Depressive Personality

“Personality” refers to how a person functions in life, including all the ways he or she perceives things and behaves. For more on personality in general, see the first post in this category entitled “Personality 101”

People with depressive personalities think of themselves as basically bad. For example, when they experience a loss or when someone leaves them, they convert feelings of rejection into a confirmation that they deserve rejection because of their badness.

Normal aspects of experience, such as anger, competitiveness, envy, pride, are seen as dangerous and confirming of their badness. One way to understand this from a psychological perspective is that people with depressive personalities aim their negative affect away from others and towards the self. Because of this approach, they are usually also generous and compassionate to a fault, give the other the benefit of every doubt, and strive to preserve relationships.

Sadness is the principal affect of people with depressive personalities. A customary precursor to depressive personalities is a premature loss of some kind, including being weaned too abruptly or too soon. Other experiences that contribute to the development of a depressive personality include a family atmosphere that discourages mourning and that instead views mourning or other forms of self-care as “selfish” or “self-indulgent.”

In contrast to the paranoid personality, the principal defense of people with depressive personalities is introjection; meaning that the depressive person will take in perceived negative aspects of an important caretaker or loved other and attribute those aspects to parts of their own self. At the same time, the positive qualities of that caretaker or loved other will be remembered fondly as belonging to that person. A depressive person may introject negative images of the caretaker or loved other even when the caretaker or loved other was not critical or hostile. For example, take the loving father who suddenly has to work 3 jobs to make ends meet and rarely sees his son anymore. Rather than acknowledge his sadness and his anger towards the father, the son – if he is a depressive – would feel guilt at not having loved his father enough when the father was around more.

Much of the content for the above was derived from passages of Nancy McWilliams’ book Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in Clinical Process.