A wall I frequently ran up against in my own recovery was called “nobody cares.”
I vividly remember running into this wall in a big way.
I had been in therapy for several years, and had gotten to the point where I was no longer miserable all day, every day— and, importantly, I’d gotten to the point where suicide was off the table as an option for me.
I’d made some important progress…but I was still very unhappy.
Just because I’d progressed from “miserable” and “suicidal” to “less miserable” and “not suicidal,” I still felt pretty lousy most of the time.
I was in a therapy session with my therapist, and I remember thinking, for whatever reason: “he’s phoning it in.”
That is: I felt that, when I was REALLY miserable and at possible risk of killing myself, I’d been getting a LOT of his attention and energy.
Now that I was a relatively “lower maintenance” patient, however, I felt that I was somehow getting less of my therapist’s attention and effort.
“He doesn’t care if I’m happy,” the voice inside my head told me. “He just cares that you’re not going to kill yourself and open him up to liability.”
This opened up a spiral inside me: “Nobody really cares if you’re HAPPY,” I heard inside my head.
“They just don’t want you to be a pain in the ass. Sure, they don’t want you to kill yourself, and they don’t want you to be so unhappy that you’re bitching about it all the time; but beyond that, you could exist in this state of not-suicidal-but-still-pretty-unhappy indefinitely, and no one would care.”
If you’ve been in cognitive therapy for depression yourself, you can see the many distortions and assumptions in my thinking at that time.
But, as is usually the case when we’re depressed and our thinking is distorted, it didn’t seem to ME at the time that there was anything off.
I truly thought— truly felt— that nobody cared if I was happy.
That thought— “nobody cares”— would crop up again and again in my thinking, even as I continued to get better.
Years later, during my graduate training in psychology and after earning my doctoral degree, I worked in the private practice of my mentor in the trauma treatment field.
She had done many things to help advance my career, including taking me on for multiple externships and being on my dissertation committee.
Yet every time I interacted with her, there was still that thought in the back of my mind: “she doesn’t really care if you’re happy or successful. She just wants you to make her practice money.”
By this time, I actually had training and experience as a therapist, and I knew what I was dealing with: distorted thinking that was tied back to the fact that, when I was growing up, the people who SHOULD have cared whether I was happy and healthy, didn’t.
Because I didn’t get what I needed back then, I internalized and projected that thought— “nobody cares if I’m happy or healthy, even if they SHOULD care”— onto almost every important person in my life.
For years, I had a pervasive sense that the people who “should” care about my happiness— therapists, supervisors, mentors, girlfriends— didn’t.
It didn’t matter what these people actually did or said; my (distorted) belief that they “didn’t care” had nothing to do with them, specifically.
It was a belief that I’d formed a long time ago, that I was projecting into current time— and then I was unconsciously, unintentionally behaving in such a way as to make my distorted belief seem to be confirmed (most notably, I repeatedly sabotaged relationships, so that when the other person decided to end it, the voice in my head would say, “SEE! They never REALLY cared about you…or else why would they have abandoned you”).
Why am I telling you any of this?
Because we very often get our butts kicked by beliefs that we carry forward from the past.
That belief that “nobody cares” would cost me dearly in many ways.
It would lead to addictive relapses and sabotaged relationships and therapy setbacks.
If we’re not vigilant about taking a step back, observing our own patterns, and getting curious and realistic about what we’re saying to ourselves and where it’s all coming from…we really will sabotage the most important relationships in our lives and blow the progress we’e worked so hard to make.
It’s happened to me, multiple times. It’s not about intelligence.
Very smart, very self-aware people believe distorted things based on what happened to them in the past.
Eventually, I had to accept two things:
One: I could not read anybody’s mind. I did not know what my therapist or my ex-mentor or my romantic partners were thinking. I was guessing and imagining worst case scenarios based on my past.
And two: EVEN IF my therapist, ex-mentor, girlfriends, or WHOMEVER DIDN’t actually care…that STILL didn’t mean that NOBODY cared.
I had to accept that even if NOBODY cared about my progress…I needed to care.
I couldn’t just be in this because somebody ELSE cared.
Nowadays, “nobody cares” is STILL a trigger thought for me…but I can recognize it for the distortion that it is.
That’s my trauma and my addiction trying to get its claws into me, using a trigger that they know works.
Not ever again.
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