Monday, July 16, 2007

The Vicious Circle of Misery and Company

We all know that misery and company like each other, but the fallout from finding a friend to commiserate with can actually make matters worse.

The American Psychological Association is reporting that girls are more likely than boys to develop anxiety and depression as a result of extensive conversations with friends about their problems.

Co-rumination (excessively talking with another person about problems, including rehashing them and dwelling on the negative feelings associated with them) has costs and benefits. For girls, talking with a friend increased the feelings of closeness, but the co-rumination increased depressive and anxiety symptoms, which in turn, contributed to greater co-rumination. Setting into motion a vicious circle.

I have seen this trend in my work with young girls and recommend that they seek out additional friendships - pals that are positive thinking, upbeat and problem solving oriented.

I think the key here is to know that the cycle of visiting and re-visiting negative experiences without a positive spin can prevent one from getting out of the black hole. And I do think this holds true not only for girls, but for anyone who may have anxiety or depressive predispositions.

See the full text study here.


Mel Avila Alarilla said...

Hi Dr. Deb,
I agree with you 100%. The saying "misery loves company" is true. But the misery is exacerbated because the one commiserating is negatively affected by it and they both end up very miserable.

It is always better that a miserable person relate to somebody who is stronger emotionally so that he/she is able to find emotional release, as well as, the company and warmth of an agreeable person. There is not even need for counseling. Just a ready shoulder to cry on.

Thanks for a very sensible and timely post. God bless you with all the positive and wonderful things in life.

The Lone Beader said...

I know all about this vicious circle... So, I continue to focus on the positives in my life... such as writing and doing beadwork... Thank you for your informative posts:)

Godwhacker said...

There are times in life when it's ok to be upset or depressed and that is when having friends to talk to really helps. It becomes a different story when someone is always depressed or always talks about their problems.

Mix it up a little! Finding positive things to talk about or even to joke about in the face of adversity enriches the friendship and the conversation. Cliche though it is ~ laughter is the best medicine and the side-effects are so pleasant.

Dream Writer said...

For me, its the opposite. When I hit a bipolar low, I shut out everything and everyone as I don't want to be a burden. GO figure!

Ian Lidster said...

I think this is brilliant,Deb. There is so much truth in the infectious nature of negative conversation. I think you could even find a connection with such societal negatives as cult involvement, white supremacist movements and all other connections in which the disenchanted find each other and give validation, such as in cases of youth violence and swarming, etc. Yet another thoughtful service from you, my friend.

Rose said...

I have always told my daughter and neices that misery loves company and to hang around positive people. I think it is okay to discuss something that hurt you but you can't keep repeating it over and over- it gets you nowhere.To me it just leaves its' impression in your psyche.

OCD On A Stick said...

I agree that co-rumination can cause additional anxiety. When you have two people that believe the world is coming to an end, it doesn't help either one to talk about it.

I heard a few years ago that when a woman talks to another woman about stressors, that a chemical is released in the woman's brain which gives her a sense of well-being. Maybe that would be an endorphin...I don't know. All I know is that it is very helpful for me to talk to a friend when I need some support.

If I'm not in a bad OCD cycle, then I can usually talk about my problem and then go on with my life. I guess I've always had the right friends that helped me to do that.

Jade said...

I loved this post! I have noticed this very thing so many times in my own life as well as in my friends lives. It wasnt until I broke away from my "same thinking" friends that I noticed the effects talking with them had on me.
Taking that chance and branching out into the unknown of what I like to call "positive land" ;-) is scary and takes a little more mind sculpting. Its also unpredictable at first. Not at all like the predicibility of "negitive land" ;-)

I always say " If your friends always agree with you they're not good friends".

Big Brother said...

So true, misery does feed on misery. If you listen to it too long it is like a feed back loop and feeds upon itself. Negative people can be a real drain on your energy and mood.
By the way I've nominated you for the schmooser award come see my blog.

Carrie said...

Dr. Deb,
Agree with your insights. I have even taken it further on a couple of occasions by purposefully reaching out to those who would be mean to me, who don't understand my illness. Ouch!

PalmTreeChick said...

I saw that on Good Morning America this morning. Interesting stuff.

lyre said...

I have deleted a blog once that I thought kept me trapped in a depressive cycle. It is such a struggle to stay positive and on course.

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

Excellent article and reminder! Thanks.

Jamie said...

Great reminder, thanks Dr. Deb! I have found that I need to focus my energy on positive relationships and have let most of the negative ones go by the wayside. If I re-live unhappy moments it brings me down so low. I actually find it better to try my best to forget (especially if I can't find the positive side to it) and move on to tomorrow. People that want to discuss it in detail (or that would rather focus on the negitive aspects of their lives) bring me down and are too unhealthy for me. It's amazing what a little bit of positive energy can do!

United We Lay said...

Wow, that're really interesting. I've always been able to work out my problems by talking about them, but having taught 8th grade girls for quite some time, I can say that negativity is like a snowball. If one of them starts with it, the rest of the day is pretty much shot. I've seen one girl's bad attitude for 10 minutes turn into a week's worth of anxiety, depression, and constant sniping at each other for a week.

Fallen Angels said...

I've always been one that doesn't talk about "it"...whatever "it" may be...with anyone. Honestly, that isn't any improvement on the issue you posted about! I do find that a lot of times, just talking about nothing much and being silly with a friend IS helpful. Some of the best support I have gotten have been from people that think they are no help because I don't tell them "what's wrong". Maybe I should post about that. :P

I wrote something about a school issue (psych class) that I would love to get an opinion on, if you have a chance.


Guilty Secret said...

Thanks for a great post, this is real food for thought.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Mel,
Sharing with a close friend is a special experience, but if it becomes too entwined and drama ridden, it can be unhealthy - just like the research suggests.

Dear Lone,
I have a wonderful network of friends and family who are positive and compassionate. No drama here either!

Dear GW,
The human experience is varied one, where a wide range of emotions are felt and expressed. I agree, that it is normal to feel sad, upset and depressed, but also like you say, when the connection is one of negativity, it can be unhealthy.

Dear Dream,
I am VERY much like you. I tend to close down and keep things to myself as well.

Dear Ian,
Contagion is a real and fascinating psychological phenomenon, just as you say.

Dear Rose,
It is the ruminating, circular and rigid thinking that is unhealhty. It is important to share and talk about all kinds of feelings, but to be "stuck" is never good. You are right to give the advice you do. You're such a smarty :)

Dear OCD,
It is especially more difficult when a person has OCD. You are blessed to have such good support system.

Dear Jade,
I like how you think!

Dear BB,
Thank you, what a honor!

Dear Carrie,
Just be careful that those who disbelieve or misunderstand you don't add to your struggles.

Dear Palmtree,
I didn't know it was on there. Good to know the info is getting out there on the airwaves too.

Dear Lyre,
I can understand that.

Dear Barbara,
I like sharing good finds from my web surfing.

Dear Jamie,
Indeed, positive energy, even in the tiniest degree, can really make a difference!

Dear United,
I also see this SO much in my work with young girls and teens. Not so much for boys, just like the research suggested.

Dear Fallen,
Will visit you soon.

Dear Guilty, so glad you stopped by.


Miranda said...

Good post. I believe my youngest gets like that. She's so negative, but find she's not so negative, when things are going her way. If she's all seems well.

Miranda said...

On another note, totally not related to this post. I know you've done alot on suicide and such. I was just wondering, if you know or had any ideas, that if when a person attempts to take and come out of it. Is it normal to say they dont remember? Is it denial? Why do they do that?

Heidi said...

I tend to keep my problems/feelings and frustrations to myself, so it doesn't seem like I complain to much to friends/family. ..Sure I have a blog but then again I limit myself to what I say. Just talking about my mouth/teeth all the time feels like a broken record.

Pixie said...

I could not agree with this more, Dr. Deb. I have experienced personally and observationally time and time again.

When I was a late teen I went to "group therapy" twice a week. When I told my counselor I didn't want to go anymore, she was concerned... I explained I was more depressed and wanted to 'kill myself' after "group".

I guess it has a lot to do with the facilitator - there needs to be a safe / stable / positive grounding person in conversations that are generally negative, especially from a therapeutic standpoint.

Keep posting.

I'm glad I found you.

dragonflyfilly said...

oh yeah, i can totally see this! -- i know my daughter feels miserable after for hours and hours with her friend about the friend's problem...

i try to practice not to spread my misery (sometimes this does not work - like today),

and i also feel more lousy myself the more i whine....

but i actually came here to ask you if you know anything about the Landmark Education Corporation. You probably do, and perhaps you will not like to comment. I have read that there ARE people who got into trouble (and some frenchman who posted something on U-tube was sued) i will understand if you do not want to comment.

i know a little bit about neurolinguistic programming, and i know that it CAN be used for good, but i don't see what good can come out of a person spending 14 hours sitting in a room being told the same thing over and over again, (then sent home in the wee hours of the morning only to repeat the same thing the next day)...i thought that the brain could only effectively learn new things within the first 45 minutes?...

oh, i forgot to mention that my ex-husband has got my daughter "enrolled" and that the other night she gave me the ultimatum that if i did not "communicate" with her the way she wanted me to then she was going to have to cut me out of her life! this at 3:00 o'clock in the morning...after having a major panic attack i told her that it is her choice, i could not tell her what to do, but i think she needs to think about whether or not she wants to give thousands of dollars to a company that makes a ton of money AND expects her to volunteer for them.

i'm at my wits' end, as i think she has taken the bait and the hook, and i'm afraid that she is going to get hurt and there is nothing i can do!

can anyone out there give me any suggestions as to how i can help her? (and myself to stop worrying?)

Thanks for "listening"
cheers for now,

alan said...

It's so hard sometimes to put the failures away...even if I don't discuss them I constantly battle revisiting them!

Thank you for reminding me of what I'm doing to myself!


Orcadia said...

Excellent post and very timely. Have you noticed the trend in blogs that associate with negativity, misery and cynicism? I have had to cut loose from many a blog because they seem to have started dancing with these partners and it does me no good at all. I seek out the positive blogs and it is far healthier for me.

If I feel low, then I seek out comedy. Studies show it has benefits -as I am sure you know.

Miss Profe said...

So, where does this recent discovery place the concept of talk therapy and the belief that talking about one's problems makes one feel better?

dragonflyfilly said...

post script;

hi orcadia; yes, i HAVE noticed the trend, as you say, with blogs associated with misery etc. And what also amazes me is the many many people who comment there. I have also noticed that when i write about frightening and unhappy stuff that has happened to me in the past i have LOTS of comments, compared to the few commenters i have when i write about ordinary or cheerful things. Funny, i was just thinking about that the other day.

As usual, Dr. Deb has insightful and TIMELY posts!

cheers for now,

~Deb said...

But you can’t rule out the levels of estrogen in females. Even when an MTF (male to female or aka transsexuals) start taking hormones to start looking, feeling and developing like a woman, they experience high levels of emotional problems. I do agree that misery loves company, however, I think the greater evil lies within the hormone that every woman struggles with.

Sarah said...

Fascinating! I'm definitely a believer that "pain shared is pain lessened." But I do think that teenage girls especially "catch" each others symptoms. A prime example in my own experience would be EDs.

It would be interesting to see the study repeated in an older population and to see how things like group therapy and 12-step groups might affect the dynamic.

ms-teacher said...

thank you for posting this. My daughter went through a very rough patch as an 8th grader. Part of the problem she faced was bullying by a group of girls, but the other part was that her best friend at the time was a very negative person. She became severely depressed and we got her into intensive counseling.

Finally after two years of counseling, she was able to leave the negative friend behind. She has mentioned to me in passing how this former friend is always in the midst of drama. My daughter being a person who wanted to help her friend out and (as a perfectionist) wanting to please, got sucked into it. Her excellent counselors gave her the tools she needed to face not only her friend but also the skills to stand up to bullies.

(We did end up pulling her out of her middle school as well as a result of the bullying.)

enrico said...

To me, such co-rumination can be perceived by certain individuals' psyches as more than simple validation of one's problems, but as a true "fix" (in the drug sense). Few other reasons probably explain the need for someone to exhaustively go through the problem and 1/2 a box of Kleenex, only to call another person and start all over again, and repeat even more. The withdrawal of not having someone on the other end of the conversation/phone/etc. saying, "Oh, I know, s/he's a bastard/bitch/ idiot/etc.,"probably propels them negatively. This doesn't necessarily happen in a positive exchange, where validation occurs, but doesn't dwell in the nexus of negativity. These people may be more inclined "crave" the more dramatic, not seeing the true help for what it is.

Symbiosis said...

I agree...very true!

jumpinginpuddles said...

cant imagine why anyone would want to to revisit horrible memories we are so glad when they are dealt with and gone in fact thats how we get our feelings of triumphs and excitement

MYSTI said...

I very much agree with you! If only our young girls who are depressed would seek out a positive person to talk with. I think in general this is a problem with most young and older. I find that when I am depressed I really need someone to help lift me out of that black hole instead of digging the hole deeper!

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Miranda,
Hard to answer your question without knowing more. The best I can say is to trust your own instincs and opinion in this matter.

Dear Heidi,
Venting and expressing negative experiences are important things to do. The research supports that lingering too much in such things can be unhealthy.

Dear Pixie,
So happy you are a visitor and new blogpal.

Dear Dragonfly,
I don't know anything about LE. The goings on sound shady.

Dear Alan,
We are all guilty of wallowing in our own stuff as that is part of the human experience. I think we need to not forget that doing so is healthy and normal, but lingering too much in it can be destructive.

Dear Oracdia,
Oh yes, I have noticed that too.

Dear Miss Profe,
Talk Therapy is not just letting a person drone on about negative things etc. It is filled with insight, problem solving, changing cognitive schemas, using new tools, etc. Good question, though!

Dear Dragon,
Blogging can be used in so many ways, but I see this trend too.

Dear ~Deb,
Women do have more emotional fluctuations because of such things, but the idea here is to not let the negative side of things keep you down.

Dear Sarah,
Witnessing and sharing trauma, sadness or pain IS important. Necessary for growth. But staying in that mode can be harmful. I think you know what I mean :)

Dear Ms-Teacher,
Wonderful how your smart daughter was able to leave the drama and negativity behind. I am happy for her as I know you are!!

Dear Enrico,
Such an important and insightful comment. There are some individuals whose drama validates their existence or value.

Dear Symbiosis,
I agree too :)

Dear JIP,
Regrettably, there are. How wonderful that you can feel triumphant. What a great word.

Dear Mysti,
The catty, mean-spirited and drama seeking cliques are more prevalent now than before. I am always glad when a young girl can get herself out of such a group.


DrGwenn said...

I know in my adult life I try to find friends who can help me gain perspective after a bad experience but not feed into the negativity of the experience. But, it's taken falling into the trap of co-rumination a few times to find those folks.

Kids can easily fall into that black hole and I don't think parents realize it. That's why it is so important that parents of tweens and teens be involved and know who their kids are hanging and talking with.

Interesting study. Thanks for sharing it with us.