Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Smiling Depression: When sadness hides behind a smile

You encounter a friend who’s not passing through his best moment, you ask him how he’s doing and the answer is: "good" while is outlining a forced smile. However, you know he’s feeling bad, that has problems and his mind is full of concerns. You realize that his smile is fake but accept it and change the topic.

Unfortunately, this situation is quite common. In fact, we also have tried sometime to hide sadness, stress and worries behind a smile. However, when we hide behind a mask of calm and satisfaction, we prevent people to help us and we end up falling in the black pit of depression.

When depression smiles ...

We tend to think that the depressed person can’t lead a normal life but remains in bed and can’t get to work, has an easy weeping and shuffling when walking, assuming a stooped posture denoting sadness. However, this image is a simple cliché, every person is different and deals with depression differently. In fact, did you know that approximately 71% of those suffering of depression try to hide it?

Some are depressed but manage to be functional and even funny in their daily lives. These people take their pain inside, do not externalize and are consuming very slowly, until it comes a time when they fall apart because can’t bear the weight of the mask they built and wore for months or even years.

In fact, in psychology there is a definition known as: "smiling depression". This person gives a semblance of normalcy and even happiness, because he/she lives symptoms of depression within, not externalizing but striving to hide them. As a result, the others may even think they have a perfect life.

Why a person hides depression?

The causes may be different, but in general, smiling equals a mechanism of defense, it’s a mask used to hide a state.

- He/she is ashamed of his problem. We don’t have to forget that most mental problems are still covered by a social stigma, so that many people don’t want others to know they are depressed. As a matter of fact, depression in particular is considered by some as a lack of will and character, so it is clear that if you have this prejudice you’ll try to hide this condition considering that is a "defect".

- He/she doesn’t recognize the depression. Sometimes, the person doesn’t want to recognize the status and hides behind a semblance of normalcy, perhaps hoping that depression disappears by itself. In these cases occurs a denial and the smile is a mechanism of self-affirmation through which the person tells itself it's not so bad, that it actually feels good.

- He/she doesn’t want to bother others. Some people have the tendency to keep problems for themselves, they are introverted by nature and don’t want to worry their loved ones with their problems. In these cases, they pretend to be well not to become a burden or concern for others.

- He/she is very concerned with his/her image. Some people think that others like, judge and consider them, only for their exterior image. Therefore, they strive to pretend that all is well, hide depression and their true "ego", and become such as characters acting every day on a theater stage.

Who are more likely to suffer of smiling depression?

- Introverted people, who have a tendency to beware problems or find it difficult to talk about their emotions.

- Perfectionists, those that demand too much to themselves and think they can’t fail in any sphere of life.

- Hyper responsible people who believe to carry the world on their shoulders and think that if they collapse, it will happen a cataclysm of epic proportions.

Dangers of the smiling depression

The depressed person who chooses to smile suffers, but try to live as if not. However, emotions and feelings should never be ignored or hidden, because doing that they won’t disappear. As a result, the person who perhaps seeks escape from depression is actually feeding it. In time, this attitude will come back. In fact, several cases of attempt of suicide come as a surprise to relatives and friends.

Moreover, the persons trying to hide depression usually takes care of filling their agenda, so that ends up carrying a hectic lifestyle that produces them a great fatigue. That causes they overreact every day, ending up making they crumble emotionally because can’t show a nice face every day and to everybody. Sooner or later, irritability, fatigue, sadness and tension will find their way out.

The problem is that at this point, those persons suddenly finds themselves face to face with reality and feel they’re at a dead end with no one around who can help. For this reason they can even intent some life-threatening act.

One particularly interesting study conducted at Michigan State University, has analyzed the impact of a fake smile on our mood. These psychologists followed a group of drivers for two weeks and found that while more smiles were pretended, the worse was their mood back home; a mood marked by irritability, anger and sadness.

Therefore, it is important to be aware that negative emotions do not disappear by themselves, we must face them. Hiding or avoiding the problem will not cancel it. Moreover, you should also know that depression will not be solved only by a psychologist. Family and friends can play an important role too, they always assume an understanding attitude and support you.

On the other hand, if you know someone who is trying to hide behind a smiling depression, talk to that person. Do not pressure them to tell you their situation, because this way is likely they may close up even more. Instead, show your vulnerability and tell him/her your problems. This way you will achieve easier to connect emotionally, and those persons will feel identified with your difficulties, in turn they’ll tell you theirs.

Scott, B. A. & Barnes, C. M. (2011) A Multilevel Field Investigation of Emotional Labor, Affect, Work Withdrawal, and Gender. Academy of Management Journal, 54(1): 116-136.


Keep feeding your neurons

Smiling Depression: When sadness hides behind a smile

Jennifer Delgado Suárez

Psicologist by profession and passion, dedicated to string words together. Discover my Books


Psychology as you never heard about...

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A fascinating read about masking inner pain. What I took from it was that the reasons for hiding depression through a smile were because, along with feelings of suffering, those with smiling depression also experience the belief that they are not worth the concern of others.

I think that I may have smiling depression. What can I do?

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Thanks for sharing your experience!
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