Depression And Failure
Hello everyone. If like me you suffer from depression (and anxiety and social phobias) you will experience success and failure for many different things. Things that people without these conditions probably don’t think of in terms of success or a failure. Being able to get out the house, being able to order a drink in a pub, making a phone call.
With other things that a mentally healthy person could view themselves as succeeding or failing in, people with these conditions will often feel a disproportionate sense of shame if they fail.
Yesterday I failed in the task of adopting a rescue dog.
As you may know if you are a regular reader, three weeks ago the hubster and I adopted a Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Gibbs.
It wasn’t a decision we made lightly, we discussed it for several months before deciding to proceed, and it took another 6 weeks after to find a suitable dog and have all the checks done.
For the first two weeks he was with us we had no problems with him at all, but the last week he was a complete nightmare which led us to make the decision to return him to his foster home yesterday.
Today I am looking at the events of the past few weeks. Despite my knowledge of what happened over the past few weeks, I feel I’m very much to blame for the failure to give Gibbs a forever home. Further more I fear other people will agree the responsibility lies with me.
Am I right to feel this, or is it just the negativity of my depression talking? This is a very difficult question for me to answer. I’m a very intelligent woman (yes, even with all my lack of self confidence, I can still believe this) but find it very difficult to judge my own behaviour.
What Happened With The Dog?
I guess the first step in working out if my sense of shame is justified is to look at what actually happened with Gibbs. So here is a brief rundown of what happened.
1) When we filled in the form to apply for a dog, we explained we had a cat who lived indoors. We also said we did not want a dog with behavioral problems.
2) When we were first told about Gibbs, they said he was living in a home with two cats.
3) On our first visit to him, his foster family told us he was a quiet relaxed boy most of the time, but could get a bit ‘chopsy’ in the evenings. They attributed this to the fact that he was often left on his own during the day, and again in the evenings. They also said he was inclined to bark at dogs on the telly.
4) For the first two weeks we had him his behaviour was fine. Then one afternoon he saw a dog on TV, but instead of barking at it, he began to bark at me. I ignored him and he stopped, but it happened again several times over the course of the evening.
5) The next few days his barking got worse. He didn’t need any visual trigger on the TV, he would bark at us for no reason. This escalated to barking and growling.
6) We followed the basic training tips. Stopped him going the sofa, made him walk to heel, fed him after us. Basically asserting our own dominance over him.
7) This worked some of the time, but he was gradually becoming more aggressive. The crunch point came when the hubster came home from work one evening and Gibbs first attacked him, then went after the cat. We had to shut the cat away to prevent her getting hurt.
8) We believed the cat and ourselves were at risk of harm from him, so we made the decision, contacted the rescue society and took him back.
Am I Right To Blame Myself, And Expect Others To Do The Same?
A few years ago I did an Open University degree in psychology, so I can answer this question from a psychological viewpoint.
Two factors come into play when attributing blame. First is what psychologists call the ‘Locus of Responsibility’. This is the extent to which people think they are responsible for things that happen in their lives. At one end of the scale are people with an external locus of responsibility. They don’t believe they’re responsible for anything that happens to them (we all know someone like this, always an excuse for why things go wrong for them, never their fault).
The other end of the scale are people with an internal locus of responsibility who feel responsible for everything. If someone is unhappy it must because of something they have (or haven’t) done, if they fail at something its because of them. People with depression or anxiety often have a strong internal locus of responsibility.
I am definitely this was inclined. I think I am responsible for wrongly believing it would work having a dog and a cat living in close proximity with no easy access to the outside, I think I should have somehow been firmer with the dog, I’m responsible for giving up to quickly and in giving up am responsible for wasting so much of the hubsters hard earned money.
However it is possible I’m being a bit too hard on myself. Although I blame myself for this failure, I also look at what is written above and don’t see anything obvious I could have done differently.
A second factor about the attribution of blame is who we are judging. When looking at the actions of others people are more likely to attribute success to outside factors (he passed the test because it was really easy) and failure to personal factors (he failed the test because he didn’t study enough).
Taking this into account, I am probably correct in thinking other people will blame me for my failure to make things with Gibbs work.
This is a tough one as condemnation from other people if and when it comes will act as confirmation that my own criticisms of myself are actually valid and justified.
So in answer to the question ‘am I right to blame myself?’ my answer is a rather rubbish one, I still don’t know. This is the problem with conditions like this, you can spend hours questioning yourself, and never come to a proper answer.
Do you blame yourself whenever something doesn’t work out as you planned? What would you have done differently if you were faced with a similar situation to mine?
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