The expression “you can’t see the forest for the trees” is all wrong when it comes to individuals with depression. They can’t see the trees. All they can see is a big, overwhelming forest.


Typically people who are depressed think in a sort of global stye when it comes to their happiness. They just know they want to be happier, but they have no idea how or where to begin to create that path for themselves. The forest might be the vague notion of happiness, and the individual trees the steps toward that happiness.

They often don’t know how they decided what to do. They just know it “felt” like the right thing to do at the time.  They are often relying on their internal feelings as their main source of judgment which is problematic. It is all about their own feelings as their primary reference point. Don’t take my word for it. Michael Yapko, an expert in the field, talks about this when he posits that many depressed clients have not learned discernment skills. They don’t evaluate others or their ideas based on external facts or logical questioning. They have not learned what questions to ask. Just because you feel it does not make it so, necessarily.

Depression Masks Discernment

For example, Yapko reports on a woman coming out of a rotten relationship that has decided all men are untrustworthy. Yet she never considered her own evaluation process other than her ‘go-to’ idea that all men are jerks until she learned to ask herself the questions that mattered to her, like:

  •      What kind of person is he?
  •      How does he treat others?
  •      Is he transparent with his plans and activities?
  •      What is his relationship like with his family?  With friends?
  •      How do his interactions mesh with your expectations?
  •      What sort of values does he claim, and does he act accordingly?
  •      Are the differences they may have acceptable to her in the long run?

You get the idea. And none of those are internal judgements; they require observation, interaction in different settings, and external evidence. They are the trees, so to speak, that can guide her to the healthy relationship, the beautiful forest, that is her goal.

If your orientation is all external, and you believe your feelings are the ultimate way to make judgments, it is easy to become stuck in a reality that is one you have created, and is not terribly focused on what is actually in front of you. Sometimes it takes professional help to untangle that mess. So whether your goal is happiness, a healthy relationship, or perhaps the ability to simply leave your house without fear and trepidation, there is definitely a way to see both the trees and the forest with clarity.

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