expressing painful emotions.
I know when I’m sitting across from someone who’s smiling brightly at me while simultaneously describing a significant loss or disappointment that I may have tripped over someone else who’s hiding. Not always. But it’s a question I begin to ask myself as a therapist.
Anger is avoided or denied. Sadness is banished to the back of the closet. Disappointment is for whiners. You may not even have the words to express these emotions. You stay in your head most of the time, rather than connecting with heart — analyzing, decoding, thinking through things.
4. You worry a great deal and avoid situations where control isn’t possible.
You aren’t someone who can stay easily in the present. If you do yoga, you may hate the final position, for which the suggestion is to breathe and relax. You may love to cook, but have a very hard time sitting with guests and enjoying the meal.
The need for control is strong, and so a lot of time is spent worrying about the things that might occur to interrupt that control. Ironically, It’s important to hide this worry. So it might not be obvious to others that it exists. People will shake their heads and wonder aloud, “You never seem to have a care in the world. You don’t sweat the small stuff.”